Today, just two days after the first national elections in which more women than men were qualified to vote, Radcliffe College will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the passage of the amendment giving women the right to vote. Addressing the crowd of former suffragettes and present members of the League of Women Voters who will gather in the Woman's Rights Room in Longfellow will be Judge Florence E. Allen, a former leader of the suffrage movement and the only woman judge ever appointed to the United States Court of Appeals.
In the beginning, nothing could have been further from Florence Allen's mind than a career in law. She shared the family interest in music and at first longed to be a performer, perhaps a violinist. Later her interest switched to musicology. Living in Germany at the turn of the century, she became music editor of the American paper then published in Berlin. When she returned to the States, she served as music editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer while studying for her M.A. at Western Reserve University.
Gradually, she found herself becoming intersted in constitutional law and comparative national government. And then, with the fight for female franchise just beginning to gather force, Maud Wood Park (Radcliffe '93) ventured into the Midwest to drum up support for her nation-wide College Equal Suffrage League. With her tireless intellectual energy and immense personal charm, Mrs. Parks, later to chair the Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association during the crucial years of 1917 to 1920, immediately won over the girls at Western Reserve. "The girls in college who were the leaders--the bright, up and coming girls--all joined the Equal Suffrage League," Judge Allen recalls with a smile. "We didn't have to be convinced--as soon as Mrs. Parks spoke we were all for it."
Mrs. Parks' vigor radically affected the next few years of Judge Allen's life. While she studied at Western Reserve and later at the University of Chicago and New York University for her law degree, she kept up her interest in the long battle for equal suffrage. In 1913 she received her degree and left NYU to practice law in her home state of Ohio. Now she was free to spend as much time as she wished campaigning for the sufragists, utilizing the strategies and tactics taught her by Mrs. Parks.
Working principally in Ohio, the young lawyer visited more than 70 counties. She stopped overnight in little towns, stayed longer in the cities--but every-where she went she spoke in favor of enfranchising her sex. She organized informal meetings and frequently gave impromptu speeches on street corners.
Describing her experiences as a suffragette, Judge Allen remembers most vividly the women who joined with her in the movement. "It was an enormous privilege to campaign for the amendment," she affirms, "because I met all of those fine, sometimes very simple women who were devoted to a cause larger than themselves, who gave of their time and money to benefit all the women of America. The leaders were brilliant capable, inspiring womn. It was the greatest privilege of my life to associate with them--and with the men who backed them."
The independent young woman lawyer had come a long way from the undergraduate who wanted to study music. In her travels through Ohio, she met most of the electorate, and they remembered her. After a term as one of the first women ever elected judge of the Common Court of Jurisdiction in Ohio, she was elected to the Supreme Court of Ohio in 1922 and became the first woman judge ever to serve in the highest court of a state.
During her early years in elective office, Judge Allen found an opportunity to work effectively towards international peace. In the wake of Warld War I, the American Committee for the Outlawry of War was formed under the guiding principle that the use of war as an instrument of national policy should be abolished. As a member of the committee, Judge Allen spoke all over the country and worked closely with chairman Salmon O. Levinson, who later strongly influenced the formation of the Kellogg-Briand pact making was a violation of international law.
In 1934, 12 years after she began serving on the Ohio Supreme Court, Judge Allen was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit from Cleveland, Ohio. She held the job for a quarter of a century, until her retirement in 1959, writing more decisions than she herself can count. "I never totaled them up," she says, shaking her head and laughing. "I never had time--whenever I finished with one group of cases, I just went right on to the next batch."
The importance of women in politics has remained a subject of primary interest to Judge Allen, ever since her days as a suffragette. In 1947 she was requested by the American Academy of Political and Social Science to study the role of women in government since they first gained the franchise. In her report, published in the Academy's Annals, she remembers citing more than 20 incidents in which "women waded in and cleaned up a variety of messy political problems. None of this could have happened without woman's suffrage," she notes. "Before 1920, women could do very little in politics because they had no influence on the elections."
On the recurring question of the compatibility of careers and marriage for women, Judge Allen sticks to the middle of the road. "It's all right for a woman to enter a profession," she asserts vigorously, but then qualifies, "If she has a family she can't go off and leave it in the lurch. I believe that as much as anybody." Her own career has sometimes been a lonely one. "It would have been pleasant to have had another woman on the Court of Appeals," the Judge notes a little wistfully. She denies that her sex has in any way constricted her career. "Some people would rather deal with a man than a woman. On the contrary, some would rather deal with a woman than a man. So it evens up."
A week and a half from today, Judge Allen will return to New York University to receive the Gallatin Award (former recipients include Jonas Salk and Ralph Bunche) for her contributions to law. In the past, 23 colleges and universities have awarded her honorary law degrees. As for the future, Judge Allen will continue to be available for irregular service as a Senior Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals.
In summing up her career, she herself makes no mention of the outstanding work she has done as the dean of woman lawyers. "It has been a very great privilege to work for 25 years with men of the highest integrity and learning, men devoted to doing justice through law," Judge Allen says. No doubt they would return the compliment.