Speech Before the Southern Exposition of Louisville, (14 October 1884) Louisville, KY


Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood laid the groundwork for women’s future successes in law and politics. She was the first woman attorney permitted to practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court and one of the first women to run for president of the United States. Her tireless work on behalf of women attorneys, women’s suffrage, labor, and peace make her worthy of study, reflection, and remembrance.1 Lockwood is not a well-known figure in U.S. women’s history, largely due to a lack of archival materials and critical engagement with her public discourse.

Lockwood was born to Hannah and Lewis Bennett on October 24, 1830, in Royalton, New York.2 As a young widow in 1853, Lockwood left her young daughter, Lura, with her parents and enrolled at Genesee Wesleyan Seminary for Ladies to pursue her bachelor’s degree.3 Her interest in women’s public service started early, when she introduced a required public speaking course for girls as principal at Lockport Union Academy in upstate New York. 4 Lockwood then moved to Washington, D.C., with her daughter in 1866 to open a coeducational school. There, she received a crash course in political lobbying and debate after attending the Reconstruction Debates from the “Ladies Gallery” in the U.S. Senate.5

In 1867, Lockwood founded the Universal Franchise Association (UFA) with Josephine Griffing and Julia Archibald Holmes. 6 The next year, she married Reverend Ezekiel Lockwood. Although she was denied admission to Georgetown Law College and Columbian College based on her sex, she was able to enroll at the National University Law School.7 Despite having finished all requirements for her degree, Lockwood was denied her diploma and admittance to the Bar of Washington D.C. In 1876, Lockwood was also denied admittance to the Bar of the Supreme Court when Chief Justice Morrison White declared that “none but men are permitted to practice before it as attorneys and counselors.”8 For the next three years, Lockwood personally lobbied Congress to pass a bill that would outlaw such a restriction.

In 1879, President Rutherford Hayes signed the “Lockwood Bill” into law, which opened federal courts to women attorneys almost a decade after she began pursuing a career in law. 9 After this law, she became the first woman to participate in oral arguments before the Supreme Court for the case of Kaiser v. Stickney in 1880, a case involving married women’s property rights. 10 Despite losing her first case, Lockwood’s fight to practice law before the Supreme Court did secure this right for women once and for all. Lockwood pushed for similar legal reforms, such as granting other marginalized voices the right to practice law, when she moved for the admission of the first African-American attorney, Samuel R. Lowery, to the Bar of the Supreme Court. 11 In arguably her most known case before the Supreme Court, Lockwood successfully fought to secure federal funds owed to the Cherokee nation after their forced removal during the 1830s. 12 Assistant Attorney General Louis A. Pradt, who argued opposite Lockwood in the case, reportedly called her “decidedly the most noted attorney in this country, if not in the world.” 13

Lockwood became the first woman to appear on the ballot for the president of the United States in 1884 when she campaigned as a candidate for the Equal Rights Party. She proudly wrote: “If women in the states are not permitted to vote, there is no law against their being voted for.” 14 Although Victoria Claflin Woodhull was the first woman to declare her candidacy for president in 1872, she was constitutionally disqualified because she was not at least 35 years of age. 15 Twelve years later, Lockwood mounted a full-fledged presidential campaign in coordination with her running mate Marietta Stow, a leader in California’s woman suffrage movement. Lockwood held interviews with the press, organized rallies, and invited her fellow candidates to a public debate (they declined). Her daughter Lura served as her campaign manager. National suffrage leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not support Lockwood’s candidacy because they feared it would divert resources and tarnish the suffrage movement’s momentum and success. When asked if her candidacy would receive the support of woman suffragists by an Evening Star reporter, Lockwood replied, “Certainly not…the women are divided up into as many factions and parties as the men.” 16 Lockwood documented the campaign in a 1903 essay titled, “How I Ran for the Presidency,” published in the National Magazine.

In the end, Lockwood calculated that she received 4,149 tabulated votes from six states. 17 She also claims to have received votes that were not counted. Lockwood ran for president again in 1888. She stated that for women to progress and obtain positions of political leadership, they needed “to gain strength and to get organization [sic] . . . put nominees in the field at once and to keep them there.”  18 Despite giving speeches and interviews across the country, Lockwood’s second campaign was not considered as novel as the first. According to Jill Norgren, “Four years earlier her political bravado had expressed the optimism of the movement; by 1888, with the woman suffrage movement all but stalled, the campaign drew attention to its failure.” 19

Despite encountering institutional barriers at every level, Lockwood achieved a remarkable amount of social progress over the course of her life. She delivered speeches and lectures around the country, assisted in passing legislation in support of women and people of color, and advocated for international peace. She passed away in 1917, just two years shy of women gaining the right to vote.

Just a few weeks before Election Day in 1884, Lockwood appeared in Louisville, Kentucky, at the second annual Southern Exposition of Louisville on October 14. Louisville’s Southern Exposition was an annual fair held from 1883 to 1887. The event showcased the city’s manufacturing businesses in an effort to remain economically competitive on the national stage. 20 Lockwood was invited to attend a series of events at the fair and gave an evening address as the exposition’s weekly guest of honor. While local media referred to her as “the lady candidate for President,” the coverage suggests that she was a respected and honored guest. Colonel S. B. Toney offered her high praise as he introduced her: “In this new era of civilization, she is the representative of an idea which deserves the thoughtful consideration of every observer of human affairs, an idea which has forced itself upon the thought of men and challenged the attention of the age.” In championing women’s participation in politics even further, Toney elaborated on ideas that were integral to the eventual passage of women’s suffrage: “We should not forget that all that we are, and all that we can ever hope to be, is derived from woman. We should not forget that the hand, however frail that rocks the cradle, moves the world . . . I have the proud privilege, ladies and gentlemen, of introducing to you one of the most celebrated of American ladies.” 21

The local paper notes that a “very large crowd of ladies turned out,” that the crowd for her speech “quite filled the Music Hall,” and that she received vigorous applause. 22 Her full speech is included in the Louisville Courier Journal’s coverage of the event. It is one of the only speeches available in full from Lockwood’s candidacy. 23


  1. For more on Lockwood’s life and rhetorical legacy, see: Jill Norgren, Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would be President (New York: New York University Press, 2007) and Emily Berg Paup, “‘A New Woman in Old Fashioned Times’: Party Women and the Rhetorical Foundations of Political Womanhood,” Ph.D. diss., (University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, 2012). For a rhetorical analysis of her presidential campaign rhetoric, see Emily Berg Paup, “‘The Glory of Each Generation is to Set Its Own Precedent’: Belva Lockwood and the Rhetorical Construction of Female Presidential Plausibility,” forthcoming in Argumentation & Advocacy in 2019.
  2. Warren L. Lashley, “Belva Bennett McNall Lockwood,” in Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993), 39.
  3. Genesee Wesleyan Seminary for Ladies later became part of Syracuse University. Bill Alden, “SU Traces Beginnings to this Region,” Democrat and Chronicle, October 5, 2014, .
  4. Lashley, “Belva Bennett McNall Lockwood,” 40.
  5. Lockwood lobbied Congress for many reforms, including pensions, mining rights, American Indian affairs, foreign policy, and women’s rights. For more see, Norgren, Belva Lockwood, 110-123.
  6. Norgren, Belva Lockwood, 19.
  7. National University Law School was later incorporated into George Washington University. “A Select Chronology of the GW School of Law,” George Washington University Libraries; Belva Ann Lockwood, “My Efforts to Become a Lawyer,” Lippincott’s Magazine 58, no. 4 (1888): 222.
  8. Lawrence Wrightsman, Oral Arguments Before the Supreme Court: An Empirical Approach (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 18. For her own re-telling of the process of being admitted to the bar, complete with the text of original letters, see: Lockwood, “My Efforts to Become a Lawyer,” 225-228.
  9. Lashley, “Belva Bennett McNall Lockwood,” 41.
  10. Norgren, Belva Lockwood, 106-107.
  11. Norgren, Belva Lockwood, 107.
  12. United States v. Cherokee, 202 U.S. 101 (1906).
  13. Lashley, “Belva Bennett McNall Lockwood,” 43.
  14. Belva A. Lockwood, “How I Ran for the Presidency,” National Magazine 17 (1903): 729.
  15. Lois Beachy Underhill, The Woman Who Ran for President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull (Bridgehampton, NY: Bridge Works Pub., 1995).
  16. “A Women’s Candidate for President,” The Evening Star, September 4, 1884, 1.
  17. Lockwood, “How I Ran for the Presidency,” 733.
  18. Norgren, Belva Lockwood, 163.
  19. Norgren, Belva Lockwood, 167.
  20. For more on this event, see “Louisville’s Southern Exposition,” The Filson Historical Society.
  21. “An Honored Guest: The Exposition Management Entertain Mrs. Belva A. Lockwood, Candidate for President,” Louisville Courier Journal, October 15, 1884, 6.
  22. “An Honored Guest,” 6.
  23. Lockwood’s papers are housed at the New York State Library and the Peace Collection at Swarthmore College. These collections include primarily letters, writings, and press clippings. Excerpts from an 1884 campaign speech can be found in the New York Times. See: “A Woman Can be President: Belva Lockwood Defines the Position of the Equal Righters,” New York Times, October 20, 1884, 1. A speech from 1888 was printed in the Boonville Herald. See: “Belva Lockwood’s Address,” Boonville Herald, September 20, 1888.