of the first female lawyers in the United States, the first female
appointed as a
U.S. Marshal, and a well known suffragist, Phoebe Couzins was a trailblazer for women's rights and equality.
Phoebe was born
to Adaline and John E.D. Couzins on September 8, 1842 in St. Louis,
Missouri. Her father was an architect and builder and her mother was
active in charity work. At an early age, Phoebe learned the value and
importance of public service from her parents. In 1849, when she was
just six years old, a terrible cholera epidemic swept through St. Louis.
Thousands of the city’s residents died. John and Adaline Couzins led the
local relief organization responsible for helping cholera victims.
During the Civil
War, her father served as the St. Louis Chief of Police and as a
member of the Committee of Public Safety, a group that sought to keep
Missouri in the Union. Her mother volunteered as a nurse during the war
and was a member of the Ladies’ Union Aid Society. After the war, Adaline and Phoebe joined the St. Louis Woman Suffrage Association, an
organization that promoted the right of women to vote and to hold
In 1869, Phoebe
began her studies at Washington University in St. Louis law school, one
of the first schools in the country to offer a woman an education in
jurisprudence. The same year, Couzins served as a delegate to the
American Equal Rights Association convention in St. Louis, where she met
influential suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Unsatisfied with existing women’s Spirituality organizations, Stanton
and Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, which
Couzins joined. Phoebe also began to write articles for Stanton and
Anthony's publication, "The Revolution" and began traveling across the
country giving speeches in favor of women’s rights. She was described as
a riveting orator.
In 1871, Phoebe
graduated from law school as the first female law graduate of Washington
University and the the second woman in the nation to graduate from law
school. At her graduation celebration, she explained her motivation for
earning a law degree, claiming to be spurred “solely by a desire to open
new paths for women.” In the course of her career, she would be admitted
to the bar associations of Missouri, Arkansas, Utah and Kansas, and the
Dakota Territory federal courts.
the opening day of the 1876 Democratic National Convention in St. Louis,
Phoebe Couzins delivered an address to male convention delegates on
behalf of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Couzins implored the
Democratic Party’s delegates to support women’s suffrage and include it
as part of the party’s political platform, but to no avail. Although
unable to vote and barred from participating in the political process,
women did attend the convention, watching the proceedings from their
seats in the balconies.
In 1884, she
testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on the legal status
of women. The same year, her father was appointed as the U.S. Marshal
for the Eastern District of Missouri and soon made his daughter one of
his deputies. After her father’s death in 1887, Couzins was appointed
interim U.S. marshal by President Grover Cleveland, making her the first
woman to serve in that position. Two months later she was replaced by
John W. Emerson.
time, both Phoebe and her mother, Adaline were still members of the St. Louis
Woman Suffrage Association and the Ladies' Union Aid Society.
Couzins then moved to Washington, DC, where she made a modest living as