1950 April 4

Burnita Matthews Confirmed as First Female U.S. District Court Judge


Burnita Matthews was nominated to be a U.S. District Court Judge by President Harry Truman on October 21, 1949. Her confirmation on this day made her the first female U.S. District Court Judge in American history. Although this appointment was an important first in the history of women’s rights, President Truman’s record on women’s rights was generally very weak.

Earlier in her career, Burnita S. Matthews had worked with the National Woman’s Party, led by Alice Paul. Paul and the NWP led the militant pickets in front of the White House between early 1913 and 1919 (see March 3, 1913, March 4, 1917), demanding a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. That was achieved on August 18, 1920 when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. Matthews later served as the lawyer for the NWP when it sold its headquarters to the federal government so the land could be used to build the current Supreme Court building.

Read Matthews’ Oral Historyhttp://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/kt0r29n44z/

Read Matthews’ biography: http://womenaslawyers.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/burnita-shelton-matthews-pioneer-lawyer-feminist-judge/

Learn more about Judges and the Courts at the National Women’s Law Center: http://www.nwlc.org/our-issues/judges-%2526-the-courts/judicial-nominations

Read a path-breaking 1927 article by Matthews on women as jurors: http://wlh.law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/the-woman-juror-15wlj151927.pdf

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