The first African American admitted to the Kansas bar was Lutie Lytle. She was also one of the first black women to graduate from law school.
Lytle was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where her father’s family had lived for a while. John R., Mary Ann “Mollie,” the family’s four children, and Lutie’s grandmother moved to Kansas around 1882, during the Exodus movement, which saw many African Americans relocate from Tennessee to Kansas.
Lutie moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, when he was 21 years old. She taught school there to help pay for her education at Central Tennessee College in Nashville. Lutie became involved in other social activities while in college.
Lytle was admitted to the Criminal Court in Memphis, Tennessee, in September 1897, after passing an oral examination. According to newspaper reports, she was the first African American woman to be licensed to practice in Tennessee and the third in the United States. She became the first African American woman admitted to the Kansas bar later that month, after returning to Topeka.
Lytle moved to Topeka after the bar and became involved in the Interstate Literary Association, which included members from Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas communities. She was invited to speak to women’s groups and local colleges about domestic law.
Lytle announced her intention to join the faculty at Central Tennessee in the fall of 1898. According to newspaper reports, she was the world’s only female law professor. She held that position for one session, from 1898 to 1899.
By the early 1900s, Lytle was living in Brooklyn, New York, with her lawyer husband, Alfred C. Cowan. In 1913, the couple attended the annual convention of the Negro Bar Association. Lytle was the first African American female to join a national bar organization, and the first to do so with a spouse. Following her husbands
Lytle took over his practice after his sudden death in September 1913 and continued as a sole practitioner for some time.
Lutie Lytle-Cowan married Reverend Stephen Alexander McNeill, an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church minister, on July 10, 1916. She appears to have retired from the practice of law after her second marriage.
Reverend McNeill, a native of Robeson County, North Carolina, and a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University’s divinity school, served churches in Port Chester, New York, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (Wesley Union AMEZ Church), and New Paltz, New York before being named presiding elder of the AMEZ church’s Hudson River district in 1927. He died on March 26, 1934, in Peekskill, New York, almost immediately after preaching. Lytle had no children, and her death date is unknown, but it is believed to be in 1950.