October 29, 2022 | Last updated Mar 7, 2024

Ada C. Bittenbender and the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association

Ada Cole Bittenbender, a leader in the woman suffrage and temperance movements, was also one of Nebraska’s first woman lawyers and only the third woman admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court (1888). She is remembered today in Nebraska for her efforts to win legal rights for women and children.

Newspaper obituaries on microfilm at the Nebraska State Historical Society Library/Archives indicate that she was born in Pennsylvania in 1848. She attended colleges in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C., and built a teaching career before marriage to Henry Clay Bittenbender, a lawyer. In 1878 the Bittenbenders moved from the East to Osceola, Nebraska, where Henry established a legal practice and bought the Osceola Record. Ada edited the Record for several years while she read law in her husband’s office. The couple moved to Lincoln in 1882.

Ada was an active feminist and helped organize the Nebraska Woman Suffrage Association. In May 1882 she was admitted to the Nebraska bar. A law partner with her husband, she argued cases in both state and federal courts. She successfully lobbied for a ban on the sale of tobacco to children and for a bill granting married women joint and equal guardianship over their children.

She also held office in the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Washington D.C. from 1887 to 1890. In 1891 she ran on the Prohibition Party ticket for Nebraska Supreme Court judge and received nearly five percent of the (male) vote.

In her later years, Ada Cole Bittenbender discontinued the practice of law and devoted herself to philosophical studies. She died in Lincoln in 1925.

To read more about the suffrage movement in Nebraska, read “Striving for Equal Rights for All”: Woman Suffrage in Nebraska, 1855-1882 by Kristin Mapel Bloomberg, which appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of Nebraska History Magazine

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