Arabella Aurelia (Babb) Mansfield – 1st Woman admitted to the Bar in the United States

Arabelle, who later wished to be known as Belle A., studied law at a law office after graduating from IWU. The Iowa code provided admission to the bar only to "any white male person" but the statute was repealed by an act of Jan. 1853. BELLE was admitted to practice law in June 1869, and in March 1870 the words "White male" were omitted from the statute. Thus BELLE became the first woman admitted to practice law. She Married Prof. J. M. Mansfield and in 1898-99 BELLE was Dean and Lecturer on the Theory and History of Fine Arts and Music at DePauw Univ.

Article from Iowa Wesleyen College with a biography of Belle and info about the dedication of a sculpture of her at the campus:

First woman admitted to the Bar in the United States in 1869
Arabella (Belle) Babb Mansfield, of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, passed the bar exam on June 15, 1869 to become the first woman licensed to practice law in the United States.
Belle was born in Sperry, Iowa in 1846. Her mother, having heard that Mount Pleasant had excellent schools, moved the family to Mount Pleasant when Belle was a child. In 1866, Belle graduated from Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant. The following year, she began studying law with her brother in the Ambler Law Office. In June 1868, she married John Mansfield, a professor of science at Iowa Wesleyan.

Belle never practiced law in the traditional sense. It is likely that she was too involved with teaching and women’s issues at the time. Throughout her career, not only was she a professor at Iowa Wesleyan College, Simpson College and DePauw University, but Belle was a strong advocate of women’s voting rights. In the fall of 1869, she joined the executive committee of the National Woman Suffrage Association. The following spring, she became president and chair of the first Iowa state-wide woman suffrage convention, held in Mount Pleasant.

During the early 1870’s, Belle traveled extensively in Europe observing the courts of London, and studying law in France. In the summer of 1893, Belle addressed the National League of Women Lawyers at the Chicago World’s Fair, where she was officially acknowledged as the first woman to be admitted to the bar in the U.S. After enjoying a long and successful career as an educator, public orator, world traveler, art historian, and journalist, Belle Babb Mansfield passed away in 1911, at age 64.

• The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) presents an annual Arabella Babb Mansfield Award, the organization’s highest honor, given in recognition of professional achievement, positive influence, and valuable contribution to women in the law and in society.
• Belle Babb Mansfield was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame by Governor Robert Ray and the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women on August 21, 1980.
• The Iowa Organization of Women Attorneys established an annual Arabella Mansfield Award in 2002.
• The Belle Babb Mansfield memorial room was established in 1969 in Chadwick Library on the Iowa Wesleyan College campus.
I grew up in Mount Pleasant knowing nothing about Belle Babb Mansfield. I want girls growing up here to know that women can do and be anything they choose. I want young women who consider attending Iowa Wesleyan College to know that this community has always nurtured women who achieve. I want student-athletes who compete at the College, children riding their bikes to school, and visitors from far away who come to Mount Pleasant to learn about Belle Babb Mansfield.
-Christie Vilsack, Former First Lady of Iowa
The Belle Babb Mansfield Committee and Iowa Wesleyan College have set a preliminary fund-raising goal of $250,000 to go toward:
• Commemorative Statue
The creation of a bronze statue of Belle Babb Mansfield by Benjamin Victor is to be placed on the Iowa Wesleyan campus in Mount Pleasant.
May 2, 2008 Dedication on Iowa Wesleyan Campus Lawn
• Mansfield Symposium
An endowment for the Belle Babb Mansfield Symposium to be held at Iowa Wesleyan College. The annual event will host high profile and nationally recognized speakers to honor and highlight the accomplishments of women and to encourage their professional empowerment.
The dedication of the Belle Babb Mansfield Statue wasMay 2, 2008 at 2:30 pm on the campus lawn.
The dedication speaker was Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Kathleen Hartington Kennedy Townsend (born July 4, 1951) was lieutenant governor of the U.S. state of Maryland from 1995 to 2003. She ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Maryland in 2002. The eldest of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel’s 11 children, she is part of the Kennedy political family. She was named for her aunt Kathleen Agnes Kennedy, Marchioness of Hartington, who died in a plane crash in 1948.

About the Artist –
Biography by Ruth McKinney, Professor of Fine Art, M.F.A.
“A gift from God” is the way Benjamin Victor describes his natural ability to sculpture monumental size works of art. By receiving his first large commission at only 23 years old Benjamin joined the ranks of Michelangelo, Bernini, Daniel Chester French, and Maya Lin. At age 26 he became the youngest artist ever to have a sculpture in our Nation’s foremost collection of figurative sculpture (the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol).

Art critics and organizations (including the National Sculpture Society in New York City) continue to recognize the aesthetic and conceptual integrity of Benjamin’s artwork. His incredible passion and drive show in each of his unique and profound creations. With expressive features, exquisite detail, dynamic gesture and thought provoking content the sculpture of Benjamin Victor is sure to take its place among the great masterpeicies of art history.
© 2008 Iowa Wesleyan College

Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: