mabel walker willebrandt

So I’ve been reading about the 1920’s–especially this amazing book–and I came across Mabel Walker Willebrandt.


Let me tell you about Mabel Walker Willebrandt. 

  • Born 1889.
  • Married 1910.
  • Graduated university in 1911.
  • Enrolled in night classes and obtained a law degree in 1916.
  • Spent years representing prostitutes and battered women, the first public defender of women, according to Wikipedia.
  • Head of the Legal Advisory Board for draft cases during WWI.
  • Appointed Assistant Attorney General under President Harding in 1921.
  • Established the first federal woman’s prison in the United States in 1927.

She was ALSO the one who spearheaded the prosecution of mobsters under tax laws, something many of her peers thought was insane, AND she was the one who argued the precedent case—prosecution of a bootlegger for tax evasion—in front of the Supreme Court and won.

(It wasn’t her first Supreme Court case either. She’d argued more than forty cases before that one.)

So basically, Mabel was SUPER BADASS IN MANY WAYS, and also the one who made it possible to take down Al Capone, and I didn’t even know she existed. 

Screw you, high school history textbook. 

Mabel Walker Willebrandt (May 23, 1889 - April 6, 1963), popularly known to her contemporaries as the “First Lady of Law”, was the U.S. Assistant Attorney General from 1921 to 1929, handling cases concerning violations of the Volstead Act, federal taxation, and the Bureau of Federal Prisons during the Prohibition Era.


She graduated from Tempe Normal School, later Arizona State University, in 1911.


She represented prostitutes without pay, the first public defender of women. She handled more than 2000 cases of prostitution. Her efforts led courts to permit the testimony of both men and women. She also campaigned successfully for the enactment of a revised community property statute at the state level.


During the early years of her administration, Willebrandt was successful in some of the biggest prosecutions during Prohibition, including the 1923 prosecution of the Big Four of Savannah, reportedly the largest bootlegging ring in the U.S., as well as the bootlegging operations of Cincinnati bootlegger George Remus. According to the annual report of the U.S. Attorney General, Willebrandt’s office had prosecuted 48,734 Prohibition-related cases from June 1924 to June 1925, of which 39,072 resulted in convictions. In addition, Willebrandt submitted 278 cases of certiorari to the Supreme Court regarding the defense, clarification and enforcement of the Prohibition Amendment and the Volstead Act. She also argued more than 40 cases before the Supreme Court, a number few others have attained, and won several victories in cases regarding the control of liquor sales on both American and foreign vessels.


She was the first woman to chair a committee of the American Bar Association, heading its committee on aeronautical law. She held several honorary doctorates.

Hello, Tumblr. Allow me to introduce you to Mabel Walker Willebrandt, First Lady of Law, bad-ass extraordinaire.