Octavia Bates

Although Octavia W. Bates never took the bar exam or practiced law, she influenced women’s role in law nonetheless. Bates graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1877 and a Doctor of Laws degree in 1896. She was described as a woman who was “broadminded in her outlook upon life, yet conservative in action.”1 She went on to become chair of the Committee on Domestic Relations of the National Council of Women, which at that time claimed just over one million members. Bates was an active member of the Lend-A-Hand Club, the Woman’s Literary Club, the Arundell Club, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Her involvement in the club life of American women led to her appointment by the National Federation of Women’s Clubs as a delegate to the International Council of Women in London in 1899. At the council, Bates delivered a paper entitled “The Study of Law for Women,” which was considered highly progressive at that time. Her reputation even earned her the opportunity to speak with Queen Victoria during an informal afternoon tea about her ideas on the state of American women. Bates traveled extensively, promulgating her views on women’s rights and donating her talents, wealth, and passion to the service of womanhood.

1 Octavia Bates, Necrology File. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.