Women Called Her Colonel Couzins; but She Preferred U.S. Marshall Couzins


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016

Phoebe Wilson Couzins (1842–1913)
(Public Domain)
On September 8, 1842 John E.D. (1813-1887) and Adeline (1815-1892) Couzins welcomed their third daughter they named Phoebe Wilson. Phoebe’s father was a well known builder and architect living in St. Louis, Missouri. She learned at an early age the value of public service when in 1849 a cholera epidemic swept through St. Louis. Phoebe witnessed the death of many and watched as her parents led the relief efforts in helping the victims. It was just the beginning of Phoebe’s interest in serving the public. In 1853 a brother joined the family.

Phoebe graduated from the public high school in St. Louis when she was fifteen years old. She was a Sunday School teacher at the Second Baptist Church. During the Civil War she was an active fund-raiser for the Western Sanitary Commission. In June of 1863 she served as Queen of Flowers and led her court through their dance with great “great vivacity and ability". {1}

During the Civil War her father served as the Police Chief of St. Louis as well as his activity in the “Committee of Public Safety” a group with the main objective of keeping Missouri in the Union. Her mother served in another way.

Adeline Couzins met the first trains as they were transporting wounded soldiers from the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. A volunteer for the Ladies Union Aid Society, Adeline was hard at work as she nursed the wounded young men. Her job did not stop at St. Louis for she soon headed to the battlefields in Shiloh, Tennessee and Vicksburg, Mississippi. At Vicksburg she sustained a wound in a knee from a rifle shot. She was an exceptional nurse and a chief surgeon praised her for her “untiring activity”. {2} When the war was over Adeline served in St. Louis for the Ladies Sanitary Corps of the city health department. Adeline and Phoebe both joined the St. Louis Woman Suffrage Association, an organization that promoted the right of women to vote and to hold political office.

Phoebe was off to the Washington University Law School in 1869. During her college years she was described as "a rather thin young lady with large, deep eyes, a rather prominent straight nose, and masses of dark hair," {3} The school was one of the first in the nation to offer a woman an education in jurisprudence. {1} She was well received and well liked by her fellow male students. Upon her graduation in 1871 she was admitted to bar associations in Missouri, Arkansas, Utah and Kansas. She never practiced law professional. Why did she pursue a law degree?

“solely by a desire to open new paths for women, enlarge her usefulness, widen her responsibilities and to plead her case in a struggle which [she] believed surely was coming.” {1}

After college she threw herself into the Suffrage Movement. At a speech at Independence Square in Philadelphia on July 4, 1876, the centennial celebration Couzins gave a stirring speech on the Supreme Court Case Minor v. Happersett. It was a subject dear to her heart as Virginia was a friend of Couzins.

Virginia Minor had walked into the St. Louis County Courthouse with her husband Francis to register to vote. County Registrar Reese Happersett refused her request for she was a woman and only men were allowed to vote in the state of Missouri. She was denied her request from the St. Louis Court, the Missouri Supreme Court and on March 29, 1875 the United States Supreme Court:

“unanimously upheld the Missouri voting legislation, saying that voting was not an inherent right of citizenship, that the Constitution neither granted nor forbade voting rights for women, and that allowing only male citizens to vote was not an infringement of Minor's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.” {4}

Couzins continued her public work giving speeches to various organizations encouraging women the right to vote. In 1882, Couzins was briefly considered for a seat on the Utah Territory governing commission. She failed to get the position and in 1884 she began to work with her father now serving as a U.S. Marshall for Eastern District of Missouri. It is believed her father appointed his daughter as Deputy Marshall as his health was failing and she knew the routine of the office and as a lawyer she understood the law. She became the first woman to serve as a Federal Marshall and consequently this appointment brought more criticism. She faced the critics with letter to the editor in the “Missouri Republican” when she wrote,in part:

"a woman typifies justice and ... symbolizes law; therefore it does not appear so funny to empower women to execute the office of U.S. Marshal.” {3}

The country could have taken a big leap forward upon the death of her father when on September 1, 1887 President Grover Cleveland appointed her as interim U.S. Marshall filling the position held by her father. Two months later the dream of progress was shut down as she was replaced by John W. Emerson. After this disappointment Phoebe moved to Washington, D.C.​

Somewhere around the 1890’s friends of Phoebe Couzins noticed a change in her personality. Her previous views of women and their rights to vote or hold down non-traditional jobs had changed. The woman that believed in temperance now worked as a lobbyist for the liquor industry. She spoke often of the traditional role of women was motherhood. Some speculate her change of attitudes was the fact that the suffrage movement had gone through changes throughout the years and there was somewhat of a lethargy among the women. As she grew older she had trouble with the newer and younger women speaking out for voting rights. At this point in her life she is in a state of poverty.

In the last years of her life she is suffering from mental and physical deterioration. She returned to St. Louis after she lost her job as a lobbyist. A member of the suffrage movement warned others in 1898 that:

“Phoebe Couzins has been crazy for six years. [she is] confined to a wheelchair and in a questionable mental state, Couzins began requesting financial assistance not only from friends, but also from people she had never met.” {3}

The woman that had been affectionately called “Colonel Couzins” when she began her career is no longer the person she once was. She died on December 6, 1913 at seventy-one years of age with only six people attending her funeral. She is buried at the Bellefontaine Cemetery in Saint Louis and per her request she was buried wearing her U.S. Federal Marshall badge.​


(Public Domain)

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1. https://missouriencyclopedia.org/people/couzins-phoebe-wilson
2. https://www.stltoday.com/news/archi...cle_872402b8-939f-52c7-a162-81c0b8c***24.html
4. Mary A. Greene, Greene, "Results of the Woman–Suffrage Movement". Forum. New York: American Periodicals Series III: 417.
Sep 17, 2011
Its cool she ends up upholding and respecting the law, instead of trying to buck it. But think alot people tend to become conservative as they age instead of anti establishment.