Ethel Seward Walton Abbott
31 December 1878, in Maine
- Silvester J. Walton, lawyer; state senator; member governor’s council
- Alma Bancroft Walton
Boston University School of Law, 1903-1906
Admitted to Bar
- Maine 1906
- Montana 1916
9 years in Maine
William J. Abbott in 1914
- Skowhegan, Maine
- Winnett, Montana
- Billings, Montana
12 June 1959
Bill Beasley, “Lawyer and Teacher Recall Experiences of Early Days in State,” Billings Gazette, 13 January 1957
“A lawyer and a school teacher who came to Montana to homestead in the 1900s found the state far different than their native Maine, but found the type of life they were looking for in small communities before moving to Billings eight years ago.
The attorney can recall many experiences since she became the first woman to pass the state bar examination in Maine. Her husband, a former news writer who retired in Rosebud at the compulsory age of 70 after more than 25 years as teacher and principal, can match the experiences of his wife, who was admitted to the bar 50 years ago in September.
Mrs. William J. Abbott, of 432 Howard Avenue, the lawyer in the family, recalls she wasn’t paid for her first legal case because she didn’t collect a fee in advance. She took over her first divorce case after her father had failed to obtain the decree for a male client, and then found herself telling the judge, ‘I don’t believe in divorce.’
She made a quick recovery after snickers in the courtroom to add ‘except in extreme circumstances.’ She went on to convince the judge that a woman whose husband knew only one trade but wouldn’t live where he could practice it because she wanted to live near her parents didn’t deserve a happy marriage. The judge granted the divorce. . . .
Mrs. Abbott, the former Ethel Stewart Walton, is a native of Skowhegan, Maine. She was graduated from LaSalle Seminary in Auburdale, Mass. and then took a business course so she could help in her father’s law office.
Lone Woman Law Graduate
Experience gained in the law office helped her complete in 1906 the three-year law course at Boston University in two years as the only woman in a class of 100. She had a ulcerated tooth when she took the four-day bar examination in Somerset but had a score of ‘over 80.’
She had difficulty in applying for a license to practice in Montana until she produced a letter from Tom Stout, editorial writer of The Billings Gazette who then worked for the Lewistown paper and was active in politics. This was in 1916. Mr. and Mrs. Abbott were married in Maine Aug. 31, 1914.
When Mrs. Abbott began practice in Winnett it was in Fergus County as Petroleum County had not been created.
The woman lawyer got little of the flourishing ‘bootleg’ legal business in Winnett, and did mostly probate work. She also was engaged in welfare work there for several years.
Mrs. Abbott handled only one legal action in Billings, largely as a courtesy for an out-of-state widow who thought she had no legal problems because her husband left a will — never removed from a bureau drawer. As Mrs. Abbott handed the legal papers to a Billings judge, he told her, ‘I’m sorry, but you’ll have to go to a lawyer.'”
26 October 1921 — Great Falls Tribune
“Mary L. Keithly has brought suit against W. G. Keithly to secure a divorce on the ground of non-support. . . . The plaintiff is represented by Miss E. S. W. Abbott, of Winnett, the only woman attorney in Fergus county, who has just located here.”
“I believe she was the first one in Winnett to make a delicious devils food cake using Campbell’s tomato soup.” RF