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 Photo

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 oral examination. 

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 so.

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.

FEC Bldg Postcard


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 (1940).

 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 Florida.