One hundred years ago…
By this time tomorrow, The Legal Genealogist will be standing in Pearl, Mississippi.
Pearl. On the Pearl River. In Rankin County.
Where my third great grandfather once rode circuit as a Methodist Episcopal preacher and where he was one of the original county commissioners.
But that’s a story for another day (and I’ll be telling part of it to the Mississippi Genealogical Society at its seminar tomorrow — come on out and join us! Walk-ins are welcome at the Clyde Muse Center, Hinds Community College, Rankin Campus, in Pearl, with doors opening at 8 a.m., tomorrow, Saturday!).
Today’s story is of another Rankin County resident… someone who would have smiled to read one particular statute that appears in that old book I’ve been poking around in this week.
In relevant part, the statute, passed by the Mississippi Legislature in June 1822, reads:
That no person shall hereafter be admitted an attorney or counsellor at law, in any court within this state, unless he be a citizen of the United States, and approved by such court for his good character and learnning, and the name of every person admitted shall be put in a roll or book to be kept in each court for that purpose…
It shall be the duty of the supreme court, at the commencement of each term thereof, to appoint three distinguished attorneys and counsellors of that court, who… shall examine in open court every applicant for license to practice… and if after such examination, … and if the judges of said court shall be satisfied that the applicant is of good character, a citizen of the United States, and above the age of twenty-one years, they shall give to him a license under their hands, and the seal of the court, to practise as attorney and counsellor at law, in any court of law or equity, of this state…1
You notice the underlying issue that’s key to this, right?
You did note that no person could be a lawyer in Mississippi unless he be a citizen, and if approved the court shall give to him a license.
Male pronouns. Male lawyers. Male court, for that matter.
And it wasn’t until 100 years ago this year that that changed.
And it was changed by a woman from Rankin County.
A woman named Susie Blue Buchanan.
She was born April 2, 1882, in Brandon, county seat of Rankin County, the oldest of 10 children of William and Margaret Buchanan. She graduated from Brandon High School and went on to college, as Mississippi Synodical College, East Mississippi Female College, Harris College and finally Millsaps College.2
First she taught school, but later went to work for her lawyer-judge father William Buchanan in Brandon. There, she “read law with him and his partner, J.R. East. After her father’s death in 1912, she continued studying with East.”3
And whatever she did, she did well: “Buchanan received her license to practice law in December of 1916; she became the first woman to join the Mississippi State Bar Association in 1918. She was also the first woman to practice law before the Supreme Court of Mississippi. … From 1924 until her death in 1938, Buchanan served as the deputy chancery clerk of Rankin County.”4
When Susie Blue Buchanan took the oath as an attorney in Mississippi, the headlines read: “First Girl Lawyer is Admitted to Supreme Court of Mississippi.” Since 1999, the Mississippi Bar’s Women in the Profession Committee has given the Susie Blue Buchanan award to other trailblazing women attorneys in the Magnolia State.5
It’s going to be such an honor to follow along behind, in Susie Blue Buchanan’s footsteps, in the county where my own kin lived, with the Mississippi Genealogical Society tomorrow…
Image: Courtesy of Gwen Langley Pittman.
- §§1-2, Chapter 41, The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi… 1823 (Natchez: Francis Baker, 1824), 244; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 29 Jan 2016). ↩
- Lyn Wilkerson, Slow Travels-Mississippi (Jacksonville, Fla.: Caddo Publs., 2010), kindle edition, unpaginated. ↩
- Nomination, Stevens-Buchanan House, National Register of Historic Places, U.S. Dept. of Interior; digital images, Mississippi Department of Archives and History. ↩
- Wilkerson, Slow Travels-Mississippi. ↩
- See Amanda Green Alexander, “Women in the Profession,” The Mississippi Lawyer (Winter 2012-2013), 9-16. ↩