A Woman of Firsts: Judge Florence Allen

by Cheri Yost

A little cabin in Moraine Park was the summer home of Florence Ellinwood Allen (1884-1966) for 26 years. Allen, who was born in Utah, attended Western Reserve University in Ohio, earning degrees in music, political science, and constitutional law. She attended the law school at the University of Chicago and New York University, graduating in 1913. The following year, she was admitted to the Ohio Bar.

When no firm would hire her, she began her own. She also advocated for women's suffrage and worked as an unpaid volunteer for the Cleveland Legal Aid Society. In 1919 she was appointed as assistant prosecutor of Cuyahoga County. A year later she was elected judge of the court of common pleas. In 1922 she was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court and reelected in 1928. Allen was the first woman to appear in all of these courts.

In 1927 she built a cabin in Moraine Park for her vacation home. For the next 26 years, she hiked, fished, read, and played piano at her summer retreat. She took time when in Estes Park to be active in the community. The subject of her August 15, 1941, talk to the Estes Park Rotary was “Freedom Guaranteed by the Constitution.”

At the age of 50 in March of 1934, Franklin Roosevelt nominated her to U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. She became the first woman to sit on any federal bench of general jurisdiction. She faced down a crime boss in her courtroom. She endured heckling at rallies. She won seats on the bench by defeating rosters of male opponents. For the next 25 years her opinions would shape public policy on issues such as the federal power to regulate the economy, labor rights, patent, copyright and trademark law, immigration, trusts and monopolies, bankruptcy, postal laws, and internal revenue.

A pioneer in the field of law, Allen had many firsts in her career. Notably, she was elected to her first judicial seat in 1920, the same year women earned the right to vote. She believed that:

"Liberty cannot be caged into a charter or handed on ready-made to the next generation. Each generation must recreate liberty for its own time. Whether or not we establish freedom rests with ourselves."

Judge Allen was elected to the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2005.

Click here to read a longer biography and see a short list of her cases.

Rocky Mountain National Park is grateful to the University of Colorado at Denver, Barbara Gibson, and Kris Christensen for the information they provided on Judge Allen's cabin. Based on their research, the Colorado Historical Society determined the property was eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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