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Woman's History Month Feature: Lyda Conley - Trespassers, Beware!

The month of March signifies the beginning of Women’s history Month. In honor of this occasion, we will be featuring an outstanding woman from history, highlighting the amazing accomplishments of women in our nation’s storied past.

Our fourth installment features Lyda Conley, the first female Native American plaintiff to argue a case before the US Supreme Court.

Eliza “Lyda” Conley was born in 1869 to Elizabeth Burton Zane, a member of the Wyandot Nation, and Andrew Conley, a man of English descent, and raised on a 64-acre farm in Ohio. The land was given to Elizabeth when the Wyandot tribal land was allocated in severalty. Lyda was encouraged to pursue education and graduated from the Kansas City School of Law in 1902. She became the first woman admitted to the Kansas bar.

In 1906, the Wyandot Nation sold sacred Kansas burial ground to the federal government, which upset Lyda. Along with her sisters, she launched a campaign to protect the Huron Cemetery in Kansas City. They took turns guarding the cemetery with muskets and erecting a sign saying “Trespassers, Beware!” Lyda fought to protect the burial lands for years and filed a petition with the US Circuit Court of Kansas to stop the sale to the government. She lost in court and appealed to the US Supreme Court, where she was allowed to argue in front of the justices. She became the first female Native American lawyer to do so.

Unfortunately, she lost the case, but the fight did not end. Her cause gained national attention and eventually Congress enacted legislation protecting the cemetery in 1916. Years after her death, others continued her fight. In 2016, the cemetery was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Lyda’s legal fight showed that with determination, there is no barrier to how high woman can climb in America. The Supreme Court now includes three (soon to be four) justices, and they can trace their path directly to the barriers broken by Lyda Conley.

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