Remembering Lorna Lockwood, 1903 – 1977

In 2020, we celebrate 100 years of women achieving the right to vote in federal elections by profiling notable accomplishments of Arizona women. Women won the right to vote in state and local elections in Arizona in 1912, 8 years before the 19th Amendment became law.

Lorna Lockwood, Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, 1970s.

Surely one of Arizona’s greatest legal talents was Justice Lorna Lockwood, the first female Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. She was a lawyer, legislator, and judge who achieved a long list of “firsts”: she was the first woman to graduate from law school in Arizona, the first woman to be appointed an Assistant Attorney General, the first woman to be elected to the Superior Court, the first female Supreme Court justice in Arizona and in the country, and the first female Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court and in the country. Admired by many for her skills as a judge and kindness as a human being, she gave a boost to countless other women in the legal field. Justice Lockwood changed the landscape of the legal profession in Arizona forever.

Lorna Elizabeth Lockwood was born in Douglas, Arizona on March 24, 1903. Her father, Alfred C. Lockwood, was a prominent attorney. In 1913 when Alfred Lockwood was appointed to the Superior Court for Cochise County, he moved the family to Tombstone. Lorna graduated from Tombstone High School, then earned a degree from the University of Arizona. At a time when many people disapproved of women going to law school, she graduated from the University of Arizona College of Law in 1925, first woman to do so. Unable to find work as a lawyer, she worked as a secretary and law clerk for her father, who was then a Justice on the Arizona Supreme Court. She worked as a secretary at a Phoenix law firm. She partnered with another women to open her own law firm, but there was not much work for a female law firm and it dissolved three years later.

Lorna Lockwood, 1939

In the meantime, Lockwood became active in Democratic party. Those connections helped her win a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives in 1939 representing Maricopa County. Hard-working and knowledgeable about the issues, she was re-elected in 1941.

Lockwood resigned at the beginning of World War II to work as a secretary to Arizona’s one congressman in Washington D.C. Soon she returned to Arizona, which she considered to be the best state in the nation. She worked as chief counsel for the wartime Office of Price Administration. After the war, she joined her father and brother-in-law in private practice in Phoenix.

Lockwood was elected again to the Arizona House of Representatives in 1947. She applied for membership in the Lawyer’s Club of Phoenix but was rejected. The Club did not allow women, so Lockwood quietly formed her own club for women lawyers. She had standing reservations for Wednesdays at noon at a popular downtown Phoenix restaurant and invited all the women lawyers in town to join her. There were only five or six, so they could fit at one table, but the male lawyers noticed them there, week after week. The women offered each other professional support at a time when it was still difficult for women attorneys.

Near the end of her third term in the Legislature, Lockwood was appointed as Assistant Attorney General. In 1950 she ran her fourth campaign, this time for judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court. Accounts differ, but the gist of the tale is the same: thirteen candidates were competing for five seats, so Lorna tried a novel strategy. In campaign speeches, she acknowledged that her audience probably had first, second, and third favorite candidates, but asked the voters to vote for her as their fourth choice. The voters went for it. She came in fourth and was elected to the Maricopa Superior Court, Arizona’s trial court. During most of the years of Justice Lockwood’s career, judges were elected in Arizona. Merit selection was adopted in 1974 by ballot proposition. Merit selection provides that a panel of people evaluate judicial candidates on their credentials and sends a short list of recommendations to the Governor. The Governor appoints the new judge from the names on the list. Judges for the Court of Appeals, Superior Courts in Maricopa, Pima, Pinal, and Coconino counties, and Justices for the Supreme Court are now chosen by merit selection. You can read the ballot proposition here (PDF p. 27).

Lorna Lockwood, 1955

Lockwood was the first woman to become a judge in Arizona and soon earned a reputation as being tough but fair. Soon after she became a judge she faced two contentious male lawyers in her courtroom. Although she reprimanded them, they continued to jump up and interrupt each other. Judge Lockwood rapped the gavel, held them both in contempt and fined them $5.00. The way the story is told, the courtroom was full of lawyers who laughed at their comeuppance, and undoubtedly retold the story. She didn’t have trouble maintaining control of her courtroom after that.

There are many examples of Lockwood’s compassion and regard for the dignity of every individual. She established a court at the state hospital so that mentally ill people did not have to be transported to the courthouse for their cases. When she presided over the juvenile division, she toured the county juvenile detention center. She was so horrified to see two cells with iron bars that she ordered them welded shut. She believed that her role was to carefully balance the best interests of the children in the cases before her with those of parents and society. While she thought that children should be held accountable for their actions, she believed that long terms of incarceration were not in their best interests. She invited civic and church groups to visit her courtroom, reasoning that it would help people to understand the types of cases that went to court and result in helpful suggestions to the court. She co-founded Arizona Big Brothers Big Sisters and Girls’ Ranch of Arizona. In 1957, however, the great emotional and mental strain of making decisions that would affect the future of young offenders caused her to resign from the juvenile division and return to the trial bench. Lawyers who appeared in her courtroom had a high regard for her insightful judgment, gracious courtesy, and willingness to make controversial decisions.

Lorna Lockwood, 1958

In 1960 she ran for the Arizona Supreme Court. At the time Arizona did not have a Court of Appeals. She campaigned all over the state, even on Whiskey Row in Prescott. She went into every saloon, introduced herself to the bartender, and asked for his support. Then she asked if she could put a poster in the window and leave campaign literature with him. Every bartender promised his support and put a stack of her brochures next to the cash register. She won the election, upsetting the incumbent. She was the first woman to serve on the Arizona Supreme Court and sat at the desk her father had used when he was a Supreme Court Justice. In 1965 and 1970 she was selected as Chief Justice by the other justices of the Court. Over the next fourteen years, she would author some 500 judicial opinions. Her colleagues on the Supreme Court admired her hard work, dedication, good sense of humor, and animated personality. Justice Fred C. Struckmeyer Jr. described her as “[o]ne of the best judges we’ve had. She was a person who was very interested in other people and very kindly in her personal outlook toward people”.

Lorna Lockwood, 1970s

Justice Lockwood authored important legal precedents. Her opinion in Stone v Arizona Highway Commission (1963) abolished the historic doctrine of government immunity which had prohibited lawsuits against the state. Her opinion held that the State of Arizona was liable for its failure to post warnings of dangerous road conditions. In O.S. Stapley Company v Miller (1968), her opinion adopted strict liability against manufacturers for defective products. She believed in judicial deference to legislative intent, perhaps due to her experience as a legislator, and was likely to apply legislative language strictly. In re Krueger (1968), a difficult adoption case, she upheld the adoption and held that the birth father’s consent was not required, but wrote, “[w]e are here constrained to comment with disfavor upon the method of placement of the child in this case, which does violence to the spirit, if not the letter of our adoption laws”.

Through her many campaigns and service organizations, Justice Lockwood knew hundreds of people. Many of them became her friends. She was an avid reader and gardener. She often hosted dinner parties. She loved musical theater and had her father’s complete record collection of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas. She used to lend it to Mesa High School, which presented one of the shows every year. She was a regular at the Phoenix Symphony. Friends report that while adults were often intimidated by her, children never were. She loved small children and they loved her. Although she never became a mother, she was devoted to her nieces and nephews.

Arizona Supreme Court, 1957

In 1975, after fourteen years on the Arizona Supreme Court, ten years on the Superior Court bench, 6 years in the state legislature, and two years as an assistant attorney general, poor health forced Justice Lockwood to retire. Some 2000 people tried to attend a banquet in her honor that had space for only 900. At the banquet, congratulatory letters from President Gerald Ford and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Warren Burger were read. In retirement she became of counsel to the law firm of her brother-in-law and nephew.

Justice Lockwood insisted that she was not a militant feminist, “but I am terribly glad when women succeed”¹. She helped many women in the legal profession to succeed. In the words of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Lorna Lockwood offered “kindly interest and encouragement”² to other professional women. She had a statewide network through her activities with the Soroptimist Club, the National Federation of Business and Professional Women, the Arizona Women’s Bar Association, and many other professional and civic organizations. Most of the prominent women in the legal profession in the early years had been encouraged and mentored by Justice Lockwood. Each of these accomplished women credited Lorna Lockwood with being a pioneer who opened the way for women who followed her. She also encouraged women to become active in policymaking and to run for the state Legislature.

Justice Lockwood passed away in 1977, just two years after she retired. A memorial service was held at the First Congregational Church of Phoenix, where she had been a longtime member. There was another memorial service in the Rotunda of the Arizona State Capitol, during which she was honored by speakers Governor Raul Castro, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice James Duke Cameron, Vice Chief Justice Fred Struckmeyer Jr., State Representative Polly Rosenbaum, Judge Warren McCarthy, friend Virginia Hash, and Justice Lockwood’s pastor Hugh Shelby Lee. In honor of her lifelong generosity and commitment to the law, her family asked that donations be made to a scholarship fund for law students at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University.


¹ Cleere, Jan. Levi’s & Lace Arizona Women Who Made History. Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2011, p. 179.

² David, Sonja White. Lady Law the Story of Arizona Supreme Court Justice Lorna Lockwood. Brighton Publishing LLC, 2012, p. 111.


Solano, A.C., Babcock, B & Wayne, E. (2003). Lorna Lockwood: Lawyer, legislator, leader. Retrieved from State of Arizona Research Library Lorna Lockwood vertical file, January 24, 2020.