Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Martha Angle Dorsett, 1851-1918

By Manisha Claire
Independent scholar, Somerville, MA

Martha Angle Dorsett was born on April 2, 1851 in Randolph, New York. She married Charles William Dorsett in 1876 and died on March 8, 1918 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Martha Dorsett was the first woman to be admitted to the bar in Minnesota on January 10, 1878. She attended the University of Michigan and the Iowa College of Law, graduating in 1876. Martha and Charles were both successfully admitted to the bar in Iowa in 1876, but after they moved to Minnesota and reapplied in that state, only Charles was granted admission.

In response to her rejection from the bar on the basis of gender, Mrs. Dorsett and her husband lobbied for a law that would no longer restrict the legal profession to men in the state. The final bill passed with 63 to 34 in 1877. The Minneapolis Tribune covered the event with the headline: "The First and Only Lady Lawyer Ever Admitted to the Bar of the State." She practiced law with her husband from 1878 to 1888 in Minnesota. The Dorsetts then ran a catering company in Minneapolis for 30 years.

In 1885, the St. Paul Daily Globe reported that Martha A. Dorsett and her husband had joined two different committees of the state's suffrage association. Martha, in addition to serving as the president of the Minneapolis Woman Suffrage society, was named the corresponding secretary, while her husband was elected to the executive committee. Mrs. Dorsett was also a director of the Minneapolis Maternity Hospital, which opened in 1886. She was also active in the temperance movement, and ran for School Director in Hennepin, Minnesota on a temperance and suffrage ballot in 1908.

In 1908, the Hudson Publishing Company ran a feature on notable Minneapolis residents, including Mr. Dorsett. In this article, the couple is reported to have two biological daughters and three adopted children: two boys and one girl. The Dorsetts often hosted boarders at their house; the 1900 census reported 14 boarders at the Dorsett house in Minneapolis.

She was named as a contributor and a friend to the women organizing the Minnesota League of Women Voters in 1919.


Women's Legal History: Martha Angle Dorsett, accessed January 2018.

Catharine V. Waite, ed., "Admission of Women to the Bar," The Chicago Law Times, Volume I, Chicago, C.V. Waite & Company, 1887, p. 84.

Randy Furst, "Minnesota's female lawyers, judges celebrate milestones," Star Tribune, February 23, 2015, accessed January 2018.

Isaac Atwater, ed., "Charitable Institutions: Maternity Hospital," History of the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Part 1, New York: Munsel, 1893, p. 257.

1900 United States Federal Census, accessed January 2018.

Journal of the House of Representatives, During the Nineteenth Session of the Legislature of the State of Minnesota, Saint Paul: Ramaley and Cunningham, 1877.

Ed. Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds, "Minnesota," in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6., National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. LINK

"The Dorsett Case," Minnesota Legal History Project, accessed January 2018.

"Options," The Mantorville Express, October 13, 1876.

"The Woman Suffragists," St. Paul Daily Globe, September 6, 1885.

"Ballots," The Minneapolis Tribune, September 8, 1908.

"Martha Dorsett is Taken by Death," The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, March 9, 1918.

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