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Anna Christy Fall – Pioneer Woman Lawyer, Writer, and Suffragist

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(Part 2 of Women in History)


By Inna Babitskaya


George H. Fall could successfully combine teaching with a judicial career. In 1886, he became a Lecturer on Roman law at Boston University. In 1887, he was admitted to the Boston Bar and became an attorney-at-law. His wife Anna’s interest in legal matters increased even more because she was taking notes for him at the court. Later, when he began to experience hearing problems, Anna’s role as his professional partner became even more important.

In March 1889, she was admitted to the Boston University School of Law. She was one of the 12 candidates appointed by the faculty for the position of class orator. In December 1890, while being a student, she took the exam for admission to the Boston Bar, becoming the only woman among the 40 applicants. Only 28 of them, including Anna C. Fall, successfully passed it and were sworn in before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court the following January.

In June 1891, she graduated from the Boston University Law School magna cum laude, and she was admitted to the Suffolk Bar on January 30, 1891, becoming the third woman lawyer in Massachusetts, together with Lelia Robinson-Sawtelle and Alice Parker.

One of the Boston newspapers informed that “Anna Christy Fall, wife of a young lawyer practicing in this city…, will practice with her husband, though under the existing law in Massachusetts, they cannot form a legal partnership.” So, they formed a co-partnership, and their firm was called “George H. & Anna C. Fall” – later, after the state legislative changes it became “Fall & Fall.” They had offices in Boston and Malden. Being a mother of five children, Anna C. Fall successfully practiced law together with her husband for nearly 40 years.

But she always put her family duties first. “Nursing her children every two hours… was not interrupted by Mrs. Fall’s practice. If, when nursing time arrived, Mrs. Fall was in Court; her sister, the housekeeper or nurse, would bring the baby to the Court House. A recess, during the trial of the case and the facilities of the Women’s restroom made everything easy. And there were a few occasions as Mrs. Fall has often laughingly related, when a recess was not being announced soon enough to satisfy the baby’s demands, she went up to the Bench and told the presiding justice frankly, just why an intermission would be most acceptable. And never once, she said, was her request refused.”

In November 1891, Anna C. Fall won her first case before a jury. It was something of a sensation because “one of the ablest and most noted lawyers of Massachusetts being the principal counsel on the opposite side. That case was the first jury case in Massachusetts tried by a woman.”

At first, many of her male colleagues could not believe that “a modest-appearing, slightly built brunette with clear-cut features” might be such a brilliant advocate. But very soon she became a familiar figure in the Courts, a well-known trial lawyer who won many difficult cases. “Mrs. Fall often devised and constructed mechanical contrivances, which made clear to judge and jury alike just how a certain accident happened,” the journalist admired.

Besides her intensive judicial work, Anna C. Fall also actively participated in Malden’s social life. Thus, in December 1893, Anna C. Fall was elected to the Malden School Committee and served for nine years.

Meanwhile, her husband, whom their daughter Emma later called the absent-minded professor, became a prominent political figure. In 1893, George H. Fall was elected a member of the Malden Common Council from Ward Three and was reelected for the two following years, serving for three years. Later he was elected to the state legislature. In 1911–12, he was a mayor of Malden. Anna supported her husband in his political career, whether it was in the city government or the state legislature. George’s political activities deepened her “keen interest in governmental affairs that always played an important part in her life.”

Despite numerous duties at work and home, Anna Fall continued her literary work. Her daughter remembered that her father actively supported Anna’s aspirations: “My dear father, who was always so proud of my mother and her accomplishments, went to a great deal of trouble to locate copies of all her girlhood writings and to prepare a scrapbook containing them. All of his five children were delighted with the bulky volume. Mother wrote quite regularly for the ‘Youth’s Companion’ and the ‘Household’. The ‘Youth’s Companion’ was so very popular with young people in my early days. We enjoyed reading ‘Elizabeth’s Day in Court’, ‘Aunt Agatha’s Will in the Attic Trunk’, and similar stories written by my mother. The magazines generally paid $40.00 a story, a very generous amount in the early nineteen hundreds. How excited the Fall children were when the check arrived. Mother was always most generous with it. It was a fringe benefit, so to speak.”

Anna’s legal activities were closely intertwined with her literary creations. Her short novel “The Tragedy of a Widow’s Third” (1898) was based on a real case when a husband did not leave a will and his widow got only one-third of the husband’s estate according to the Massachusetts law. At the same time, if a wife died without a will and a child of the union had been born alive, the husband had the use of the whole of his wife’s real estate for life and with no child born alive, a life interest in 50%. Anna C. Fall’s writing talent combined with her professional analysis of her heroine’s misfortune eventually led to real legal changes.

Soon after the publication of “The Tragedy of a Widow’s Third,” it was presented to every member of the House and Senate, thus tremendously helping Rep. George H. Fall in his successful fight for the change of the existing bill. As a result, in 1902 the law about inheritance was changed so disparity between widowers and widows was eliminated.

Anna C. Fall inspired her husband and helped him in his work on the passage of the bill in 1902 making mothers and fathers equal guardians of their minor children – changing the previous law when the father alone was the guardian.

Anna C. Fall also actively participated in the suffrage movement. Among Anna’s friends were famous orator, abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone (1818–1893), her husband, advocate for social and economic reform Henry Blackwell (1825–1909), her daughter, noted suffragist, journalist and human rights advocate Alice Stone Blackwell (1857–1950); prominent journalist, abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights Mary A. Livermore (1820–1905) and Dr. Mary E. Walker (1832–1919), well-known abolitionist, prohibitionist, surgeon and only woman to receive the Medal of Honor after the American Civil War.

Together with Lucy Stone, Anna Christy Fall took a lecture trip devoted to “Equal Rights for Women.” At that time it was so unpopular that members of the audience often threw rotten eggs at the speakers. During the following autumn and winter, she lectured in various parts of the Commonwealth on the “Position of Women under the Massachusetts Law” and similar topics.

Later, she read lectures on “Business Law for Women” all over New England. Anna Christy Fall was a charter member of the Malden Women’s Club “Old and New,” which was organized in 1883. She incorporated the Professional Women’s Club in Boston in 1907.

Anna’s life greatly influenced her elder daughter Emma’s professional career choice. Emma became a worthy successor to her mother, being known as the first woman judge in Massachusetts (together with Sadie Lipman Shulman). As an active suffragist and fighter for women’s rights, Emma F. Schofield was a cofounder and president of the Boston and Malden Zonta Clubs and Malden Women’s Civic League. Like her mother, she became a lecturer and was very popular.

Unfortunately, Anna couldn’t learn about her daughter’s success. She died on January 13, 1930. It was a huge blow to her family and friends. Her grieving husband, children and grandchildren could not imagine that their beloved Nancy would leave them so suddenly.

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(Inna Babitskaya is a Malden historian and a Member of the Malden Historical Commission.)

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