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Breaking down barriers – Huntsville’s first female attorney and politician

The Huntsville legal and political arenas have many women in important positions. But, as you would expect, it wasn’t always like that. With it now being Women’s History Month, it’s time to tell the story of Alice Baldridge — Huntsville’s first female attorney, first female elected official, first female lobbyist, and, I think it would be fair to say, a bonafide badass.

Back in 1916, Alice was living a quiet, customary lifestyle for a Southern woman in her early 40s — married with children living in downtown Huntsville. When President Woodrow Wilson opened select elected positions to females that year, she decided to throw her hat in the race for the Madison County School Board. Even though women could not vote, Alice was elected overwhelmingly. She was not only the first Madison County woman elected to public office but also one of the very first in the state of Alabama.

Shortly after her stunning election, Alice’s husband died in the flu pandemic, and she was left to care for her young children on her own. Instead of indulging in self-pity, Alice decided to attend law school. She passed the bar exam on her first try and was admitted to practice law as the first female Huntsville attorney.

Alice practiced in a variety of areas of the law, but her most famous case involved a defense verdict on behalf of her client who had been accused of rape. While women’s rights were at her core, Alice understood the necessity of ensuring people were afforded their constitutional rights, even if that meant defending those who were accused of crimes against women. Unfortunately for the D.A., she was pretty darn good.

As she practiced law, Alice was also a mother and a teacher. She obtained a teaching certificate, home-schooled her children, all while carrying a briefcase and knocking down barriers. One of her children ended up graduating from Harvard Law School. I guess the Latin she taught her kids was put to good use.

Alice went on to a prominent role in the suffragist movement giving speeches about women’s fundamental right to vote. Her efforts, along with many others, led to the passage of the 19th Amendment. She then moved to New York City and continued the practice of law at a prestigious firm. As true to her nature, she didn’t retire until the ripe old age of 81. Alice Baldridge returned to Huntsville where she remained until her passing. She was laid to rest at Maple Hill Cemetery in 1961.

Fast forward to today — the majority of active-status state judges in Madison County are women. Significant numbers of women serve on city councils, school boards and in leadership positions in our bar association. While the fight for gender equality may not be over, it is amazing to see what progress has been made since the days when Alice Baldridge graced Huntsville’s downtown square.

Bart Siniard/256 Today

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