February 14, 1870 – Appointment of the First Female Judge in the U.S.

On this day in history, Esther Hobart Morris became the first female Justice of the Peace in the United States. The Sweetwater County, Wyoming Board of County Commissioners, in an ironic move, appointed Morris to serve out the term of the previous justice, who resigned in protest of Wyoming Territory’s passage of the women’s suffrage amendment on December 10, 1869.

Esther Morris

Esther Morris

The Sweetwater County Board of Commissioners approved her application in a vote of two to one. The County Clerk telegraphed a press release announcing the historic event of the first woman Justice of the Peace, which read:

Wyoming, the youngest and one of the richest Territories in the United States, gave equal rights to women in actions as well as words.”

A mother of three boys, Morris served a term of less than nine months. Justices of the Peace were usually not required to have any formal legal education in order to qualify for the office, and typically presided over misdemeanor cases and other petty criminal infractions. But historical documents record a steady stream of civil and criminal matters into the courtroom during Morris’s tenure. In all, she decided some 26 cases, none of which was ever reversed on appeal.

Morris eventually became a symbol for the women’s rights movement, and was chosen as Wyoming’s representative in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Her statue was presented in 1960, and in 1963, a replica of this statue was placed in front of the Wyoming State Capitol Building.

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