By Joe Messa
The MessaLaw Blog is spending the month of February honoring the achievements and contributions of African Americans to America’s legal system. Today, we will discuss America’s first female black lawyer admitted to practice before the Supreme Court; Violette Neatly Anderson.
Violette Neatley Anderson was born in London, England on July 16, 1882, to Richard and Marie Neatley. When she was still very young, Anderson and her parents immigrated to the United States and settled in Chicago, Illinois. She graduated from high school in 1899 and furthered her education at the Chicago Athenaeum and the Chicago Seminar of Sciences. Violette Neatley married Albert Johnson ins 1903 but divorced him shortly thereafter. In 1906, she married Dr. Daniel H. Anderson, and African American general practitioner, and took his last name.
For fifteen years, from 1905 to 1920, Violette Anderson was employed as a court reporter. It was this work that sparked her interest in the law. She attended Chicago Law School and graduated in 1920. That same year, she passed the bar in Chicago and was admitted to practice before the United States Eastern District Court of Illinois. Additionally, she started a private law practice. Anderson was one of the first women of any race to have her own law practice in the state of Illinois.
In 1922, a court victory would earn Anderson a life changing opportunity. She successfully defended a woman who was accused of murdering her husband. As a result of this success, Anderson was appointed to serve as Assistant Prosecutor in Chicago. Anderson was the first woman and the first African American appointed to the post.
On January 29, 1926, Violette N. Anderson was the first African American woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court.
Violette Anderson was an active member of a number of social groups and organizations. She was member of the Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and the Chicago Council of Social Agencies. She served as Vice President of the Cook County Bar Association, and was the eighth Grand Basileus, or President, of her sorority, Zeta Phi Beta. Anderson died on December 24, 1937. She left her property in Idlewild, Michigan to the sorority. Zeta Phi Beta honors her legacy annually during the month of April on “Violette Anderson Day.”
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Joseph L. Messa, Jr. is the founding partner of Messa & Associates, P.C. He is an AV-rated attorney (highest rating available), listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Read More