She was the first woman to appear in the Courts of America and in any event, as attorney for others.

She was never licensed by a state bar to practice so by that definition, she was not the first attorney as, say, the 1800s triumvirate or "sisters in law", Belle Mansfield, Charlotte Ray and Belva Lockwood. But by a more liberal definition - that of being allowed to act as agent and represent others before a court of law - she was every bit an attorney.

Born in England, she arrived in Maryland in 1638. Her date of birth is given as 1600 by some sources; 1601 by others. She was one of 13 children.

In 1639, she came into ownership of a large piece of land and was judicially appointed attorney of a benefactor Lord Baltimore. In that capacity, she filed approximately 100 legal actions against various pretenders to the property for which she was attorney. She eventually owned over a thousand acres of land. She was a money lender as in many of the court actions, she is named as the plaintiff suing to collect debts. According to Notable American Women 1607-1950:

Margaret Brent"Margaret occasionally appeared before the Provincial Court (of Maryland) to plead for herself and sometimes for others."

She especially represented, as attorney in Court, her brother Giles Brent who, for a time, had returned to England.

The image is from an unknown artist but depicts Brent pleading in the Maryland court.

She revived an ancient English law tradition called court leets: an annual hearing of any grievances of her slaves, tenants or employees.

She was never educated in law or called to the bar of any law society or court but her forays into the law earns her recognition as the first female to act as attorney for another person in the Courts of America.

In 1647 (some sources have the event as occurring in 1648), she demanded of the Maryland Assembly a vote for women but this was refused. It may not of helped her cause to demand two votes: one as landowner and another for the estate she was administering.

Her words which resound in law still, were:

'Taxation without representation is tyranny."

She never married and moved to Virginia in 1651 where she died in or before 1671.

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, The Law's Hall of Fame
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Timetable of Legal History
  • James, E. and others, editors, Notable American Women 1607-1950 (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1971), page 236-237.
  • Uglow, J., editor, Dictionary of Women's Biography (London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1982), page 88.
  • Who Was Who In America (Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1963), page 72.