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Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin - the first Native American Attorney

Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin (Metis/Turtle Mountain Chippewa), (1863-1952), was an ambitious woman, she was the first native woman to hold a fedral position and also an avid suffragette.

Her father was a lawyer, and she started working with him as a law clerk in the 1890s, when they went to Washington DC  to defend the rights of the Chippewa Turtle Mountain Nation.

Her nomination to the Department of Indian Affairs was approved by President Roosevelt in 1904. She worked full time as an accountant with the U.S. Education Division. She took night classes at the Washington College of Law (Washington D.C.). In just two years, she finished her degree, which normally took three years.

At a time when the government encouraged assimilation, she embraced and promoted tribal culture and wore indigenous dress in her staff portrait taken in 1911.In the Society of American Indians (SAI), she was involved, serving as treasurer and speaking at events.

The Washington DC, suffrage march organisers tried to racially segregate the parade in 1913, but some women of colour, such as Baldwin, marched alongside white women. Along with other female attorneys, Baldwin marched and remembered having to walk in an area "No wider than a single car track," as the parade was almost overwhelmed with the marchers being hassled by citizens.

“The trouble in this Indian question which I meet again and again is that it is not the Indian who needs to be educated so constantly up to the white man, but that the white man needs to be educated to the Indian.”
Marie Bottineau Baldwin, quoted in “Indian Women the First Suffragists and Used Recall, Chippewa Avers,” Washington Times, August 3, 1914

The work of Baldwin's life reveals the multifaceted interests of indigenous people. As they found alternatives to help their groups, women's voting rights were frequently outweighed by treaty rights and tribal supremacy. Baldwin supported the campaign for suffrage, however. In the 1913 parade in Washington DC, she joined with other lawyers and was among the group of suffrage activists who met with President Woodrow Wilson to enlist his assistance.

Before the passing of the Indian Citizenship Act on June 2, 1924, many Native Americans were not constitutionally permitted to vote. In 1952, Baldwin died in Los Angeles.

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