Florence Ellinwood Allen opened doors in the legal profession previously closed to women.
A tireless worker for women’s suffrage, international peace, and many reform causes related to women, children and families, Allen was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1884 to a family engaged in community activism. They emphasized education. She received a bachelor’s degree in music from Western Reserve University in Ohio, traveled to Germany to study music and then returned to Cleveland where she taught and wrote music criticism for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She decided to study law and was graduated cum laude from New York University Law School in 1913.
When Florence Allen returned to Ohio to establish her own law office, she gained admittance to the Ohio Bar, campaigned for women’s suffrage, became active in the Cleveland Women’s City Club and the YWCA, helped establish the Cleveland Business Women’s Club, and volunteered at the Cleveland Legal Aid Society. In 1919, she was appointed Assistant Prosecutor for Cuyahoga County and became the first woman in the country to hold such a position. From this time forward, her life became a catalog of legal firsts and breakthroughs for women and the law. As soon as the 19th amendment was ratified, Florence Allen ran for Common Pleas Court Judge in Cuyahoga County and became the first woman elected to a judgeship in the United States, winning by the largest popular vote ever given a candidate for the bench in that county.
In 1922, Judge Allen became the first woman to sit on a state supreme court, defeating both the Democratic and Republican candidates. She was elected to a second Ohio Supreme Court term in 1928. In 1934, on her fiftieth birthday, she was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the first woman to sit on any Federal bench of general jurisdiction. She served 25 years with outstanding distinction, the author of many groundbreaking opinions. In 1959, she became Chief Judge and the first woman in the nation to become a Chief Judge on a Federal Court. Many in the profession regarded Florence Allen as one of the most distinguished jurists in the nation. She authored This Constitution of Ours, To Do Justly and Challenges to the Citizen.