1949 October 21

President Truman Nominates Burnita Shelton Matthews as First Woman District Court Judge


President Harry Truman nominated Burnita Shelton Matthews to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on this day. She was confirmed on April 4, 1950, making her the first woman ever to serve as a U.S. District Court Judge.

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 a 2014 Report on Women in the Federal Judiciary from the National Women’s Law Center:

Learn About Burnita Shelton Matthews: http://wlh-static.law.stanford.edu/papers/MatthewsBS-Wade96.pdf

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

Learn more about the changing status of women in the 1950s: Stephanie Coontz, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (2011)

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