Belva Lockwood began to teach school at fifteen and married at nineteen. When her husband died soon after, she was left with an infant daughter to support. She returned to teaching and determined to continue her education.
In 1857 she graduated with honors from Genesee College (later Syracuse University). After a move to Washington, D.C., she married Ezekiel Lockwood. She was nearly forty when she decided to study the law. She finally found a law school that would admit her, but even there her diploma was held up until she demanded action.
Lockwood was admitted to the bar of the District of Columbia, but was refused admission to practice before the Supreme Court. She spent five years energetically lobbying a bill through Congress, and in 1879 Belva Lockwood became the first woman to practice law before the US Supreme Court.
In 1884 she accepted the nomination of the National Equal Rights Party and ran for president. Although suffrage leaders opposed her candidacy, Lockwood saw it as an entering wedge for women. She polled over 4,000 votes and ran again in 1888.
Using her knowledge of the law, she worked to secure woman suffrage, property law reforms, equal pay for equal work, and world peace. Thriving on publicity and partisanship, and encouraging other women to pursue legal careers, Lockwood helped to open the legal profession to women.