Meet “Judge Lucy” Somerville Howorth: A Feminist Legacy

November 29, 2012

Following the Fellows is shifting gears this week. Instead of profiling a former AAUW fellow, we’d like you to meet someone for whom a fellowship is named — Lucy Somerville Howorth. In 1973, AAUW of Mississippi created an American Fellowship to honor one of their own. Howorth was a Mississippi native and a lifelong suffragist, feminist, and politician.

Howorth was born on July 1, 1895. When she graduated from the University of Mississippi with a law degree in 1922, she was one of only two women in her class. After five years of practicing law, she was appointed as a judge and earned the lifelong nickname “Judge Lucy.”

Activism ran in Howorth’s family. Her mother, Nellie Nugent Somerville, was a temperance and women’s suffrage leader. In 1915, Somerville was elected vice president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was later elected to the Mississippi Legislature in one of the first elections in which women were eligible to vote. Howorth was her mother’s campaign manager during the election. Less than 10 years later, Howorth would follow her mother to the state legislature, where Howorth served from 1932 to 1936. Somerville and Howorth were the first mother-daughter pair to both serve in Mississippi and the second in U.S. history — another pair in Virginia beat them by one year.

Howorth then moved to Washington, D.C., to work for President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the Board of Veterans Appeals. She remained in D.C. and worked for the federal government until 1954. Howorth was deeply committed to the rights of women, the poor, and minorities. Outside of the government, her advocacy was mostly done through her leadership positions in AAUW. In 1947, she began her post as the chair of AAUW’s Committee on the Economic and Legal Status of Women. From 1951 to 1955, Howorth was the vice president of AAUW. During her term, she was very vocal in supporting greater inclusion and equality within AAUW.

After decades as a judge, activist, and leader, Howorth passed away in 1997 at the age of 102. Her fellowship has sponsored many women as they make contributions to their respective fields, including 2012–13 American Fellow Cara Jones’ research on women’s reproductive health and 2009–10 American Fellow Sarah L. Franklin’s book on gender and slavery in 19th century Cuba.

Howorth was a trailblazer whose legacy is still felt today. In 2013, 16.7 percent of Mississippi’s state legislature will be composed of women. Overall, women will make up 24.2 percent of all state legislatures, a slight increase from last year. The recent election marked many national firsts, including the highest number of women legislators in U.S. history with 20 senators and 78 representatives in Congress.

Howorth was among the women who fought hard for women’s right to vote and to represent their communities in elected office. Howorth reportedly once said, “I glory in being a feminist.” Her story is a reminder to celebrate women’s empowerment and voice in politics and in our communities.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.

By:   |   November 29, 2012

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