Recent Acquisition: Scrapbooks of Cleveland’s First Female Laywer
Posted September 11, 2023
Topics: Industry & LaborArchives & Library

By Wendy Korwin, Archives Services Manager

Engraving of Gertrude Foran Handrick, 1918

Gertrude Foran Handrick, 1918

When Gertrude Foran Handrick died in 1937, Cleveland City Council issued a Resolution of Condolence for the city's first female attorney. It recognized

"the courage and depth of character which enabled Mrs. Handrick, as the bereaved widow of Doctor Franklin Handrick, to persist, often secretly, in her studies in the law, in the face of parental discouragement back in those days before suffrage was voted to womankind."

A signed copy of this resolution, stapled to a blue sheet of legal-sized paper and folded into quarters, arrived at the Ohio History Connection as a donation last year. It was tucked into one of Handrick’s scrapbooks, most likely by her son, Martin. Handrick's second child, Martin was named for his grandfather, the judge and congressman Martin A. Foran (see above re: parental discouragement).

Judge Foran, a Cleveland Democrat, certainly knew of his daughter’s affinity for the law; he was the first one to hire her as a legal secretary, following the deaths of her husband in 1901 and daughter Martha in 1906. But that did not automatically translate into support for Handrick's desire to seek the Bar herself. She had to do that alone, taking classes on the sly at Baldwin University and sitting for (and passing) the bar exam in December of 1911.


A full copy of Handrick's bar exam is pasted into her scrapbook, along with news clippings and a congratulatory telegram from Louis McCallister, Law Librarian at the Supreme Court of Ohio.

December 18, 1911:

"You passed accept my congratulations Scofield failed."

"Scofield" seems to refer to Harold C. Schofield, who graduated from Baldwin's law program with Handrick in 1911.

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Although Handrick became known for her work with corporations and damage suits, she also handled other cases as part of her general practice. An early article quotes her approach to divorce trials:

"Why should I be afraid of a jury? I have been the one woman in a class of 86 men at the Cleveland law school. I abominate divorce cases, but I will take them if they come. Women plaintiffs really ought to have the privilege of being represented by a woman lawyer who can see the case through their eyes."

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In addition to documenting her legal career, Handrick's scrapbooks contain personal photographs. Newspaper articles mention that she began working for her father's law practice while grieving for her daughter Martha, who died at age seven. I believe the photograph on the right to be of young Martha with her mother.  Handrick's son Martin also became a lawyer, joining her practice in 1927. Their mother-son business was remarkable enough to be reported on by local newspapers and national law journals.

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Like her father, Handrick was an avid Democrat and suffragist. She organized and served as the first president of the Wage-Earners’ Suffrage League under the Cleveland Woman’s Suffrage Party. She also chaired the Committee on the Legal Status of Women of the Cleveland League of Women Voters. One scrapbook includes several ribbons and other ephemera from suffrage conventions.

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About the collection

The Ohio History Connection received Gertrude Foran Handrick's scrapbooks from a generous donor who knew Handrick's son Martin as "Grandpop." This was not a biological connection, as Martin had no children of his own, but he did become a mentor and close friend of the donor's father. That family maintained Martin's mother's collection for decades following his death in 1976.

These scrapbooks are challenging artifacts to care for. They're filled with paper that is brittle, acidic, stained and crumbling. Some have broken bindings. In addition to the newspaper clippings and photographs, a variety of small items like train tickets, ribbons and campaign buttons are attached to the pages with adhesives and pins. For now, we have rehoused these volumes in archival boxes to protect them and delay their deterioration. Further attention will be necessary to preserve them.


Further Reading

"Gertrude M. Handrick," in Cleveland (Lewis Publishing Company, 1918). Available via Google Books.

"Handrick, Gertrude M. (Foran)," Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University

"League of Women Voters of Ohio Honor Roll," League of Women Voters of Ohio Collection, MSS 345. Available via Ohio Memory.

Portrait of Gertrude Foran Handrick, League of Women Voters of Ohio Collection, MSS 354. Available via Ohio Memory.

"Preservation Measures for Scrapbooks and Albums," Library of Congress.


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