Violette Neatley Anderson has a few “firsts” attached to her lengthy resume. Most notably she was the first black woman to argue in front of the United States Supreme Court.
Born in 1882 in London, England, to a German mother and West Indian father, Anderson moved to Chicago with her family as a small child. She graduated from North Division High School in 1899, and then attended Chicago Athenaeum in 1903.
Anderson worked as a court reporter from 1905 to 1920, which sparked her interest in law. Anderson attended the Chicago Seminar of Sciences from 1912 to 1915, and the Chicago Law School, earning her LL.B. in 1920.
When Anderson received her law degree she was the first woman to graduate from any law school in Illinois. She began a private practice after graduation, becoming the first black woman to practice law in the U.S. District Court Eastern Division. From 1922 to 1923 she served as the first female city prosecutor in Chicago. On January 29, 1926, after five years of practice before the high court of Illinois, Anderson was admitted to practice for the Supreme Court of the United States, becoming the first black woman to attain that stature.
Anderson was a member of the Federal Colored Women’s Clubs, was president of Friendly Big Sisters League of Chicago, First Vice-President of Cook County Bar Association, secretary of Idlewild Lot Owners Association, an executive board member of the Chicago Council of Social Agencies, and was a member of the League of Women Voters.
Anderson is a prominent member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc, where she was the 8th Grand Basileus. She donated her summer home in Idlewild to the organization. The Sorority recognizes her every year in the month of April as “Violette Anderson Day.”
Anderson passed away in 1937. She was a trailblazer who paved the way for many women who came after her.