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Florence Ellinwood Allen

Florence Ellinwood Allen was the first woman to serve as a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court. Before being appointed to Ohio’s Supreme Court, she was the first female assistant prosecutor in the United States.  In 1934, Florence became the first women to be appointed and confirmed to a federal appeals court judgeship. She served in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals for 32 years. 

Florence was born in 1884 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her mother Corinne was a very active member of local and national women’s clubs.  She was an avid campaigner for  William Jennings Bryant who was the Democratic candidate for president in 1900. The seeds for political activism were planted in Florence at a young age. At 16 year of age, Florence began her studies at Western Reserve University.  She planned to pursue a degree in music which was her passion. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1904. After graduating, she traveled to Germany with her parents and studied piano for 2 years but decided that music would not be her vocation. She returned to Cleveland and completed a master’s degree program in political science and constitutional law

Since the Western Reserve law school was not open to women, Florence first went to Chicago and then to New York City to pursue a law degree. She moved there in 1909  and began working with the New York League for the Protection of Immigrants while she earned her law degree at NYU School of Law. She supplemented her income by giving public lectures. It was during this time that she met Rev. Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt. These powerful leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association shaped Florence’s career and political strategy. 

She returned to Ohio and campaigned fervently across much of the state for the passage of amendments to the Ohio constitution to enfranchise women in 1912 and 1914. She gave 92 speeches in 88 counties. In spite of heckling at many stops on the circuit, she organized many women in the effort to obtain equal suffrage for women. Alas, both the 1912 and 1914 referendums lost.  But her “rallying of the troops” would be invaluable in the continuing battle for woman’s suffrage and the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. During these years she met the local leaders of the suffrage movement; Harriet Taylor Upton, Belle Sherwin, Lucia McBride and others. These personal friends and political allies would be her steadfast defenders for the remainder of her career.                                                                 

Recognition of her legal prowess increased after she won a court battle against the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections which had tried to prevent women from voting in municipal elections. Impressed by this win, the local Democratic party appointed her an assistant county prosecutor. This was the first step in a long remarkable judicial career. She earned the reputation as a fearless enforcer of law and order. Florence Allen died in 1966 at the age of 82.