Skip to content


Belva Lockwood, Born In Royalton NY And Previous Principal Of The Owego Female Seminary, Shattered Legal Barriers For Women, Becoming One Of The Earliest Women To Graduate Law School, The First Woman To Try A Case At The U.S. Supreme Court, And First Woman To Appear On A Presidential Ballot

With The 100-Year Anniversary Of Women’s Suffrage In The United States Quickly Approaching, Schumer Announces Legislation To Re-dedicate Owego Post Office The “Belva Lockwood Post Office Building” In Honor Of American Hero

Schumer: Post Office Dedication Would Shine A Deserved Light On Upstate’s Star, Belva Lockwood

Standing in front of the United State Postal Service facility in Owego and just before the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced a major new effort to commemorate the life and legacy of legal pioneer, feminist icon and Upstate native Belva Ann Lockwood. Specifically, Schumer announced that upon returning to Washington, he would be introducing legislation in the Senate to rename the post office at 6 Lake Street, Owego the “Belva Lockwood Post Office Building” in honor of this Tioga County trailblazer. Schumer explained that Lockwood, born in Niagara County in 1830 and former principal of the Owego Female Seminary, was one of their very first women accredited to practice law in the United States, the first woman to try a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and the first woman to appear on an official ballot as a candidate for President of the United States, and that she could not be more deserving of having this post office rededicated in her honor.

“Belva Lockwood was a feminist icon and in so many ways personified what it means to be an American, never backing down from a fight or allowing rejection to stop her. Not only did this Upstate native shatter legal barriers for women time after time, creating a more equal society for all, she also molded minds in our own backyard of Tioga County as principal of the Owego Female Seminary,” said Senator Schumer. “Though her contributions to the women’s rights movement are unparalleled, we have not yet done enough to recognize Belva Lockwood’s legacy as a legal trailblazer and true pioneer in her home of Upstate New York. That’s why in short order, I will be introducing legislation in the Senate to rename the Owego post office in honor of Belva Ann Lockwood, the very first woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court and to appear on an official ballot for President of the United States.”

Schumer explained that beyond being one of the United States’ earliest and foremost feminist legal scholars, Belva Lockwood spent years as a teacher in Upstate New York. After graduating from Genesee College in 1857 and working at the Lockport Union School and Gainesville Female Seminary, Belva Lockwood moved to Owego, where she became principal of the Owego Female Seminary, which once stood a few short blocks from the location of the Owego Post Office.

Belva Lockwood, born in Royalton, NY in 1830, was an uncelebrated trailblazer in the advancement of women’s rights and equality. After being inspired to pursue a career in the legal field while studying at Genesee College, she applied to study law at the Columbian Law School in Washington, DC, as well as Georgetown University and Howard University. Even though Lockwood was rejected by all three of these schools because of her gender, she didn’t allow this to stop her, eventually gaining acceptance into the National University School of Law, where she finished her studies in 1873. However, even still, Lockwood was held back from reaching her ultimate goal of practicing law, as the National University School of law did not allow her to graduate or achieve her diploma, stopping her from receiving accreditation under the District of Columbia Bar. So, Lockwood took her fight all the way to the desk of the President of the United States, petitioning to then-President Ulysses S. Grant that she should be awarded her diploma immediately. In the direct aftermath of sending a letter to Grant, her demands were heard and her diploma was awarded.

Belva Lockwood was responsible for countless advancements on behalf of women in the legal realm, starting with her landmark graduation from the National University School of law. After this, Lockwood started up a small law firm, primarily focused on helping the middle-class and blue-collar workers with both civil and criminal matters. In 1876, Lockwood was once again held back by her gender, applying for admission to the U.S. Supreme Court bar and being promptly rejected. Over the next three years, Lockwood fought tooth and nail to change the rule that prevented her acceptance to the Supreme Court Bar, and in 1879, at long last, gained admission. In 1880, Belva Lockwood became the first female lawyer to practice in front of the Supreme Court, arguing the case of Kaiser v. Stickney. Lockwood also became the first woman to appear on an official ballot as a candidate for President of the United States, running in 1884 and 1888 as a member of the National Equal Rights Party, before women had even received the right to vote.

Schumer was joined by local residents, business owners and community leaders including Martha Sauerbrey, Chair, Tioga County Legislature; Mike Baratta, Mayor, Village of Owego; Becca Maffei, Director, Tioga County Tourism; Christina DiStefano, Executive Director, Tioga Arts Council; and Abbey Hendrickson, Community Development Specialist, Tioga County Economic Development and Planning.

“Such recognition of a pioneer for everyone’s equal rights highlight Owego’s rich history and is long overdue. This honor creates a legacy that will inspire others far into the future,” said Gwen Kania, President and CEO, Tioga County Chamber of Commerce.

“Belva Lockwood was an amazing individual who has gone largely unrecognized in our history. It’s time we recognize her accomplishments and honor the trailblazer that she was. We stand on the shoulders of those brave women who came before us.  We owe it to her to bring her to the forefront of history, and I thank Senator Schumer for his work to help us do just that,” said Martha Sauerbrey, Chair, Tioga County Legislature.