FLORENCE ELLINWOOD ALLEN, (March 23, 1884-September 12, 1966) was a jurist whose career marked a series of firsts for women. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Clarence Emir and Corrine (Tuckerman) Allen, she entered the Women’s College of Western Reserve University (now CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY) in 1900 at age 16 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. During 1904-1906, she studied piano in Berlin, but decided against music as a profession. Returning to Cleveland, she became the music critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer (now the PLAIN DEALER), in the years 1906-1909, and taught at LAUREL SCHOOL.
At the suggestion of one of her professors at Western Reserve University where she was studying for a master’s degree in political science, she decided to enter law school. Rejected by her alma mater because of her sex, Allen studied law at the University of Chicago (1909-1910) and New York University (1911-1913), graduating second in her class.
In New York, she met some of leaders of the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA), including Carrie Chapman Catt, Anna Howard Shaw, and Maude Wood Park, who gave her a job as an organizer for the College Equal Suffrage Organization.
She became one of Cleveland’s leading suffragists, a vigorous stump speaker and debater, and a tireless organizer and fundraiser, traveling all over Ohio during the 1912 and 1914 efforts to amend the state’s constitution to enfranchise women. In 1916, she successfully defended before the Ohio Supreme Court the provision of the charter of the city of East Cleveland that gave its women residents the right to vote in municipal elections.
Her success and name recognition laid the groundwork for her career as the “first lady of the law.” She was appointed assistant county prosecutor in 1919, elected as a municipal judge in 1920, and was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1922 and 1928. In 1934, she was appointed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary in 1928 against U.S. Senator Atlee Pomerene, and in 1932, lost a race for the U.S. House of Representatives to Republican Chester C. Bolton. She and her supporters hoped that she would become the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it did not happen. She retired from the federal bench in 1959, but continued to lecture widely and publish, including her memoir, To Do Justly (1965).
Her decisions as a judge closely followed the principles of the suffrage movement and the LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS that grew out of it.
Allen never married. She died in 1966 and is buried in Waite Hill Village Cemetery.
Updated by Marian Morton
Abbott, Virginia Clark. The History of Woman Suffrage and the League of Women Voters in Cuyahoga County, 1911-1945 (1949).
Allen, Florence Ellington. To Do Justly (1965).
Morton, Marian J. Marian J. Morton Florence E. Allen, Cleveland's Most Famous Woman
Tuve, Jeannette. First Lady of the Law: Florence Ellinwood Allen (1984)