On, Alumnae: Kate Hamilton Pier

Hamilton Pier became the first woman in the country to be granted a judicial appointment. Courtesy of Fond Du Lac County Historical Society

Kate Hamilton Pier LLB1887 was a successful real estate saleswoman in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, when she decided to get a law degree. Her daughter, also named Kate, was headed for law school. Pier did not think her daughter should go to campus unaccompanied, so they both earned their law degrees in 1887.

Kate Hamilton Pier became the first woman in the United States to be granted a judicial appointment when she was named commissioner of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 1891. That same year, daughter Kate became the first woman to argue — and win — a case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Pier’s two younger daughters, Caroline and Harriet, soon followed her path to the UW Law School. In 1891, Caroline and Harriet were admitted to the bar, meaning that the mother and daughters made up four of the eight female lawyers in Wisconsin at the time.

The women then worked in the family law firm, practicing first in Fond du Lac and then, in 1888, in Milwaukee. The firm was instrumental in the passage of two Wisconsin laws, one enabling women to act as legal assignees, and another enabling female attorneys to be court commissioners.

Kate Hamilton Pier was also the first woman to cast a vote in Fond du Lac County, years before the suffrage act passed.

As part of the On Wisconsin women’s issue, see other UW alumnae you oughta know.

Published in the Summer 2019 issue

Tags: Alumni, Campus history, law school

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