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the third African-American woman to be licensed to practice law
Lutie Lytle was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 1871. Her family moved to Topeka, Kansas, about 1882, and she attended the public schools there.
Lutie's father was active in the Populist Party and ran an unsuccessful campaign for city jailer. His involvement led to Lutie's appointment as the Populist's assistant enrolling clerk for the State Legislature. She also worked for one of the African-American newspapers in Topeka, and it was while engaged in this pursuit that she first dreamt of studying law.
At the age of 21, Lutie moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she taught school to pay for her tuition at Central Tennessee College in Nashville. She studied hard, and on September 8, 1897 was admitted to the Criminal Court in Memphis -- the first African-American woman to be licensed to practice in Tennessee, and only the third in the United States. Returning to Kansas later that same month, she became the first African-American woman to be admitted to the Kansas bar. In addition, at the time she was admitted to the Tennessee and Kansas bars Lytle was the only black female to be practicing law, as both of the first two to be licensed were deceased.
Now that she had overcome racial and gender obstacles to receive her law degree and license, Lytle faced an even more difficult task: that of deciding where to practice. Knowing that it would be all but impossible for her to get clients in either Tennessee or Kansas, she spent several months giving lectures to women's groups and local colleges on topics such as the law of Domestic Relations.
In the Fall of 1898, Lytle temporarily abandoned her plan to practice law and joined the faculty at Central Tennessee College, becoming the only woman law instructor in the world. She served in that position through the 1899 term.
Sometime after leaving Central Tennessee, Lytle married a minister in the African Episcopal Church and moved with him to New Paltz, New York. She later married Alfred C. Cowan, himself a lawyer, and moved to Brooklyn, New York. In 1913, Lytle and her husband attended the annual convention of what is now known as the Negro Bar Association. She subsequently became the first African-American woman to become a member of a national bar organization.
Little else is known about Lutie Lytle's life and career. Although it is assumed that she practiced law in New York, no conclusive evidence of that assumption exists. Nor is it known when or where she died.
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This page was last updated on 09/23/2017.