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Women's History Month: Florence Ellinwood Allen - First Woman Elected to a Judicial Office in the United States

By Erica K. Williams, Esq.

In our final installment of highlighting women who blazed a path for women attorneys, we introduce you to Florence Ellinwood Allen. Born in 1884, Florence grew up in Cleveland and graduated from Western Reserve University with a degree in music.  When her music career was cut short by an injury, she began writing as a music critic for The Plain Dealer and soon took an interest in politics and law.  At the time, Western Reserve University did not admit women to its law school, so Florence entered the University of Chicago Law Department as the only female in a class of 100 students.  She later transferred to New York University School of Law and graduated with honors in 1913.  She returned to Cleveland and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1914.

Although her legal career started off slowly, Florence soon gained valuable legal experience by doing volunteer work with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.  Her growing success as an attorney let to her appointment in 1919 as an assistant prosecutor for Cuyahoga County, the first woman in Ohio to hold such an office.  By 1920, she became the first woman elected to a judicial office in the United States when she won election to the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.  In 1922 she became the first woman elected as Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, where she served two six-year terms.  Florence continued her series of “firsts” when she became the first woman appointed and confirmed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1934.  Florence served on the Sixth Circuit for 32 years until her death in 1966.

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