Phoebe Couzins – First Female U.S. Marshal

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Last month I started a series of articles about 10 amazing women who paved the way for females in various branches of law enforcement. January’s post focused on Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton Agent. (If you missed it, you can read it HERE)

This month I want to talk about Phoebe Couzins, the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Marshall service.

Growing up, Phoebe’s parents taught her to view public service as something to be valued. They were a couple who truly walked the walk. For instance, when Phoebe was about six years old, St. Louis was devastated by a terrible cholera epidemic where thousands of residents perished. John and Adaline Couzins stepped forward and headed up the local relief organization that was responsible for helping the victims.

And that was only one instance of many. Among other things, John Couzins, was an architect and builder, served as a Union Major during the Civil War, and became Chief of Police in St. Louis. Adaline Couzins, was also quite active. She served as a nurse during the Civil War, tending soldiers on the battlefield at Wilson Creek, Shiloh, and Vicksburg. During the course of this, she herself was actually wounded at Vicksburg.

Which may be why, as she grew, Phoebe pushed against the boundaries imposed on nineteenth century women in a BIG way.

In 1869, she became a delegate to the American Equal Rights Association Convention in N.Y. That same year, Phoebe spoke on behalf of women suffrage to a joint meeting in the Missouri State General Assembly. She advocated the passage of State legislation granting women the right to vote. Unfortunately the proposal was ultimately rejected by a vote of 89-5.

Later that year, Phoebe was one of the first women to enter Washington University in St. Louis law school when they opened admission to women, and in 1871 she became the second woman in the nation to graduate with an L.L.B. degree. A big proponent of equality for women, once she graduated she stated that she primarily pursued a law degree in order to “open new paths for women, enlarge her usefulness, widen her responsibilities and to plead her case in a struggle which [she] believed surely was coming. . . . I trust the day is not far distant when men and women shall be recognized as equal administrators of that great bulwark of civilization, law.”  After graduating, she went on to become the second licensed attorney in her home state of Missouri and the third licensed attorney in the entire United States. Eventually she was also admitted to the bar associations of Arkansas, Utah, and Kansas, as well as the Dakota Territory federal courts.

In 1884, Phoebe’s father was appointed as the U.S. Marshal in eastern Missouri. Her father then named her a deputy U.S. Marshal, which placed her among the first women to hold that position. When John Couzins died in 1887, President Grover Cleveland asked Phoebe to step into the position temporarily, making her the first woman U.S. Marshal. She only held the position for two months, however, leaving the service altogether when she was replaced by a male.

As I mentioned above, Phoebe was a strong proponent of women’s rights. She was active in the suffrage movement for many years, as had been her mother. In the early days of the twentieth century she made the following statement: ”… today we round out the first century of a professed republic,—with woman figuratively representing freedom—and yet all free, save woman.” And she also stated “Until we are large enough to think of mind, of genius, of ability without the consciousness of sex, we are yet in the infancy of our development, we belong in kindergarten.” 

Unfortunately, Phoebe’s life did not end well. As the years passed, her strong personality and outspoken ways rubbed her associates and fellow suffragists the wrong way, eventually leaving her with few friends. At the age of sixty-eight, she found herself in a dire situation – destitute, in failing health, and unable to work – so she returned to St. Louis. She died there in December of 1913.

Phoebe was buried with her U.S. marshal’s badge pinned to her chest in an unmarked grave in Bellefontaine Cemetery. Only six people, including her brother, attended her funeral. It was a sad ending to a remarkable life.

However, in more recent years, Phoebe’s life and groundbreaking accomplishments have received more appropriate recognition.

In 1950 Phoebe Couzin’s final resting place received a marker. In that year, to acknowledge Phoebe’s many groundbreaking accomplishments, the members of the Women’s Bar Association of St. Louis placed a simple stone monument on her final grave.

And in 2000 , Phoebe, as well as Lemma Barkeloo (another early female lawyer) were honored by the establishment of the Lemma Barkeloo and Phoebe Couzins Professor of Law Chair at the Washington University school of law.

There you have it, a very brief sketch of the trailblazing life of yet another brave and ahead-of-her-times woman. What struck you most about her? If you’d already heard of her, did you learn anything new, or do you have more to add to her story?

Leave a comment and you’ll be entered in a drawing for winner’s choice of any book from my backlist.



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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at or email her at

40 thoughts on “Phoebe Couzins – First Female U.S. Marshal”

  1. Women historically have shown strength and commitment. Some have excelled beyond their male counterparts and been recognized.
    Today, the military is catching up with females that excel.
    In my own world, women in the nuclear industry have fought to prove themselves worthy.

  2. Very interesting article. Truth be told Women are at times way more suited for a particular job more so than a man.

  3. Awesome blog! I’m loving your very informative blogs of these astounding woman. I can’t wait to read more! Phoebe’s life had a very sad ending.

  4. This is really interesting. Thank you for researching and sharing. I am really loving learning about these wonderful women.

  5. I love learning about women in history, Winnie, and this was a new one for me. It took a thick skin and dedication to accomplish what Phoebe did, and we owe women like her a great debt for clearing the path for us to follow. Thanks for sharing her story.

  6. Winnie, what an amazing woman who made great strides for equality. I love that she went on the battlefields to tend to injured soldiers. I’d love to have known her. How sad that she died alone and destitute. Loved reading about her.

  7. I am really enjoying this series of posts. it could be that Phoebe did have an unpleasant personality, but it could also be what still plagues us today – men are just strong but women are too pushy, too bossy, too opinionated, etc. Thanks for another interesting story.

  8. What a fascinating look at the life of Phoebe Couzins. I enjoy reading about women who don’t let others hold them back. She had wonderful parents to give her such encouragement and such high standards of role models. Very interesting article. Thank you fro sharing it and the giveaway chance.

    • Hi Deanne. Interesting that you picked up on the example her parents provided – that struck me too. It’s such an important element in shaping a child’s outlook on life.

  9. Winnie, Thank you so much for these posts. In the past, women’s accomplishments were often denied, ignored, or discounted. Some of them are now getting their due, but so many stories will never be discovered.
    What impressed me the most about her was the wide range of skills she pursued and involvements she had. Her forcefulness did not go over well with people of those times. It is sad that she ended up so alone. She deserved better for all she accomplished and the doors she opened for the women who followed.

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