March 12, 1877 – Birthdate of Annette Abbott Adams, First Woman U.S. Assistant Attorney General

On this date in history, Annette Abbott Adams was born in Prattville, California.

Adams received her law degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1912; she was the only woman in her graduating class. She wanted to work in the San Francisco area but was unable to find a law firm in the area willing to hire her. Thus she returned to her home town in Plumas County to open a law office. But when the Democratic State Central Committee chairman invited her to organize women for Woodrow Wilson’s campaign, she moved back to San Francisco, becoming president of the Women’s State Democratic Club. As a reward for her political support, she was (the first woman) named Assistant U.S. Attorney for Northern California in 1914.

Annette Abbott Adams

Annette Abbott Adams

U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, impressed with her successes for Wilson, invited her to become Assistant Attorney General in Washington, D.C. Three days later, President Wilson presented her nomination to the Senate. Adams was immediately confirmed and became the first woman to hold the post. Her first duty was not in Washington, however, but it was to garner support for Palmer, who wanted the presidential nomination, at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. She did this while simultaneously beginning her own bid for the vice presidential position. With Palmer’s failure to gain the nomination, her own quest died as well.

In 1921, President Harding replaced Adams with another woman from California, Mabel Wille-Brandt, and Adams returned to private practice in California. She continued to participate in politics, and in 1932, she campaigned for Franklin Roosevelt. After he won, she was offered an appointment to the Federal Board of Tax Appeals, but Adams preferred to stay in California.

In 1942, Adams was appointed Presiding Justice of the District Court of Appeals for the Third District of California. In 1950 she was assigned, for a single case, to the California Supreme Court, becoming the first woman to sit on that court. She was suffering from arteriosclerosis, however, and retired in 1952, dying four years later.

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