Alice M. Birdsall, Arizona’s second female attorney, was a recognized authority on bankruptcy law. She was also instrumental in creating a law that provided the right of inheritance for Arizona children born out of wedlock. Alice pioneered professional women’s rights in Arizona, fought for woman’s suffrage and led the fight for the creation of the law for the right of Arizona women to serve on court juries.
Alice was born in Waterloo, Black Hawk County, Iowa on July 27, 1880 to George B. and Anna (Clasey) Birdsell. She began her career as a secretary in her brother’s law office and said in later years that as soon as she picked up a copy of Simon Greenleaf’s book on Evidence she decided to become a lawyer. Several years later, she followed in her elder brother Willis M. Birdsall’s footsteps and studied at Washington College of Law, a law school founded by women for women. She graduated in May 1911 and was admitted to the Arizona Bar on October 23, 1911.
She worked closely with Sarah Sorin, Arizona’s first female attorney, until Sarah’s death in 1914 when Alice started her own practice in Phoenix, opening her offices in the Fleming building. She said that when she was unpacking her law books in her new office, a male attorney knocked on her door and asked if she was a lawyer. When she replied in the affirmative, he told her he wouldn’t know how to treat a female lawyer if she were on the opposing side. She responded, “Well, Mr. Marks. You do or say anything your heart desires and I’ll take care of it myself.” Remembered by her peers as a formidable legal opponent, she closed her practice in 1958.
Alice served as delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1920. She was a member of the Business and Professional Women’s Association, the Association of Women Lawyers, the Commercial Law League of America and served as treasurer for the Maricopa County Bar Association. During WWI she served as state chairman for the Arizona Women’s Liberty Loan Committee. In addition to her law practice, from 1915 to 1936 she was the reporter of decisions for the Arizona Supreme Court.