Gordon, Laura de Force (1838–1907)

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Gordon, Laura de Force (1838–1907)

American lawyer, editor, and reformer. Name variations: Laura D. Gordon. Born Laura de Force on August 17, 1838, in Erie County, Pennsylvania; died on April 5, 1907, in Lodi, California; married Dr. Charles H. Gordon, in 1862 (divorced by 1878).

Laura de Force Gordon skillfully combined her passion for women's suffrage with a successful law and publishing career to enact change in post-Civil War America. She was born in Erie County, Pennsylvania, on August 17, 1838, and received her primary education at local schools. She married Dr. Charles H. Gordon in 1862 and lived in New Orleans before moving to Nevada in 1867. In 1870, they moved again, settling in Mokelumne (later Lodi), California.

Gordon began her activist career in 1868 when she made one of the first public speeches on equal rights for women in the American West. She continued to lecture on suffrage and, in 1870, contributed to the founding of the California Woman Suffrage Society. She served as its president in 1877, and again from 1884 to 1894.

The 1870s proved to be a critical decade for Gordon. In 1873, she became editor of the woman's department of the Narrow Gauge, a semi-weekly paper based in Stockton, California. Later that year, she took on the responsibility of publishing and editing the Stockton Weekly Leader, and her skills soon brought the paper success. In May of the following year, it became a daily, and in 1875 she moved it to Sacramento as the Weekly Leader. Though she sold the paper in 1876, Gordon continued to keep her hand in publishing. In 1878, she edited the Oakland Daily Democrat, and in 1879 she published The Great Geysers of California and How to Reach Them.

Near the end of the 1870s, Gordon turned her energies to breaking down the barriers for women in the field of law. During the 1877–78 state legislative session, she lobbied to admit women to the practice of law in California. To push the issue, Gordon applied for admission to the Hastings College of Law in San Francisco in 1878. She and Clara S. Foltz were both denied admission, and they immediately filed suit against the school. They argued their cases jointly in district court and won their case before the state supreme court in the fall of 1879. Gordon's private law studies accelerated her law education, and she was the second woman admitted to the California bar in December of that year. For the next five years, she practiced in San Francisco then moved to Stockton. She developed a strong reputation as a criminal lawyer and in 1885 was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Laura Gordon died in Lodi, California, on April 5, 1907.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland

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Gordon, Laura de Force (1838–1907)

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