Marion Griffin

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Contact:
Candace Corrigan
707 N Spring St
Murfreesboro, TN 37130

(615) 904-0085

 

Radio Portraits inspired from women's diaries written 1779-1959

MapMarion Griffin 1879-1957
First woman lawyer in
Tennessee, 1907

Held view that the Tennessee Legislature should contain as
many women as men

In 1900, Marion Griffin was denied admittance to the Tennessee State Bar on the sole grounds that she was a woman. Though Law school was not required at the time, she graduated with high honors from the University of Michigan Law School in 1904 and continued her petitions in Tennessee. She finally succeeded by an act of legislature in 1907 to become the first woman lawyer in the state. Later, she became the first woman elected to the state legislature from Shelby County, TN and held the radical opinion that the state legislature should contain "just as many women as men."

An Honest Living

When I turned 21 at the turn of the century, I was working as a stenographer, studying law with the purpose of becoming a lawyer. Being of legal age, and as was the custom at the time, I went before two judges for examinations, and I was found to be qualified.When I petitioned the supreme court to admit me to the bar, I was rejected on the sole grounds that I was a woman. A seven year quest ensued at that moment, for I would not be dissuaded.

The next year I filed a second request. This time a divided court again denied me, with Justice Wilkes writing a dissenting opinion stating that he could see, "No valid objection to a woman's practicing law...That women have by the force of their own indomitable will and purpose opened up their way in to all avenues of business and trade. A woman should be given a chance to make an honest living, and whether she makes it by necessity or choice, she should not be disbarred from it except for good legal reasons."

Chorus
Men have a right to do their business
And women should have the same
No favoritism need be shown
And it's a rough and tumble game
I consider myself fortunate to have
Achieved the goal I saw
To make an honest living
In the profession of law

Though not required at the time, I did attend law college at the University of Michigan, passing with good grades, completing every course offered in the three year curriculum in 9 months. Law schools were a problem. One well known school refused women, with the Dean exclaiming that women would gain admission "only over his dead body." Shortly after he left the college to become a Supreme Court Justice, a group of the first women admitted as law students sent him a telegram that said, "We expect that you are lying prone on the courthouse steps today." They never did receive a reply.

Chorus...

I came back to Memphis with renewed determination. Having no other recourse I took my request to the Legislature, urging the State to pass an act to allow women to practice law in Tennessee. At first I was met with some guffaws and wisecracks, but finally succeeded in getting it passed on February 13, 1907. "Be it enacted by the general assembly...That any woman of the age of 21 years and otherwise possessing the necessary qualifications, who shall apply for the same, may be granted a license to practice law in the courts of this State."

Chorus...

Many thanks to attorney Francis Loring for her research contributions.

Song Sources:
L.A.W. Matters
, Nashville Dec. 1995, Commercial Appeal, Oct. 21, 1931, Memphis Scimitar, Jan. 31, 1957, The Inviable Bar: The Woman Lawyer in America 1638 to the Present by Karen B. Morello. Boston, Mass., 1986

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