Categories: Law, Marlborough, Social Movements, Women, Work

Mary Hall: Connecticut’s First Female Attorney

The Good Will Club, ca. 1920. The Club is still in operation today as the Boys and Girls Club of Hartford – Marlborough Historical Society and the Richmond Memorial Library, Marlborough

Born in Marlborough, Connecticut, in 1843, Mary Hall had no idea, growing up the daughter of a farmer, that she would one day revolutionize the legal profession in Connecticut. In 1866 she graduated from Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, and became a teacher. A believer in equal opportunities for women, she attended a woman suffrage convention in Hartford that set her on a new and radical career path.

At the convention she heard esteemed Hartford attorney John Hooker give a talk about the restricted property rights of married women. Inspired by Hooker’s speech, Hall decided to study law (at a time before Connecticut had any female attorneys). She began studying in her brother’s legal practice, but after his death, Hall found herself without a mentor. It was then that John Hooker, clerk of the Supreme Court of Errors in Connecticut, took Hall in as an apprentice. Hall studied under Hooker for four years.

Clearing the Way for Connecticut Women to Practice Law

In May of 1882, Hall applied for admission to the Connecticut bar. The local US district attorney and three other lawyers administered her exam, and felt she deserved to pass, but deferred to the state court system to make the final decision as to the legality of admitting a female attorney to the bar. In July of 1882, the Connecticut Supreme Court cleared the way for women to practice law in Connecticut by making Mary Hall the state’s first female attorney.

Hall went into practice and specialized in assisting women with wills and cases concerning property rights. She practiced for approximately 40 years and became the state’s first female notary in 1884.

In 1902, Hall founded the Good Will Club, an organization that sought housing for wayward boys. She later established a camp for these children in her hometown of Marlborough and even wrote the first book on Marlborough’s history in 1903. A leader in the suffragist movement, she passed away in 1927 at the age of 84, just seven years after witnessing the ratification of the 19th amendment—guaranteeing women the right to vote.

LEARN MORE

Websites

“Mary Hall.” Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, 2014. Link.
“Mary Hall.” Richmond Memorial Library, 2007. Link.
“Mary Hall, the First Woman Admitted to Practice Law in Connecticut.” Connecticut State Library, 2014. Link.

Books

Hall, Mary. “Marlborough.” In The Memorial History of Hartford County, Connecticut, 1633-1884, Vol. 2. Boston, MA: Edward L. Osgood Publisher, 1886. Link.
Norgren, Jill. Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America’s First Women Lawyers. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2013.
Ghirlanda, Romano G. Reflections into Marlborough’s History: The Biography of a Small Connecticut Town. Marlborough, CT: R.G. Ghirlanda, 2007.

Articles

Berger, Matthew G. “Mary Hall: The Decision and the Lawyer.” Connecticut Bar Journal 79, no. 1 (2005): 29–58. Link.
Enjoyed reading this? Share it with friends »