Historic Females: Clara Louise Power; “Lady of Firsts”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the first in a month-long series about noteworthy women in Everett, taken from vignettes written by former City Clerk Michael Matarazzo in his book ‘They Came from Everett.’ The histories of many female residents of Everett might surprise readers, as many of their stories have never been fully told. Matarazzo’s book is available at bookblues.com.

There was nothing in Clara Louise Power’s demeanor or personality that would suggest that she would be a trailblazer. She was, self-admittedly, a quiet, humble and reserved individual. She was also, however, intelligent, inquisitive and determined.

Born in 1872, Clara spent her formative years in Everett. She attended the Everett Public Schools before moving with her family to Boston to attend the Girls’ High School there. The high school was located in Roxbury (becoming Roxbury High School in 1974) and was attended through the years by such notables as civil rights activist Melnea Cass, actress Ruth Roman, and the first African-American woman dentist in Boston, Jessie G. Garnett, among many other prominent women. Clara graduated from Girls’ High School in 1889.

After graduation, Clara hired a private tutor for the purpose of learning how to type and take shorthand. After only two months, Clara mastered both skills and secured a position with a prominent law firm in Boston. While taking dictation and typing legal briefs, Clara made the extra effort to not only type the words and documents, but to learn their meanings and the role that they played in the legal process. It didn’t take long for Clara to become enamored with the legal profession.

In 1890, she entered Boston University’s School of Law. Her intention, at first, was not to practice law but to excel at her job as a legal secretary by learning everything she could about the law. During her first year, she was able to attend on a full-time basis. Her training in shorthand and typing allowed her to take detailed notes and then organize them in a typed document. Transcribing the shorthand and then typing the notes helped to reinforce the subject matter in her mind.

Prior to her second year of law school, she was offered a position as the private assistant to Elijah George, the Registrar of Probate for Suffolk County. No longer living at home and with tuition to pay as well, Clara could not refuse to accept the offer. Working full-time and attending law school was a monumental task for Clara. She was unable to attend many classes and did much of the coursework at home. Sometimes burning the midnight oil so as not to fall behind. To the astonishment of her professors and classmates, Clara passed her examinations and graduated with her class in 1893. One of the first woman to graduate from Boston University with a law degree.

Within the next two years, Clara would become the first woman admitted to the Suffolk County and Boston Bar Associations. She also became the first woman in Massachusetts to be appointed as a notary public and as a special commissioner to administer oaths and take depositions. By 1901, she had also been admitted to practice before the Massachusetts Supreme Court, the U.S. Circuit Court and was recommended by U.S. Attorney General John William Griggs to practice before the United States Supreme Court. She was, at one time, the only woman in Massachusetts with that distinction.

After 16 years in the Office of the Suffolk County Registrar of Probate, Clara had developed a reputation for accommodation, efficiency and expertise. When the position of 2nd Assistant Registrar of Probate became available, the Registrar immediately recommended Clara. However, because of the wording of the law, it was not believed that a woman could be appointed to the position. Due to Clara’s reputation, the Massachusetts State Legislature changed the law and she was appointed. She would later become 1st Assistant Registrar.

Clara’s life was dominated by her work. Her social life consisted of her weekly bowling league and involvement in various civic and legal associations. In 1923, however, after 30 years at the Registry, she took a three-month tour that took her and her sister Alice to Gibraltar, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Austria, Egypt, Syria, Morocco and Turkey.

She would work for another nine years as Assistant Registrar before ill-health caused her to retire in April 1932.  Less than a month later, Clara Louise Power, who lived a life of “firsts” breathed her last. She was only 59-year old.

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