Women in History – 28 December

December 28, 1894 (1988) – Burnita Matthews, suffragist, the first woman to serve as a Federal district judge

Her activities on behalf of women’s rights began in law school.

In 1919, she was among several dozen women who regularly picketed the White House on Sundays on behalf of women’s suffrage. ”You could carry a banner,” she recalled in the 1985 interview, ”but if you spoke, you were arrested for speaking without a permit. So when they asked me why I was there, I didn’t answer.”

Judge Matthews was named to the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia by President Truman in 1949. At the time, she was well-known in Washington as a lawyer for the National Women’s Party and an active campaigner for women’s rights.

Judge Matthews retained a strong sense of her own role as a pioneer, and never wavered in her commitment to expanding opportunities for women. Matthews served as an active-duty judge until 1968, when she took senior status. She served as a senior district judge until her death on April 25, 1988.