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Lutie Lytle

Lutie A. Lytle broke both gender and racial barriers to become one of the first women law school graduates in the United States, and one of the first lawyers of color. She was born in 1875 in Rutherford County into a family of strivers. Her parents, born in slavery, were “Exodusters” who moved to Kansas as part of an exodus from the South by Black people fleeing White supremacist terrorism. In Kansas, Lutie had access to a free public education then denied to most Black children in Tennessee. Inspired by the example of Ida B. Wells, she became a journalist, and her editorials in support of gender equality and racial justice appeared without attribution in Black newspapers across the country. In 1897, she returned to Middle Tennessee to attend law school at Nashville’s Central Tennessee College, later known as Walden University. She briefly taught there after graduating, becoming one of the first three Black women lawyers in the United States, and among the first three female law professors of any race. She eventually moved to New York City where she practiced law with her husband, Alfred C. Cowan, under the name Lutie Lytle Cowan. She became the first woman admitted to the National Bar Association, which had been founded by Black attorneys excluded from the American Bar Association due to their race. She pursued a law career to vindicate the constitutional rights of Black Americans to “liberty and equality before the law” and was active in politics in New York until her death.  The Lutie A. Lytle Black Women Law Faculty Workshop and Writing Retreat is held annually in her honor.

Smithsonian Institution

Lutie Lytle
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