By Ellen Ritter
Pauline Margaret Floyd was born in Washington, D.C. on January 7, 1898 to Pauline Bussey Floyd and Henry Floyd, a clerk in the War Department Records and Pension Bureau. After Henry Floyd died in 1900, Pauline’s mother took a job as a clerk at the Department of Agriculture. Pauline graduated from Business High School in 1915 and won a scholarship to the Washington College of Law where she was active in public debates and student government.
As a 19-year-old law student, Pauline Floyd was one of the “Silent Sentinels.” She was in the first suffrage picket line that left the NWP headquarters to march to the White House on January 10, 1917 where she was a “private” on the morning detail at the west gate. She participated in many other demonstrations, including picketing of the Senate Office Building in 1918. While picketing, Floyd sometimes wore a sash to represent the Washington College of Law or the State of Arkansas (her mother’s home state).
After six suffragists were arrested on August 17, 1917 and ordered to appear in Police Court, the Washington Herald noted that they “will be defended by Pauline Floyd, who is a law student and has been one of the leaders in the recent picketing.” She was also a stenographer for the NWP and some sources state that she was Alice Paul’s secretary.
Pauline Floyd graduated from law school in June 1918, took the bar exams in January 1919 and was admitted to the bar in D.C. at age 21. She received local and national publicity as “the youngest woman lawyer in Washington” and, some claimed, in America. Floyd opened an office to practice domestic law, decrying D.C. divorce laws that worked an undue hardship on women. Floyd also served as a member of the Lawyers’ Council of the National Woman’s Party. When she was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922 at age 24, she was again hailed in the press as the youngest lawyer to achieve this distinction.
In 1922, Pauline Floyd married journalist Lee Somers, but retained her maiden name. She continued her private practice of “general law” until 1935 when she became the only woman on the legal staff of the federal government’s Home Owner’s Loan Corporation. She was very active in the Washington College of Law Alumni group, the Federal Bar Association, Women’s Bar Association and other organizations for many years.
Pauline Floyd died at Bethesda, Maryland in 1968.
Floyd appears in nearly a dozen National Woman’s Party photographs held by the Library of Congress. Key photographs are “The first suffrage picket line…,” http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mnwp.160026; “Alice Paul and Mrs. Lawrence Lewis ….”, http://www.loc.gov/item/95502384/; and “Woman Suffragists picketing at Senate Office Building….”, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.05533. Floyd’s picketing was noted in “Wilson Runs Gantlet of Suffrage Pickets,” New York Tribune, 11 January 1917, 1, 9 and “Arrest ‘Suffs;’ Stop Picketing,” Washington Herald, 18 August 1917, 1. Floyd’s triumph as a young lawyer was written up in “Miss Floyd, Admitted to Bar Today, Is Youngest Woman Lawyer in D.C.,” The Washington Times, 10 March 1919 and “Miss Pauline Floyd, 24, youngest lawyer ever admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court,” Washington Post, 24 April 1922, 13. Other sources include Lawyer’s Council of the Woman’s Party membership, Women Lawyer’s Journal 9-12 (1919), 4 and Ellen Spencer Munsey, LLM, “The Law and the Lady,” The Suffragist 8:5 (June 1920), 93-94.