1886, in Brookings, South Dakota
W. E. Whiting and Letta Davis
- Mr. Thompson (married before 1905; divorced by 1910)
- Guy C. Stephens on 14 October 1912; later divorced
LL.B., Hamilton College of Law, Chicago, Il., 1916
Admitted to Practice:
After practicing law, Ms. Stephens founded her own investment firm, F. W. Stephens Co., in 1928, and Graphic Financial Charts Co., in 1945. The Graphic Financial Chart Company was “a bi-monthly publication devoted to listing, in chart form, the records of stocks on the New York and American Stock Exchanges.”
March 23, 1916 — Santa Ana Register — “Woman Lawyer Not Feminist, She Says”
Chicago – Mrs. Florence W. Stephens, 29-year-old Chicago feminine lawyer, who drove to Chicago from Montana, 1300 miles, in her automobile, passed the Illinois state bar examination and now is ready for practice.
Mrs. Stephens isn’t going into the profession because the other women members of her family have been lawyers, but because of the necessity of earning a living for herself and daughter Marie.
‘The fact that other women members of my family have been lawyers hasn’t much to do with my entering the profession,’ Mrs. Stephens said today. ‘The law is no feminist fad with me. My daughter is eleven years old, healthy, rough on clothes and has a future to be looked after.’
Mrs. Stephens even admits that the law is dry, but that can’t be a hindrance to a woman who has to work, she says. Mrs. Stephens is a native of Circle, Montana. She studied law in Montana until a year ago. She was graduated from the Hamilton College of Law with honors.
Mrs. Stephens’ mother, the late Mrs. Letta M. Hawley of Brookings, Mont., practiced for many years there. Her mother’s mother also was an attorney.”
[Brookings is in South Dakota, not Montana.]
5 May 1917 — Des Moines Register — “Incidental Matters”
“Mrs. Florence Stephens, who is now practicing law in Chicago, but will soon return to build up a practice in her home town of Circle City, Mont., has a little daughter who, if her mother’s plans are carried out, will be the fourth woman in a direct line of lawyers. Mrs. Stephens’ mother was a member of the South Dakota bar, and her grandmother was a French lawyer. She herself is a member of the Chicago Woman’s Bar association which already has a membership of 742.”
15 October 1919 — Butte Miner — “Most Unique Story of Today”
” . . . . The case is being prosecuted by County Attorney Oscar J. Thompson of McCone county, and his assistant, Mr. Hoover. The defendant is represented by Attorney Mrs. Florence W. Stephens and J. A. Slattery of Glendive, a former county attorney of Dawson county. Mrs. Stephens is one of the few woman lawyers of the state who has had considerable experience in criminal law. She formerly practiced in Chicago and a few years ago was president of the Women’s Bar association of Illinois. She comes from a family of female lawyers, her mother and grandmother both having practiced before her. . . .”
13 January 1923 — Helena Daily Independent — “Admits Her to Practice”
“Attorney Florence W. Stephens of Circle, was admitted to practice in the United States district court in Montana, in proceedings before Judge W. H. Bourquin yesterday. Miss Stephens was introduced by W. H. Meigs, deputy U. S. district attorney.”
7 February 1923 — Helena Daily Independent
“After listening for a long time to the voices of Secretary Cone and Reading Clerk George Lester, the senate was pleasantly surprised to hear a new voice intoning the dry provisions of measures which were under consideration on general file yesterday. When the house bills were reached, Mrs. Florence Stephens of McCone county, proof-reader for the senate, was asked by Secretary Cone to finish the job for the day. She didn’t hesitate but immediately stepped up and handled the business of the reading clerk in a fashion that indicated she had been a close observer of the work. A bit of inquiry developed the fact that Mrs. Stephens is a graduate of a law school and accordingly familiar with legal phraseology.”
28 March 1923 — Great Falls Tribune — “Woman Attorney Accepts New York Law Position”
“Mrs. Florence W. Stephens, well known woman lawyer of this place, left for Buffalo, New York, where she expects to enter the law office of a relative.
Mrs. Stephens is considered an old-timer here. She came here in 1910 and took up a homestead about two miles north of the present site of Circle. After proving up on her claim she went to Chicago where she completed a law course. She then returned to the new town of Circle and built up a law practice.”
25 January 1925 — Buffalo Courier — “Gifted Portia From Wild West Yearns for Great Open Spaces Where Women Wear Trousers, by Fletcher Pratt”
‘I always wish I could be out in a free country where I can wear trousers,’ says Mrs. Florence Stephens of No. 103 Anderson place, speaking of Buffalo, ‘but I’ve stayed here longer than I have stayed anywhere else in the last fifteen years, so I guess I must rather like the place.’
Well, she has a right to wear trousers if anybody has. She is a practicing lawyer, a member of the bar in three states, and of the federal bar. She was for some time in charge of recording all the bills that passed the Montana state senate, and was the first woman to read the bills in that state. She is the owner of a 320-acre farm in Montana, which she took as a homesteader, building her own house on it, and doing her own farm work while she was studying law for her bar examination.
‘Oh, homesteading,’ she ways, nonchalantly, ‘that was fun. There was nothing to it.’
Month’s Journey on Horseback
She left her law studies in Chicago and her five-year-old daughter there, who was studying to be a trained nurse, and set out on horseback for Montana and the government homestead lands. All their possessions and all their equipment for the homesteading venture was carried on pack horses. The journey took a month and often they were miles from the nearest town, not seeing anything more civilized than a stray house for days. At night they pitched their tent under the stars. In the morning were off again.
At the end of a month of horseback riding they reached the claim sites at Circle, Montana, a town that then consisted on only one house and a store, which was also the post office. The house had been the ranchhouse of an old ranch, the Circle-Bar, from which the town took its name.
‘We pitched our tent,’ says Mrs. Stephens, ‘and slept on the ground until we got our house built. It was sixty miles to the nearest railroad, and there was only one carpenter in the vicinity, so building the habitable house required by the government regulation was a matter of some difficulty, as the whole country is a flat, treeless plain, and all the wood had to be hauled from the railroad.
Built Her Own House
‘I got the carpenter to help me for one day and finished the house myself. It was all built of six-inch flooring stock, the only kind obtainable, and roofed with a car roof. At night in the winter you could look up and see every nailhead in that roof covered with frost.
‘The first year I raised potatoes. The government regulations on homesteading require that forty acres of the 320 must be placed under cultivation and a habitable house built on the land. I arrived there in September and began work on the land in the spring, and the first year didn’t raise anything much but potatoes — about as big as a dinner plate and nearly as thick.
‘The soil there is wonderful. You can raise anything on it, but it was all new land, and that first year I couldn’t do anything more than plow it up and plant the potatoes under the furrows. They flattened right out and grew to prodigious size, but only about an inch thick.
“Of course, cultivating the land out there meant building a fence, too. It is still the wild west there, with cowpunchers and range cattle, just as they have them in the movies, only the cowpuncher doesn’t dress that way at all. The only part of his uniform that is real are the high-heeled shoes. For the rest he usually wears the oldest and dirtiest overalls he can find anywhere.
‘A fence with three barbed wires in it is a “legal fence” and if the cattle break through it you can sue the owner for damages. But a fence of some kind is a positive necessity, for the cattle tramp down and eat everything that isn’t fenced in.
Serenaded by Cows at Dawn
‘There used to be a place right in the lee of my house where the cattle that were roaming around town all the time would collect just before dawn. I think I must have taken a dozen cowbells off cattle there, and the owners would come around innocently the next day and kick about their cows’ lost bells. They would keep you awake all night if you didn’t take them off. when I left there I had a big donation party and gave all their bells back to them, and you should have seen them when I did.
‘Of course things gradually got more comfortable there. I kept getting more stock. I didn’t have anything but some horses when I first went out, and by and by I got a portable pool table and a piano. You can’t imagine what that meant. That piano and the pool table were the first ones in that part of the country, and I can tell you I was the center of attraction there for a long while.
‘It’s still very much the wild west, you see. When they have a dance everyone goes at dusk, and it doesn’t break up till morning. No use of breaking up before, because the roads are a minus quality and, as it’s all open prairie, you couldn’t find your way home before daylight.
Defended Cattle Thieves
‘In 1916 I went back to Chicago and passed my bar examination there. That was where I had started from and where I began my law studies. Then I went back to Montana and was admitted to the bar there and spent most of my time defending horse thieves and cattle thieves. Most of those old-timers would slap a brand on anything that didn’t have one, and steal anything they could get away with.
‘I guess I came naturally by being a lawyer. My mother was a lawyer before me, and I believe she was the first woman lawyer in the state of South Dakota, where we lived at that time. It’s easier being a lawyer in the west, anyway. They don’t have so many darn fool laws, nor so much trouble enforcing those they do have.
‘In 1922 I thought I would come to Buffalo and see what the east looked like, and I have been here ever since. But I’d like to get out once in a while where I could wear trousers and ride a horse again.’”
19 May 1926 — Billings Gazette — “Former Circle Woman Wins Success in N.Y.”
“Mrs. Florence Stephens, former Circle attorney, now of New York City, carried enough breeze with her from the windy little eastern Montana town to make herself heard, seen, and felt in the town made famous by O. Henry and others. A feature article in the New York Telegram tells of her exploits at Albany where she recently spent four months as a lobbyist for the Women’s City club of New York. Mrs. Stephens left Circle in 1925 for Buffalo, N.Y. About a year ago she moved to New York City. She had some legislative experience in Montana as a drafting clerk in the state senate in the 1923 session of the legislature.”
11 January 1931 — Independent Record — “Montana Girl Once on Homestead Makes Good in New York”
“Florence Stephens has been selected as a representative of Montana on a national honor roll of girls who have gone to New York and made good. Miss Stephens’ story, written by Mary Field Parton in the February issue of McCalls magazine, Miss Stephens once was a homesteader near Circle and helped elect Jeannette Rankin to congress and that fall was a bill clerk in the Montana legislature.
Here is what McCalls says in part about the former bill clerk of the senate.
‘Two young girls fresh from college rode horse back into the open ranges of Montana not long ago in search of careers. One had studied law; both were schooled in arts and sciences. Neither knew anything about cattle. But near the tiny town of Circle they staked out a cattle ranch, stocked it and settled down.
‘Florence Stephens the lawyer hung out her shingle and among her first clients was the little country bank. Here she learned her first lesson in finance. She went in for politics helped, elected Jeannette Rankin to congress, and herself went to the state legislature as bill clerk in the senate.
‘Seven years ago with self-earned capital she rode into Wall street New York City, this time unaccompanied and staked her claim. It was hard getting started. Finally she wedged in, was engaged to draw some contracts for a building and loan association. Then she became a free-lance saleswoman on the street.
‘A girl who has fenced her own acres, raised her own cattle, conducted her own practice doesn’t work for others long. Florence Stephens dared to open her own brokerage offices. Today she directs a force of seven saleswomen. She is the only woman in New York who has her own investment security business.
‘F W Stephens Co. say the gold letters on her office door. F W Stephens a small, brown-eyed woman, is adviser to hundreds. She specializes in non-speculative stocks and bonds. And even when Wall street was mad with panic, the girl from the cattle ranges kept cool.'”
February 27, 1955 — Lubbock Morning Avalanche
“Financial Wizard Gave Up Law Career for Wall Street
Head of Investment House Overcomes Prejudice Against Women As Brokers
Mrs. Florence W. Stephens is a small woman entirely surrounded by tall buildings and financial giants — the only woman to run her own investment house in Wall Street.
She’s as familiar with the stock market as another woman might be with a supermarket. Her days are spent advising investors on how to handle their stocks, whether to buy, sell or wait, and acting on their behalf.
Mrs. Stephens has had clients coming to her door since she started the F.W. Stephens Co. in 1928. But in the beginning she found the wizards of Wall Street didn’t want to do business with a woman — not even a woman with clients. She recalled:
‘When I began the business one house didn’t want to put my order through — but it was a struggle between avarice and prejudice, and avarice won. On the other hand, a lot of the houses have been very helpful. I don’t have any trouble anymore.’
‘A great many women — and men, too — feel that a woman at the head of a business will be more sympathetic to their problems.’
One example of how people instinctively trust this grey-haired widow occurred recently when a man whom she knew only by sight accosted her in the corridor.
‘They’re going to sell me out,’ he said.
‘How much do you owe?’ Mrs. Stephens asked the stranger.
‘I don’t know,’ he said, looking at her appealingly. ‘I’m afraid to ask.’
Mrs. Stephens went over the man’s business affairs and straightened the whole matter out with a few well placed phone calls and the sale of 10 shares of U.S. Steel.
Mrs. Stephens never planned for a future in finance. Her mother practiced law and Mrs. Stephens, who was born in Demits, N.D., intended to follow in her footsteps. She graduated from Chicago’s Hamilton College of Law with an LL.B.
She married twice and had one child, Inga, who today is married to Fletcher Pratt, author and historian.
After practicing law briefly in Chicago Mrs. Stephens visited Montana. At least she meant to visit — during her stay she became involved in a somewhat spectacular legal case defending a man who had knocked down a woman.
‘That’s almost as bad as murder out there — they don’t hit their women,’ she explained. Her client was acquitted.
Mrs. Stephens continued practicing law in Montana and while there picked up some financial experience as a bank attorney.
She came to New York because her daughter wanted to study art. At first she worked for a New York brokerage house, but ‘I didn’t care for the type of securities they were handling, so I decided to open my own office,’ she said.
The feminine financial expert is still a lady lawyer, as she has been admitted to the New York bar.
‘Lawyers fight all the time,’ she confided, ‘and I got tired of fighting. I’m not sorry to be doing something more constructive.’
In 1945 Mrs. Stephens founded the Graphic Financial Charts Co., a bi-monthly publication devoted to listing in chart form the records of stocks on the New York and American Stock Exchanges. Today it’s an international seller with subscribers in Europe, Hong Kong and South Africa.
There are still traces of prejudice trailing Mrs. Stephens, however. She is not a member of the New York Stock Exchange. Mrs. Stephens explained why:
‘I think they’d drop dead if a woman applied.’
Out-of-town clients are often shocked to find a woman has been handling their investments and end up by smiling and saying brightly:
‘Isn’t it wonderful — a woman being at the head of a business.’
Her invariable answer is a sharp ‘why?’ No client has yet had the courage to tell her he thought women belonged in the home.
Mrs. Stephens doesn’t have time for hobbies during her working periods but when things get dull she vacations and then her main objective is a place where she can swim to her heart’s content.
‘I’m not a grandmother,’ Mrs. Stephens said with a chuckle, ‘since the only off-spring my daughter and son-in-law have is a small collections of monkeys. I refuse to be grandmother to 10 Marmoset monkeys.”