Maybe Western Reserve University’s most notable suffragist alumna, Florence Ellenwood Allen was a judge whose career was marked with a series of “firsts.” Allen began her studies in the Women’s College of Western Reserve University in 1900, at age 16, and graduated with a master’s in political science Phi Betta Kappa.
She decided to pursue a law degree, but could not enrolled into Western Reserve, which did not admit women to their law school at the time. Instead, she went to the University of Chicago and to New York University, where she graduated second in her class.
New York was also the place where Allen first began her suffrage activism, joining the College Equal Suffrage League. She also became involved with some of the leaders of the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA), including Carrie Chapman Catt, Anna Howard Shaw and Maud Wood Park, who gave her a job as an organizer.
Upon her return to Cleveland, she became involved in the local suffrage efforts, traveling all over Ohio during the 1912 and 1914 campaigns to amend the State Constitution. In 1916, she successfully defended before the Ohio Supreme Court the right of East Cleveland women residents to vote in municipal elections.
After the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Allen was appointed as the first female judge to the Common Appeals Court, beginning her long career on the bench. She was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1922 and 1928, and in 1934 was appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the first woman to do so. She served until 1959, yet she never retired from her public engagement, continuing to write and lecture widely. She died in 1966.