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  • Writer's pictureJim Two Crows Wallen

Story of the Month: Missouri Women in History — Phoebe Couzins

by Jim Two Crows Wallen

Phoebe Couzins was the first woman to graduate Washington University Law School, St. Louis, the first woman to be a lawyer in the United States and the first woman to serve as a United States Marshal.

The daughter of Mr. And Mrs. J.E.D. Couzins, she was born in St. Louis, September 8, 1842. In the 1860s she established a reputation as a writer and speaker for woman suffrage. In 1868 she was one of the signers of a petition presented to the Missouri General Assembly by a group of St. Louis women requesting the right of women to vote. The next year she was the principal speaker at the national convention in St. Louis of the Woman Suffrage Association.

After her graduation from Washington University Law School,May 8, 1871, a banquet was held in her honor which was attended by the Law School faculty and other prominent St. Louis citizens. Although she was admitted to the Missouri Bar, she never practiced law extensively.

She became well known throughout the state and nation as an authoritative lecturer on the subjects of women’s rights, temperance and the legal profession. She addressed the San Francisco Woman Suffrage Convention in 1872 and the Association’s national convention in Washington, D. C. In 1874.

She served as deputy to her father, who was commissioned a United States Marshal of the Eastern District of Missouri, July 5, 1884. After her father’s death she received the ad interim appointment on September 28, 1887, as United States Marshal.

Her career closed in obscurity and hardship. Financed by St. Louis brewers, she reversed her stand on temperance and became a lobbyist and lecturer for the United Brewers Association.Her last speech in St. Louis in 1906 denounced Governor Joseph W. Folk for his advocacy of legislation restricting the sale of liquor.

She died in extreme poverty, December 5, 1913, in St. Louis. She had always worn her United States Marshal’s badge and, in compliance with her request, it was buried with her.

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