Wednesday, March 27, 2013

1st Black Female Lawyer

On October 27th, 1890, Isaac headed to St. John for a People's Party rally, joining the Livingston and East Albano Farmers' Alliance congregations along the way.  He set up a camera to photograph the wagons that paraded around the "E. side of public square round by 5th Avenue house, down to S.W. corner of square and around the square finally double procession..."  After lunch the farmers gathered at the rink for speeches, and among the speakers was "a colored Speaker from Topeka, the 2d orator, short and quite satisfactory."  Although Isaac approved of the man's brief and effective speech, he did not include the man's name in his journal, nor did the newspaper mention the name.
In doing my research for writing the manuscript about Isaac and that historical period, I found a clue that suggests to me who the speaker might have been.
Image of Lutie Lytle from the County Capital
In about 1882 a man named John R. Lytle joined other African Americans in relocating his family to Kansas as part of the Exoduster movement.  The family moved into a house at 1435 Monroe Street in Topeka, and John became involved in the community.  As the People's Party became active in Kansas, John became a member, running unsuccesssfully for the position of city jailor.  His local prominence allowed him to assist one of his four children, daughter Lutie, to gain an appointment as the Populist Party assistant enrolling clerk for the state legislature.  It seems quite possible to me that John R. Lytle was the man Isaac heard speak to the rally in St. John.
Lutie gained prominence in her own right.  She explained to an interviewer that she was working in a printing office when she began to contemplate becoming a lawyer.  She said, "I read the newspaper exchanges a great deal and became impressed with the knowledge of the fact that my own people especially were the victims of legal ignorance.  I resolved to fathom its depths and penetrate its mysteries and intricacies in hopes of being a benefit to my people." 

She carried out her dream of studying law by moving to Tennessee, where she attended Central Tennessee College, having earned tuition money by teaching school.  In September of 1897 she was admitted to the Criminal Court in Memphis after passing an oral examination.  Records indicate that she was the first African American woman to be licensed to practice in Tennessee, the second or third in the United States (records conflict about this), and the first in Kansas when she returned to Topeka. 
Lutie Lytle
Lutie was briefly married to a minister, but later she married Alfred C. Cowan, a lawyer.  According to the 1910 Federal Census, Lutie and Alfred lived in Brooklyn, New York, and were both employed in the general practice of law.  Lutie's father John was living with them, employed as a real estate agent, together with her brother Albert, age 26, working as a law clerk, and her sister Corine, age 17.
The date of Lutie's death is uncertain, but in 1925 she spoke to a large audience at St. John's A.M.E. Church in Topeka, the church she had attended as a girl.  She opened many doors for women, and during the year she taught domestic relations, evidence, and criminal procedure at her alma mater, she was described as "the only woman law instructor in the world."
Her own words describe her feelings for the law:  "My favorite [area of the law] is constitutional law.  I like constitutional law because the anchor of my race is grounded on the Constitution, and whenever our privileges are taken away from us or curtailed, we must point to the Constitution as the Christian does to his Bible.  It is the great source and Magna Carta of our rights..."
Lutie and her father are a distinguished and important part of the early history of Kansas, and whether John was the speaker to whom Isaac referred in his journal or not, they are a significant footnote to the story of the People's Party.

(To read more about Lutie Lytle Cowan visit;; and


The Blog Fodder said...

Threads from Isaac's life can lead you anywhere.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

I love your comment! That is exactly how I feel about Isaac's unique life and why I felt his journal (and all my research related to the journal) deserve to be shared.

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