Violette Anderson: the first black woman to practice law in the Supreme Court of the United States

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Violette Anderson

In the early 19th century, no colored woman was found in the courtrooms of the US which pronounced injustice against the blacks. On January 29, 1926, lawyer Violette Neatley Anderson became the first African American female attorney sworn into the United States Supreme Court.

Few months later, she also became the first African American woman appointed as an assistant prosecutor in Chicago.

Anderson worked as a court reporter for a whopping 15years from 1905 to 1920. While fulfilling her journalistic rites, she found interest in law and decided to take law classes.

In her department, she was the only woman and the first woman in Illinois to graduate from the Chicago Law School, obtaining her LL.B. in 1920.

A native of London, England, born July 16th, 1882, to Richard and Marie Neatley. While still young, Anderson and her family moved to Chicago, Illinois. She graduated from a Chicago high school in 1899 and advanced her education at the Chicago Athenaeum and the Chicago Seminar of Sciences.

After obtaining her law degree, she began a private practice, becoming the first black woman to practice law in the U.S. District Court Eastern Division.

Anderson emerged as one of the first women in the state of Illinois to engage in private law practice. Her success in defending a woman accused of first degree murder of her husband in the courtroom resulted in her being appointed as an assistant prosecutor in Chicago. She became both the first African American and the first woman appointed to that post.

Neatley served as the first female city prosecutor in Chicago from 1922 to 1923 and after five years of service before the high court of Illinois, she was admitted to practice for the Supreme Court of the United States becoming the first black woman to attain that height.

Fearless and a pacesetter in her field, Neatley paved the way for many women who came after her. She was reportedly very active in lobbying the US Congress for the passage of the Bankhead-Jones Act, which allows sharecroppers and tenant farmers with low-interest loans to buy small farms.

Fortunately, the proposed law that was to move poor agriculturalists from farmworkers to farm owners was signed into law in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

She became a member of the Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and the Chicago Council of Social Agencies, served as the first vice-president of the Cook County Bar Association, and the eighth Grand Basileus (President) of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated.

She was also secretary of Idlewild Lot Owners Association, an executive board member of the Chicago Council of Social Agencies, as well as a member of the League of Women Voters.

On December 24th, 1937, Anderson passed away in her Chicago home. Before her death, she had willed her property to all-black resort in Idlewild, Michigan to Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. To date, they honor her legacy annually during the month of April called “Violette Anderson Day.”

Africh Royale

Africh Royale

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