A hundred and thirty-six years ago, women’s names were printed as candidates for the first time on official presidential election ballots in the United States. Belva A. Lockwood was a candidate for President in the 1884 election and her running mate was Marietta Stowe. The two women represented the Equal Rights Party in the election that year. The information was stated on the faded bookmark pictured with this article. The bookmark was tucked into a history volume once owned by Eben H. Palmer of Danville. The marker also contained other election information. It was interesting to note among the states at that time, Alabama had more electoral votes than Florida or California.

The small card was printed by The New York World, a newspaper published in the Empire State from 1860 until 1931. It was widely circulated and evidently reached Danville. An annual daily subscription for the paper was priced at six dollars.

Eben H. Palmer was born in Danville in 1830 and became a successful businessman. Among other enterprises he was a founder of the First National Bank in the city. Palmer family members were ardent supporters of the civil rights movement in the country. They were abolitionists before the Civil War and Eben’s sister Clara went to the former Confederate States after the war to teach the newly freed citizens there. Clara was also a fervent worker for women’s rights. After women secured the right to vote, she cast her first ballot for president in 1920 at the age of 92. She was accompanied to the polling place by Danville’s long time member of Congress and Speaker of the House, Uncle Joe Cannon.

It is almost a certainty that Clara Palmer knew who Belva A. Lockwood was, but I was unfamiliar with the name. History records she was an amazing person, who saw no barriers, only challenges. She began teaching school while still in her teens. She married in 1848, and was widowed with a three year old daughter in 1853. She taught school to support herself and her young daughter and continued her education. She graduated from Genesee College in 1857. In 1866 she moved to Washington D.C. where she opened a private school.

Following her marriage to Eziekel Lockwood in 1868, Belva attended law school at National University Law School. When she completed her courses, the school refused to give her a diploma. This blocked her from becoming a licensed attorney. Undaunted by this act by the University to maintain the status quo, Belva wrote a letter to President Grant appealing for assistance. She received her diploma, and became one of the few women lawyers in the nation. Belva later became the first woman to practice law before the United States Supreme Court and in 1903 she won a landmark civil rights case for the Cherokee Nation tried by that court.

When Belva ran for President in 1884, she was well aware she was competing for an office for which she could not vote. She was ridiculed in numerous news papers for being a symbolic candidate for national office. Her candidacy was not supported by several prominent women leaders of the day, including Susan B. Anthony. It was made clear in print her effort to introduce “petticoat government” to the nation was not appreciated. But she did move the needle forward for women’s rights during her candidacy by speaking nationally to audiences large and small. She continued to move that needle forward for equality for all Americans until the day she died in 1917.

The thought provoking bookmark in the ancient volume introduced me to Belva Ann Lockwood, a person to be remembered and appreciated.

Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.

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