Florence Ellinwood Allen (1884-1966)

Judge Florence Ellinwood Allen of Salt Lake City, Utah, was the nation's first female justice of a state supreme court. Homeschooled in Greek and Latin, she enjoyed intellectual surroundings in early childhood. By her teens she was an avid feminist and idolized Susan B. Anthony. Allen attended Salt Lake College, graduated from Western Reserve University, and prepared for a career as a concert pianist with two years of private instruction in Berlin. A nerve injury ended her hopes of becoming a keyboard performer, and in 1906 she began a three-year stint as music critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.


With funds earned from music lectures and from investigating for the New York League for the Protection of Immigrants, Allen began a study of law at the University of Chicago. She graduated from New York University in 1913. After passing the Ohio bar exam, she focused on women's issues and served as counsel to the Ohio Woman Suffrage Party. In 1919 she became an assistant prosecutor for Cuyahoga County, the first Ohio woman to hold such a post.


Allen pioneered roles for women in the judiciary by trying a total of 892 cases as a Cuyahoga County judge. She was Ohio's first female prosecutor at a murder trial and the first to sentence a felon to the death penalty. In 1920 she became the first woman elected judge of the common court of pleas, and in 1922 she became the first to win election to the Ohio supreme court. In 1934, as an appointee of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, she began a 25-year career with the U.S. Court of Appeals, after which she became the first woman to serve as chief judge of a federal appellate court. Allen was mentioned as a possible U.S. Supreme Court justice during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, but neither president was ready to appoint a woman. Despite a demanding schedule, she found time to write This Constitution of Ours (1940), The Treaty as an Instrument of Legislation (1952), and a memoir, To Do Justly (1965), which describes her experiences with gender discrimination.