Etta Haynie Maddox (c. 1860-1933)
MSA SC 3520-12464
Henrietta (Etta) Haynie Maddox was born on January 6th between 1857-1867 in Baltimore to John T. Maddox, a Baltimore magistrate, and his wife, Susannah Moore. Etta had two older sisters, Margaret Ann and Emma Jane.
Maddox attended public schools, graduating from Eastern Female High School in 1873. Following high school, she attended the Peabody Institute to study voice. After three years at Peabody (1873-1875), she traveled to Washington, New York, Richmond and other cities to study and perform as a vocalist. Locally, she sang in the choirs of the First Presbyterian Church and Brown Memorial Church (both of Baltimore). She also taught voice and served as Director of the Seventh Baptist Church Choir. Yet, Maddox eventually decided to change her professional direction. According to biographer Hollis Atkinson, “It has been said that family opposition to the stage prevented her from having a professional singing career."1
On June 6, 1901, Etta Maddox became the first woman to graduate from the Baltimore Law School. Her graduation caught the attention of the Baltimore Sun. On June 7th, the paper ran the story “Miss Maddox Is A Lawyer: Will Try To Have Law Amended So She Can Practice.” The following day, the paper featured an interview with Maddox under the headline “Is Anxious To Practice Law.” These articles addressed the question of whether or not Maddox would be allowed to take the bar exam. At this time, Maryland law restricted the legal profession to men. Maddox was confident that she would practice law in Maryland, commenting:
I don’t think there is actual antagonism to having women practice law in Maryland. I think the statute has retained its present form, not because our legislators have wished to exclude women from the legal profession, but simply because the men have not given any thought to the opening of that field to women.2Maddox explained to The Sun that she would follow the regular process of applying to the Court of Appeals to take the bar exam. If refused, she planned "to petition the State Legislature to strike out the work 'male' from the statute concerning the right to practice law."3 Maddox acknowledged that thiry-seven other states allowed women to practice law at the time, but expressed determination not to leave her home state:
…I have no desire to leave Maryland. Besides, there is as good a field here as elsewhere for a woman to practice law if she can only be admitted to the bar. And I am willing to make the effort, not only for myself, but for other women who may wish to take up the same profession. I hope to get what I want without encountering any serious opposition, but I am prepared for discouragements. If I am refused the privilege of taking the examination for admission to the bar I will keep asking until I get permission to take it. If the next Legislature refuses to strike out the word ‘male’- well, I’ll petition again, that’s all.4Maddox followed through with her plan, applying to the Court of Appeals on October 28, 1901, for permission to take the bar exam. Along with the standard application, Maddox included a letter “To the Honorable Judges of the Court of Appeals of Maryland,” addressing her particular situation. She writes:
Whilst apprehending no difficulty in securing the requisite permission to take the State Bar Examination…I deem it prudent, in view of the fact that some question has been raised as to whether or not provision has been made in the law for the admission of women to the Bar of the State, to request that I may be allowed to submit through my counsel, an argument by brief in support of my right as a woman to take the examination under the law, if the same is seriously questioned by your Honorable Court.5The Court of Appeals granted Maddox’s request to file a brief on October 30, 1901. Maddox’s seventeen-page brief, signed by her attorney, Howard Bryant, included “a review of ancient, international and current statute law on the subject of women in the field of law,” and "cited precedents as far back as the Bible" supporting Maddox’s right to practice law.6 In it, she wrote:
If nature has endowed women with minds, if our colleges have given her education, if her energy and diligence have led her to a knowledge, if her energy and diligence have led her to a knowledge of the law, if her ambition directs her to adopt the profession of the law, shall it be said to her, at the dawn of the Twentieth Century, that she shall not be permitted to pursue the vocation to which her tastes lead her, and for which her studies have qualified her, and that the profession of law is of all the professions and vocations in Maryland, the only one from which she shall be excluded, - that there is a sex limit to justice and equality.7The Court of Appeals rendered its decision in Re Maddox, 93 Md. 727, on November 21, 1901. The Court denied Maddox’s application, deciding that it did not have the power to change the law. In the opinion, Chief Justice McSherry writes:
We are not to be understood as disparaging the laudable ambition of females to become lawyers. It is for the general assembly to declare what class of persons shall be admitted to the bar. We have no power to enact legislation…If the general assembly thinks, at its approaching session, that females ought to be admitted to the bar, it can so declare. Until then, we have no power to admit the applicant, and her request to be allowed to stand for examination must be denied.8The Baltimore Sun reported the court’s decision in a November 22, 1901, article entitled “Bars Woman Lawyer: The Court Decides Against Miss Maddox.” In an interview, Maddox comments “I am surprised, but not disappointed.”9
Following her defeat in court, Maddox proceeded with her plan to plead her case before the legislature. On January 23, 1902, Senator Jacob M. Moses introduced Senate Bill No. 30, which amended the law to admit women to the bar. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill on February 20, 1902. Maddox attended this hearing, where she spoke in support of the bill. Accompanying her were Mrs. J Ellen Foster, a lawyer from Iowa; Dr. Cora Eaton of Minneapolis; Miss Laura Clay, president of the Equal Rights Society of Kentucky; Miss Gail Laughlin, a lawyer from New York; Mrs. M.B. Thomas of Maryland; and Henry B. Blackwell of Massachuesetts.
The Baltimore Sun covered the hearing in detail in the February 21, 1902, article, “Women As Lawyers: Miss Etta Maddox And Other Women Before Committee.” The paper described a warm reception for Maddox and her fellow speakers, noting the favorable reactions of several senators. For example, “Senator Spencer C. Jones, who is distinguished as one of the handsomest and most gallant men in the State, made no secret of his intention to vote for the bill, and if Miss Maddox had asked him it is believed he would have made a speech.”10
Maddox’s fellow speakers made well-chosen remarks. Foster described the law as a profession suitable for a wife and mother. She explained that “She studied law…to keep her husband at home and practiced in partnership with him. While engaged in practice she cared for her children.” Clay paid compliments to both Maryland and men in her remarks: "Kentucky is indebted to Maryland for much of its civilization and Kentucky treats women most liberally. Civilization is measured by the advancement of the woman. We do not undervalue chivalry and do not think the chivalry of American men, North and South, can be beat, but I appeal, in the name of justice, for the right of women to earn their bread. It is a matter of strict justice. The State is injured when it makes it harder for any woman to make a living."11
Laughlin reminded the audience of Margaret Brent, “the first woman to practice law in the United States,” and called upon Maryland to “return to her ancient spirit of liberality.” She listed other states and countries who admitted women to the bar. Blackwell also mentioned these states, arguing “You should not put a slur on the women of Maryland by saying they are inferior to those of other States.” Eaton remarked “that the test of genius is to know when to act, and Maryland has now an opportunity to enact a law which will be historical…It is not a revolution, but an evolution, and the admission of women to the Maryland Bar will surely come.”12
The Sun itself came out in support of Senate Bill No. 30, publishing the editorial, “Women at the Bar.” The Sun wrote: "There is no valid ground on which women should be excluded from the bar, and any opposition that still exists to their admission is the result of antiquated notions. Other States are far in advance of Maryland in this respect…Women have the same right as men to make a living, and it is unjust to shut them out from any legitimate field of effort…The Legislature should open the courts to them and give them a chance to show what they can do. Doubtless they will give a good account of themselves."13
The Bill passed the Senate on March 4, 1902. The House amended the bill before passing it on March 31, 1902. Governor John Walter Smith signed it into law on April 8, 1902. Its final version, Chapter 399 Section 3A of the Laws of Maryland of 1902, reads:
Women shall be permitted to practice law in this State upon the same terms, conditions, and requirements, and to the same extent as provided in this Article with reference to men. No discrimination shall be made on account of race, creed, complexion or previous condition of servitude.14Maddox took the bar exam on June 18th and 19th, 1902. In July, the State Board of Law Examiners sent her notice that she passed the exam “very creditably.”15 The Court of Appeals formally admitted Etta Maddox to the bar on September 11, 1902. She took the oath before the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City on September 24, 1902. Later in her career, on March 4, 1911, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland admitted Maddox to practice before it.
Maddox argued her first case in Baltimore City Circuit Court No. 2 on December 14, 1904. She appeared before Judge George M. Sharp as the attorney for sixteen-year old Gertrude Campbell in a divorce and alimony case. Maddox succeeded in securing her client $3.50 a week in alimony and $15 counsel fee. The Baltimore Sun followed the case in the December 15, 1904, article “Miss Maddox Tries A Case: Woman Lawyer Makes Her First Appearance.” The paper noted that Maddox wore “a white shirtwaist and a blue skirt,” “showed no trepidation in opening the case,” and “acquitted herself with credit.” The Sun also observed that “Several times in replying to Miss Maddox’s questions, Mr. Campbell said ‘No, sir,’ and then corrected himself to ‘No, ma’am.’”16
In addition to being Maryland’s first woman lawyer, Maddox was outspoken on a number of political issues, particularly women’s suffrage. She and her sisters were prominent social activists. With sister Emma Maddox Funck, Etta helped found the Maryland Suffrage Association in 1894. Funck was president of this organization for 30 years.
In 1908, Etta Maddox began to attend every session of the Maryland General Assembly, in support of women’s suffrage, a practice she continued for many years. She wrote the first women's suffrage bill to go before the Maryland General Assembly in 1910, introduced by Delegate William Harry Pairo. Maddox presided over a hearing on the bill, which took place February 23, 1910. Over 400 suffragists attended this hearing, including the president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, Rev. Anna Howard Shaw. In the February 24 article “Women Plead For Votes,” The Baltimore Sun observed that the large delegation of suffragists seemed to intimidate some legislators:
Members of the committee seemed rather shy of appearing. While the meeting was called for 3 o’clock only one of the committeemen made his appearance at the desk…up to 3:30, when speaking began. Mr. Paire, who helped the ladies organize the meeting, espied Mr. Benson in the rear of the hall and called him to the desk. Mr. Benson came forward rather bashfully and took a seat upon the Speaker’s rostrum, but remained alone for a while when two other committeemen mustered up courage to join him.17Speakers at the hearing included Rev. Dr. J.R. Straton of the Seventh Baptist Church of Baltimore, Dr. Flora Pollack of Johns Hopkins University, Emma Maddox Funck, Rev. Peter Ainslie, and Rev. Shaw. Straton promoted the positive impact of giving women the vote: “Women ought to be given the ballot also because she will do the country a tremendous service; her splendid and pure influence will elevate our politics. Next to the alter of God the purest and holiest spot should be the ballot place and the ballot box.” Pollack argued that women needed the vote in order to protect children. She “made the point that throughout nature it is the female, the mother, who protects her young.”18 Funck expressed her belief that changing times called for women’s suffrage:
The position of woman today is out of harmony with modern conditions- is an anomaly and should be changed. The large class of wealthy unemployed women need the ballot to give them responsibility, as well as women in active life, who should have it for their protection. Many persons say that women should not have the ballot because they don’t want it. That is the very reason why they should have it, why it should be forced upon them. They should be aroused to a sense of responsibility.19Ainslie listed historical supporters of women’s suffrage including Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Theodore Roosevelt, concluding that “It is not a question of whether it’s a man or a woman, but intelligence ought to rule this age.” Like Funck, Shaw also discussed changing times: "Now that women have to go out into the world and hustle for a living the old poetic, chivalric ideas about the sex don’t work at all…Surround us with sixteenth century conditions and then give us poetry and chivalry; with twentieth century surroundings give us the ballot in order that we may meet modern conditions." Shaw spoke of her own experiences in the suffrage movement. She “said she had been 40 years ‘on the way- just as long as the children of Israel wandered in the desert. At the end of that time they saw the promised land. We see it ahead of us today.’” This hearing failed to garner the support needed to pass Maddox’s suffrage bill. The House tabled the bill on March 24, 1910.20
Maddox remained in the news for her suffrage activities. On January 21, 1916, she was the subject of a Baltimore Sun article. This article gave a detailed account of a State House encounter between “an elderly lady, dressed all in black” and Delegate Samuel Brown of Allegany. The Sun never named the lady in question, but referred to her as “one of the ubiquitous ‘flying squadrons’ of women that have swooped down on the Maryland Legislature.” According to the paper, the two drew quite a crowd: “Delegate Brown and the suffragist, leaning toward each other and gesticulating in their earnestness, were the center of a delighted group.”21The Sun went on to give a blow-by-blow account of the argument:
‘We came here expecting to find a body of intelligent men,’ said the suffragist, ‘but I must say that you are a bunch of mossbacks. Now, Mr. Brown, are you a mossback or an intelligent man?’Maddox took offense to several parts of this story. The next day, The Sun printed her reaction. She identified herself as the “lady in black," objecting that the paper should have used her proper name: "She was perfectly willing to pass up the ‘elderly’ part of the designation; that did not offend her. Her friends, she said, knew her age, and as for the others it was none of their business. But she thought that the ‘Woman in Black’ part of it was decidedly objectionable. She had a name; it was fairly well known, she thought, and she preferred to have it used when any reference was made to her." Maddox also protested that she never referred to the legislators as a “lot of mossbacks,” and objected to the paper’s use of the term “flying squadron” to describe suffragists:23
‘I’m a legislator, madam,’ said Brown, ‘and I’m down here representing the people in my county.’
Just then somebody poked through the crowd and called to Brown:
‘Senator Zihlman wants to see you in the hall.’
‘Tell him I’m busy,’ said Brown, and then, thinking better of it, he got up to go. The crowd broke into howls.
‘Don’t quit under fire, Brown!’ ‘Stick to ‘em!’ ‘Don’t run!’ Delegate Brown sat down.
‘How about the women; are you representing them?’ persisted the interviewer.
‘I certainly am,’ answered Brown, ‘but the women in my county have something else to do besides run around the State like some women I know.’
The suffragist became indignant. ‘I would have you know, Mr. Brown,’ she said, ‘that we are the busiest women in the State of Maryland.’
‘Heaven knows that’s true,’ gasped Brown, ‘and Heaven help the men you’ve got! And don’t think, madam,’ he continued, ‘that you can come down here and bullyrag us into suffrage. That isn’t the way to do it.’
The suffragist turned to a woman companion.
‘Come along, Ella,’ she said, ‘there’s another mossback in the House.’22
We who believe that women are entitled to the right of suffrage, and who are trying to convince the members of the Legislature that they ought to give it to us are in Annapolis on serious business. We are serious and earnest women, working for a cause we believe to be right and just. We do not like being made objects of ridicule. Many men do not agree with us and we find no fault with them for that, if their objection to woman suffrage is based on thought and honest consideration of the subject. But we do object to any legislator refusing to consider the subject, which is being seriously considered by most of the civilized nations of the world…Men like Delegate Brown, who seems to have closed his mind entirely upon the subject, who will not even think about it, we do not hope to convince and we let them alone. Had I known the manner of man he was I should not have wasted his time or mine in discussing the matter with him. But, at least, I expected from him what I and others who are working with me have received from other members of the Legislature- courtesy and a respectful hearing for an important matter, presented in a perfectly courteous and respectful manner.24After women got the vote in 1920, Maddox continued her political activism in other arenas. She was active in the Democratic Women’s Club, which she helped to organize, the Twentieth Century Club, and the Women’s Democratic Luncheon Club of Baltimore. She also maintained her law practice for a number of years, though the exact date of her retirement is unknown.
Etta Maddox died in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 19, 1933, at the home of her sister, Emma Maddox Funck, after a prolonged illness. Her funeral was held February 22, 1933, and attended by “representatives of women’s political, legal, musical and educational circles.”25 Maddox is buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore. Her tombstone features the scales of justice and the inscription:
MARYLAND’S FIRST WOMAN LAWYER
ETTA HAYNIE MADDOX
DIED FEBRUARY 19, 1933
GRADUATED IN LAW IN 1900
ADMITTED TO PRACTICE LAW IN THE
STATE OF MARYLAND IN 1902
AND THE DISTRICT COURTS OF THE
UNITED STATES IN 191126
Maddox received several posthumous honors. The Supreme Bench of Baltimore City memorialized her in January 1934, and filed a biographical sketch among the its permanent records. On February 19, 1950, the Women’s Bar Association of Baltimore City honored her with the presentation of a portrait and biographical Baltimore Bar Library. The Maryland Commission for Women inducted Etta Maddox into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame in 2003.
Biography written by Jennifer Hafner and 2001 summer intern Alicia Brooks.
Return to Etta Maddox's Introductory Page
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