The first woman admitted to practice law in the state of New York, Kate Stoneman paved the way for thousands who followed.
In 1864, she left the family farm for Albany, New York to pursue an education at the New York State Normal College, the only state school training teachers for the public schools. Following her graduation in 1866, she worked as a teacher for forty years. During her early years of teaching, Stoneman began to take an interest in women’s suffrage. She and others formed the Woman’s Suffrage Society of Albany, lobbying for the extension of school suffrage to women. Her interest in law was piqued when she was designated executrix of her great aunt’s estate.
After three years of studying law and clerking for an attorney, Stoneman became the first woman to pass the New York State Bar Examination in 1885. When Stoneman subsequently applied for admission to the bar, she was denied due to her sex. Just prior to her bar application, a bill was introduced removing gender requirements for admittance to the bar; however, the bill had been stuck in the judiciary committee. Stoneman launched a successful lobbying campaign to secure its passage. On May 20, 1886, with the new legislation in hand, Stoneman reapplied for admission to the bar. Her application was accepted and she became New York’s first female lawyer.
Stoneman’s unquenchable thirst for a legal education continued with her 1896 enrollment at Albany Law School. On June 2, 1898, at age 57, Stoneman became the first woman to graduate from Albany Law School. She was also the first woman to receive a bachelor’s degree from any department of Union University. Throughout her lifetime, she continued to play a prominent role in the women’s suffrage movement, participating in efforts to secure suffrage legislation in New York State. In 1918, as a poll watcher, Stoneman saw New York women vote for the first time.