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Historically Yours: Phoebe Couzins, trailblazer for women's rights

by Elizabeth Davis | September 3, 2019 at 5:05 a.m. | Updated September 3, 2019 at 12:30 p.m.

Phoebe Wilson Couzins, an early trailblazer for women's rights, was born Sept. 8, 1842, in St. Louis to architect and builder John E. D. Couzins and his wife, Adaline, who was active in charitable works.

Couzins had a good education, and after the Civil War she was a Missouri delegate to the American Equal Rights Association in New York. With encouragement from her parents, she entered law school in 1869 at Washington University in St. Louis, one of the first schools to allow women to study law.

Graduating in 1871, Couzins was the first female to graduate from Washington University with a law degree, and the second in the United States. She was the second licensed female in Missouri and could practice in Kansas, Arkansas, Utah and the Dakota Territory as well.

After graduation Couzins chose writing and public speaking over a law practice. She wrote articles for Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who also opposed the 15th Amendment because it didn't include women.

In 1876, Couzins delivered an address to the male delegates of the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis on behalf of the National Woman Suffrage Association asking for their support. The delegates were not moved.

Couzins' father was appointed U.S. marshal of the Eastern District by President Chester Arthur in 1884, and her father made her one of his deputies. When he died in 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed her interim marshal, which made her the first female U.S. marshal in the United States. That honor, however, was short-lived, as she was replaced two months later by John W. Emerson.

That same year, Couzins switched political positions, renouncing suffrage and temperance. She became a national lecturer and lobbyist for the United Brewers Association. This ruffled more than a few feathers among her friends and associates. Then, after more than 20 years, she lost her job in 1908 at the age of 68. Alone, unemployed and disabled, she returned to St. Louis. Unable to get a job with the federal government or aid from the Brewers Association, Couzins turned to her friends for help but found none.

Phoebe Wilson Couzins died on Dec. 6, 1913, in an unoccupied house in St. Louis, with only her brother and closest friends to mourn her passing. Only six people attended her funeral. She was laid to rest in Bellefontaine Cemetery and, at her request, she was buried with her U.S. marshal badge pinned to her chest. There was no grave marker.

In 1950, members of the Women's Bar Association of St. Louis placed a headstone in memory of her accomplishments.

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written Historically Yours for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008. In celebration of Missouri's upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to [email protected]

Print Headline: Historically Yours: Phoebe Couzins, trailblazer for women’s rights


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