Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin (1863-1952)
Born in 1863 in North Dakota, Marie Louise Bottineau grew up in a politically active Native American family. She was of Ojibwe/French heritage. (Chippewa is the Anglicized name of the Ojibwe people) She had a short-lived marriage to a white businessman named Fred Baldwin. Her father was a well-respected Native-American lawyer and she clerked at his office for many years. When he moved to Washington D.C. to defend sovereign nation rights for the Turtle Mountain Tribe of the Chippewa nation, she came with him.
She helped found the Society of American Indians (SAI) but also worked at the federal Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) which caused conflicts and personal tensions. Often she was one of the only friendly indigenous faces at the OIA and made the radical choice of wearing full native american dress for her official file photo. This was a very strong move since general policy was that Native American people should assimilate into Anglo-european cultural norms of America. Indeed, Baldwin normally wore the standard clothing of her white peers but for her permanent record photo, she represented her people. She boldly lived within two cultures and honored her native roots whenever she could but was subject to be accused of being a race traitor for working at a government office.
At the age of 49 she entered Washington College of Law in 1912 and became a lawyer in her own right. She became active in the feminist movement and marched proudly with white female lawyers and college women in the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington D.C. She had been offered the opportunity to organize a float highlighting the equality of Native American women within tribes but it did not happen, most likely because she did not have the time. She was in the middle of law school, had a full-time job and was a leader in the Society of American Indians. At her graduation from law school, a reporter asked if she was a suffragist, she laughing replied, “Did you ever know that the Indian women were among the first suffragists, and that they exercised the right of recall? The trouble in this Indian question which I meet again and again is that it is not the Indian who needs to be educated so constantly up to the white man, but that the white man needs to be educated to the Indian” She remained very active in Indian politics until around 1919 when she quietly disappeared from the public eye. She retired from the Office of Indian Affairs in 1932, and died in 1952.
Three more early Native-American female lawyers are Laura Lykins (Shawnee), Laura M. Cornelius (Oneida) and Lyda Burton Conley (Wyandotte)