in the History of the Practice of Law in St. Augustine
Louise Rebecca Pinnell, October 1898
Honoring the first woman admitted to the practice of law in the
state of Florida, Louise R. Pinnell.
Louise Rebecca Pinnell was born in the town of Cuba, Missouri,
on March 31st, 1877. Her father, Ethan Allen Pinnell, was a
local attorney and judge. The family moved to Bronson,
Florida, in the 1890s where Mr. Pinnell established a law
practice. As there were no law schools in Florida prior to
1900, Louise Pinnell studied law at her father's office for two
years. She then had to wait until she was 21 to take the Bar
In May 1898, Ms. Pinnell had to withstand a particularly
grueling oral Bar examination, in part due to the examiners social
disapproval of admitting a woman to the practice of law. The
Supreme Court of Florida spent the next five months deciding her
fate. No woman had ever sat for examination to the Florida
Bar, and the justices were uncertain how to address the issue of
admitting women to the practice. Finally, in October 1898, Ms.
Pinnell was admitted to the Florida Bar, the first woman to do
For the first three years, she practiced in her father's Bronson
office. In 1901, Ms. Pinnell started working with Major St.
Clair Abrams, who represented railroad interests in litigation.
Major St. Clair Abrams had moved his Tavares practice to
Jacksonville in 1895, and was the Florida East Coast Railway
Company's General Counsel from 1909 to 1916.
The Florida East Coast (FEC) Railway Company, the brainchild of
Henry Flagler, was headquartered in St. Augustine. In October
1920, Ms. Pinnell left private practice and began working in-house
for the FEC, in the railroad's law department and as the corporate
secretary. To put this achievement in context, women had just
obtained the right to vote that year. The 1920s were the golden era
of railroad expansion and Ms. Pinnell's work underpinned the area's
transformation. Louise Pinnell was the FEC's attorney for the
next 25 years.
Ms. Pinnell returned to private practice in 1945 and continued
to practice in Jacksonville until 1958. After a lengthy
illness, Louise Pinnell died on May 22nd, 1966, in Jacksonville,
Florida, with a career that spanned 60 years and bridged an era of
law for the state and the nation.
"Louise Rebecca Pinnell should... be cited for bravery, for it
took no small degree of courage to fly in the face of tradition in
a conservative Southern society, and to open up a masculine field
of activity to women, proving that women may be successful and
useful in that sacrosanct profession of law. To all such
pioneers among women, honor and glory!" Lucy
Worthington Blackman, The Women of Florida 69
Source: Wendy S. Loquasto, FAWL Assistant Historian,
"Louise Rebecca Pinnell: Florida First Woman Lawyer."
Celebrate 100 Years of Women in the Florida Law (1998).
Images: Florida Memory State Library & Archives of