Bradwell v. Illinois

myra bradwell

In regards to Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause, Bradwell v. Illinois (1873) said women could not be lawyers.

When it comes to the Bradwell case, these are the facts. As a citizen ot the United States, Mrs. Myra Bradwell made application for a license to practice law in the state of Illinois; however, the Illinois Supreme Court denied her application.

The Supreme Court dealt with this issue: Does the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment cover women to engage in any profession?

While considering this issue, the Supreme Court ruled this way: When it comes to women, Mrs. Myra Bradwell didn’t have the right to practice law under the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Previously, in the Slaughterhouse cases, the Supreme Court addressed a similar issue to the Bradwell case. In that case, they said the Fourteenth Amendment only applies to the citizens of the United States. Moreover, the Fourteenth Amendment does not cover the Privileges and Immunities of citizens of the state. Much like the butchers in the Slaughterhouse cases, Mrs. Myra Bradwell couldn’t seek a remedy under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause.

At this time, the Fourteenth Amendment didn’t cover women. The legal language of the Fourteenth Amendment said ‘people’ and not ‘women’. Further, other sections of the Fourteenth Amendment said ‘males’. This was a narrow reading of the Fourteenth Amendment in the Bradwell case.

Further, women weren’t treated fair under property law at this time. They did not have the right to own property as a married women. Coverture, being under a man’s covering as a legal entity, designated all the married women’s property to the husband. If a woman wanted to own property and be treated fair, she could never marry.

Later, women’s rights would emerge in the Suffrage Movement. This movement would seek rights for women. Some of these rights included the right to own property, the right to vote, the right to make contracts, and the right to work. The Suffrage Movement would establish many rights for woman.

In time, the Nineteenth Amendment would extend rights to women. Under this amendment, women could vote. Later, gender discrimination would be read into the Fourteenth Amendment; also, a series of law cases would address gender discrimination in the 1970s.

As can be seen, Bradwell v. Ililnois was an important case. It said women couldn’t be lawyers because the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause does not say ‘women’. However, later, Mrs. Myra Bradwell was accepted into the Supreme Court Bar as a lawyer.