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Laura de Force Gordon: San Joaquin’s Trailblazing Suffragette

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Born Laura de Force in Pennsylvania in 1838, Gordon precociously began touring New England at the age of 15 giving speeches on American values and religion. In 1862, she married a Scottish physician, Charles H. Gordon, and moved west. On February 19, 1868, Gordon gave a major speech titled “The Elective Franchise: Who Shall Vote” in San Francisco, and by 1870, the couple had permanently settled in Stockton. She worked with leading suffrage advocates in Los Angeles and San Francisco to found the Women’s Suffrage Society. 

A trailblazer in all senses of the word, Gordon was a prolific community leader. After serving as a newspaper reporter for the Stockton Narrow Gauge, she bought the Stockton Weekly Leader in 1874, renamed it the Daily Leader, and assumed the role of publisher. She was the first female publisher of a daily paper in the United States.  

In 1878, she divorced her husband on the grounds of adultery and pursued a career in law, in partnership with leading suffrage activist Clara Shortridge Foltz. In 1879, she was admitted to Hastings College of Law but was shortly asked to leave due to the Dean’s feeling that “rustling skirts” bothered the male students. In spite of this setback, she studied for the bar on her own and passed on December 6, 1879. By 1883, she was the second woman admitted to the bar of the United States Supreme Court. Gordon was a noted criminal defense attorney in San Francisco and San Joaquin County markets and a hero to the local suffrage community.