Ida Platt, Class of 1894
First African-American woman admitted to the Illinois Bar
An 1894 graduate of Chicago College of Law, Ida Platt was the first African-American woman to be admitted to the Illinois bar – and only the third in the United States. Practicing law for more than thirty years, she was a woman of courage and determination who opened the Illinois legal profession to women of color.
Platt was born the youngest of seven children and graduated from Chicago High School at the age of 16, proficient in both French and German. After working as a secretary and stenographer in an insurance office for nine years, Platt began working in the law firm of Jesse Cox and entered law school as an evening student. Several local newspapers took note when she graduated with honors in 1894. A year later, when she was admitted to the Illinois Bar, a state Supreme Court justice noted, “we have done today what we have never before – admitted a colored woman to the bar; and it may now truly be said that persons are admitted to the Illinois Bar without regard to race, sex or color.”
After beginning her career working in the law firm of a classmate, Platt eventually built a successful practice using her linguistic and business skills to develop a large client base of foreign immigrants. In 1906, she established her own law office on Van Buren Street and in 1912, she moved her office to the prestigious location of 36 South State Street. She joined the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois and maintained her membership through 1928 and was part of the group of attorneys who helped form the Cook County Bar Association, the oldest African-American bar association. She passed away in 1943.