Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ada H. Kepley – Lawyer, Suffragette

Ada Miser moved to Effingham, Illinois, with her parents while she was in high school and remained there the rest of her eventful life.
After graduation, she married Henry Kepley, a local attorney. He trained her to be his legal assistant, but after a short time, Ada had other ideas, enrolling in Union School of Law in Chicago. She earned a law degree in 1870, becoming the first woman in the United States to do so. 
However, she hit a brick wall when she applied for her license to practice and was informed by state authorities that “Illinois law does not allow women to enter the learned professions.”
Henry Kepley aided her in challenging the law by preparing a bill for the state legislature forbidding sexual discrimination in the professions. Although the bill was adopted into law in 1872, Ada did not receive her license until 1881 because she had become embroiled in the suffragette and temperance movements. After she was licensed to practice law, she handled occasional court cases but devoted most of her time to her passion.
“I like to be at the front of great movements as far as possible,” she was quoted as saying. Her temperance work put her at the front of the movement in Illinois and also put her in some personal danger as she was once clubbed over the head by an angry shopkeeper and arrested for removing a poster of a half-nude woman advertising a female minstral show from the post office.
Ada’s name also appeared in the newspapers as she pursued her goals. In 1886, she ran for the position of school trustee–against her husband–defeating him soundly. And a 1905 newspaper article announced that she wished to be chief of police of Effingham. It added that she wanted a ju jitsu assistant.
After Henry’s death, Ada tried many means of making a living but was not very successful at any of them, and, therefore, found herself viewed as an eccentric by the residents of Effingham.

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