Paved The Way For Many Women In Law
Annette Grace, born March 12, 1877 in Prattville, CA, was the middle child of Big Meadows store owner Hiram Abbott and his wife, formerly Annette “Nettie” Stubbs, joinin an older sister and later welcoming a younger brother.
Her desire to show that women could be men’s equals, if given the opportunity, came at an early age. This “crusader” mentality was much influenced by her mother who was a school teacher and the most educated person in the county. Also, as a young girl, Annette was not allowed to join her father, a justice of the peace, when he gathered with his male friends to discuss issues, but her brother, two years younger, was included. This lack of equality did not go unnoticed by Annette.
Nettie A Strong Proponent of Education . . . Perfect Path for Annette
By the mid-1980’s the two sisters graduated from Chico Normal with teaching certificates. Both taught in Plumas County and saved their small salaries for Annette had a plan. As a child when she ran out of reading material she immersed herself in her father’s law books. She convinced her sister May to enter UC Berkeley where Annette studied law, an unheard-of ambition for a female at that time. She was the first of two women to graduate from UC Berkeley with a degree in law.
With gender an albatross, she was never able to acquire a position as an attorney. Practicing law was deemed unsuitable for women. Frustrated, she returned to teaching though her efforts did not go unacknowledged. In 1906, she was the first woman to become principal in California. This also was the year that was unusual for Annette, she showed lack of judgment and married Martin Adams. Though he appeared to be intelligent and articulate, she soon realized her “wifely duties” did not match her goals. Some say within a month a separation followed.
Back to Her passion, Law
Influenced by Judge John Raker, who later was elected to the US Congress, and his suffragette wife, Ida, they convinced Annette to return to Berkeley in 1910 to seek a doctorate in Berkeley. Annette was the only woman in a class of 11 men and the first to graduate from Boalt Law School in 1912. That same year, Western Pacific Railroad approached the Dean of Berkeley’s Law School and wanted to meet his top graduate. They were looking for an energetic young lawyer to hire. When the dean told them his best was Annette (not Andy) it was the same old story, “Oh, they couldn’t possibly hire a woman.” Even with her doctorate it was clear law firms were not going to hire her. Door slammed in her face again she returned to Plumas County and worked at a law firm in Quincy.
Politics Enters Annette’s Life and Makes Long-Term Impact
With the political climate changing, suffragette Ida and Congressman Raker convinced her to move back to the bay area. Here she became political, becoming president of the Women’s State Democratic Club supporting Woodrow Wilson’s campaign. With the women’s right to vote amendment passed in 1911, she went to Washington DC for the inauguration meeting other politicians. Needing a breather, she then decided a leisurely tour of the United States and Canada was next, ending up back in the bay area.
Annette’s legal career began in 1913 when she and Marguerite Ogden opened their law practice in San Francisco. Despite derisive cartoons, articles and predictions on the ability to succeed as a woman-owned law firm, the irony was that most of her clients were men!
Due to her “being a girl,” eyes were on Annette. As it turned out, US Prosecuting Attorney John Preston was so impressed with one of her defenses, he hired Annette in 1914 as one of his Assistant US Attorneys, first woman to have that position. When he was appointed Assistant Attorney General in Washington, he was again so taken with Annette’s legal mind, she was appointed to the vacancy and was the first woman US Attorney General in 1918.
With a new administration she and other appointees were swept out of office, she returned to San Francisco to her private practice. In the 1930s, working in LA with John Preston, she and Preston were asked to join special prosecutors on a case against Standard Oil, winning a 22-million-dollar settlement for the government. This led to an appointment of the Third Courts of Appeal that later got her elected by the people of California to a 12-year stint on the bench. In 1950 she was honored by the California Governor to sit on a case before the California Supreme Court. This was another first as a woman as an Associate Justice on the California Supreme Court.
Ill health caused her to retire in 1952 while living in Sacramento enjoying gardening, having tea or dinner with friends and caring for a succession of pet cats. Justice Adams passed away at 79 in 1956.
Annette’s drive and tenaciousness paved the way for many women who have chosen careers in law. Quite an accomplishment for a woman of the 1800s and Lake Almanor local. Her amazing career is as follows:
- One of first two women principals in a California school (1907-10)
- One of the first two women to earn a law degree at UC Berkeley (1912)
- One of first women admitted to California Bar (1912)
- First woman to be appointed assistant US Attorney Northern District of CA (1918-20)
- The first woman to be appointed assistant Attorney General Washington DC (1920-21)
- The first woman to be appointed to the Third District Court of Appeals (1942-52)
- The first woman to serve as presiding justice of Court of Appeal in California (1942)
- The first woman to sit on case (pro tempore) before the California Supreme Court (1952)
Information, courtesy of local historian, Marilyn Quadrio.