Friday, September 10, 2021

From Farm Wife to Presidential Candidate


By Suzanne Norquist

At age eighteen, in 1848, Belva Ann Bennett married Uriah McNall, a farmer in Upstate New York. She lived an ordinary life, giving birth to her daughter, Lura, two years later. How is it, then, that she was a presidential candidate in the 1884 and 1888 elections? Women didn’t even have the right to vote! Yet, her name appeared on the national ballot as a third-party candidate, and she received around four thousand votes in the first election and slightly less in the second.

Never a slacker, she began teaching elementary school when she was only fourteen. When her husband died after five years of marriage, she returned to her educational roots. She attended Genesee Wesleyan Seminary to prepare for study at a college in a time when most women didn’t attend universities.

Working as a teacher and school administrator, she supported herself and her daughter. The longer she spent in the workforce, the more she recognized the discrimination women faced. She earned half as much as her male counterparts and grew frustrated with teaching young women to be nothing more than housewives and teachers. In her schools, she expanded the curriculum for girls to include things like biology and exercise. At some point, she met Susan B. Anthony and agreed with her views about women’s rights. 

This led to her interest in law. She took lessons from a local lawyer. In 1866, she moved with her daughter to Washington, D.C., the center of political power. There she opened a school—not a school for girls, but a co-educational school—an unusual move.

When she remarried in 1868, she found a man with progressive ideas. A Baptist minister and practicing dentist, Reverend Ezekiel Lockwood supported her in all her endeavors.

The Columbia Law School denied her admission, but the National University School of Law (now George Washington University Law School) allowed her and several women to study there. However, when she finished her coursework in 1873, they refused to grant her a diploma because of her gender. She wrote a letter to President Ulysses S. Grant and received her diploma soon after.

She was admitted to the Bar in the District of Columbia but not the Maryland Bar or the Federal Bar, which meant she could only practice law in a limited capacity. She worked out of an office with her husband, who had become a notary public and a pension claim agent. He brought in many of the early clients.

She fought for women’s rights and became the first female attorney to argue a case before the Supreme Court.

Since most of her male counterparts used bicycles or tricycles as an efficient means of transportation around the city, she took up the practice. Again, she didn’t care about the criticism she faced.

Her second husband passed away in 1877, and she continued to champion women through her law practice.

Then, in 1884, she ran for President of the United States on the National Equal Rights Party ticket. Some would argue that she was the first woman to run for president. However, in 1880, Victoria Woodhull ran, although she wasn't old enough to serve. Others would say Belva’s political campaign didn’t count because women were not allowed to vote.

Belva continued to champion women’s rights until she died in 1917. Afterward, the U.S. Post Office created a stamp in her honor.

She didn’t allow her start as a farmer’s wife to hold her back from reaching new heights of success. Discrimination didn’t stop her either. Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood was an amazing woman.


”Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection

Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.

Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge, Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?

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Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class.

She authors a blog entitled, Ponderings of a BBQ Ph.D.


  1. Fantastic post. I was not aware of this lady. Such tragedy (losing two husbands), but what tenacity. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for bringing this amazing woman to our attention!!