Susannah, A Lawyer: From Tragedy to Triumph
by Ruth Rymer


Langdon Street Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-934-93841-6.
Reviewed by Susan M. Andrus
Posted on 10/26/2009

Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus

In the 1870s, after the Civil War ended, women's rights advocates continued their push for suffrage and other rights. Ruth Rymer's novel, Susannah, A Lawyer: From Tragedy to Triumph chronicles one woman's experiences during that momentous time. Susannah Reed, a young woman growing up in upstate New York, narrates her quest to become a lawyer. After graduating from Mount Holyoke and waiting for her fiance to return from Harvard, she was brutally raped by a disabled neighbor. Rymer chronicles Susanna's recovery from the rape, her move to Chicago to live with her brother and sister-in-law, and her attempts to study and practice law.

Rymer's knowledge of Chicago—its weather, and women practicing law during the 1880s—packs the last two-thirds of the book with action, drama, and fine storytelling. This makes it difficult to put the book down until the end. Unfortunately, the early pages move slowly, because the author tells rather than shows the reader what happens to Susannah. In addition, Rymer's attempts to include a Christian viewpoint seemed to be added on as tags, rather than part of the natural flow of the narrative.

Even though these unfortunate distractions subtracted from an overwhelming positive read, the wonderful second two-thirds of the book more than outweighs them, and offers a glimpse into the life of nineteenth century morals, attitudes toward women, and legal practices.


Ruth Rymer became fascinated by early women's rights shortly after she became an attorney. While she practiced family law in the San Francisco Bay Area, she created and taught a course, Women and the Law, at the College of San Mateo. She was president of Queen's Bench, the Bay Area women lawyers association, and of the Northern California Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The author chaired the committee that brought family law into the California State Bar Legal Specialization Program. Rymer and her husband, Ronald G. Borden, live in the Bay Area. She enjoys the frequent company of her adult children.

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