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Indianapolis First: The Career of Elizabeth Rainey

On the third floor of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law at IUPUI is a composite photo for the 1924 class of the Benjamin Harrison School of Law. Benjamin Harrison was a product of the merger of the Indianapolis College of Law and American Central Law School in 1914, and provided classes in the evening. It would eventually merge with the Indiana Unversity Law School. In the middle of the 1924 composite photo is a lone female graduate, Elizabeth Rainey. 

Rainey was born in either Vincennes or southern Illinois (sources vary) in 1871, grew up in Waynetown and taught school in Montgomery County before moving to Indianapolis, where she lived near Brookside Park. 

Rainey's entry in the 1922 City Directory. Credit: IUPUI, Indianapolis City Directory Collection

Rainey was active in numerous women's business causes, and was a member and leader in the Business and Professional Women's Associations in Indianapolis. Rainey had also been a long time office manager for local law firm Conder, Bain & Cox. She worked at that firm from the turn of the last century  to her death, although she was never engaged in the actual practice of law herself, despite her law degree and being admitted to the bar. 

Most notably, Rainy was the first woman elected to the Indiana General Assembly from Marion County, and the second woman to ever serve in that legislative body in Indiana (there was some conflicting information on this point, but it appears a prior member had taken over the term of her deceased husband). Rainey, a Republican, was elected in 1922 to the House of Representatives, and took her seat on January 4, 1923. When interviewed by the Indianapolis News about whether she was nervous, she responded that "I was not the least but nervous or worried when the session opened. My friends all asked me if I wasn't terribly nervous, being the only woman representative. I had nothing to be nervous about, because for the present, at least I have nothing to do but listen to bills and motions which are introduced and give them close consideration."

The Women's Department Club of Indianapolis, one of the professional organizations she was involved with, had sent a large bouquet of roses which adorned Rainey's desk on the opening day. However, she told the News that she had requested flowers not be sent, because she didn't was to be more conspicuous than normal, and she didn't want her desk covered because she "wanted to be able to see and hear everything that goes on. This is my first experience in the legislature and I didn't want to miss a word of anything."

Indianapolis Star, January 11, 1923

Rainey's first proposed legislation was directed towards the institution of marriage. In January 1923, she filed legislation which would result in "a complete revision of the marriage laws..." as described by the Indianapolis Star on January 11. Her proposed legislation would work to prevent "hasty" marriages, make divorces more difficult to obtain, and prevent interracial marriages, which were identified as white, black, red, and yellow. Additionally, those categorized as "imbeciles, epileptics, feeble-minded," and those with venereal diseases, would be banned from marrying.

The legislation also would have established a waiting period for a marriage license and a public posting of the application by the county clerk before the license was issued. Age limits were also imposed, as was parental notice and consent for younger individuals. In terms of divorce, the legislation was to limit the grounds for divorce. 

Rainey's marriage bill was killed, resurrected, and then killed again during the 1923 session, although a bill originating in the Senate, informally known as the divorce delay bill, was passed and required 90 days between the date of the petition and finalization of the divorce, the rationale for which was the belief that couples would reconcile during the intervening 90 days. Rainey also proposed legislation which established the tulip tree flower as the official state flower, replacing the carnation. A few years later the General Assembly changed the flower to the zinnia, and then to the peony in the 1950's.  

Rainey served only one term in the House of Representatives, although it is not clear whether she stepped down, or was defeated in a subsequent election. Following her time as a state representative Rainey continued to work at her law firm as the office manager, although her name was never included in the firm's advertisement in the Legal Bluebook Directory, and she continued her work with the professional women organizations.

Indianapolis Star, April 28, 1935

Rainey died in April of 1935 after what was described as a illness of three months. During the funeral services, Marion Superior Judge William Pickens, formerly of the law firm where Rainey had worked for so long, eulogized her, noting that he had first meant her when she responded to an advertisement for a stenographer at the then named Pickens & Cox law office in 1897. He recounted that "she displayed the utmost confidence in her ability to perform any sort of service that a law firm might require and her conduct for nearly forty years demonstrated that her confidence in herself was well founded." In 1952, a business and professional women's organization was named for Rainey. The Elizabeth Rainey Business and Professional Women's Club was a nod to Rainey's long involvement in similar organizations. Rainey is buried in section 47 of Crown Hill Cemetery.


Indianapolis News, January 4, 1923, April 27, 1935

Indianapolis Star, Janaury 11, 1923, April 28, 29 1935, Janaury 10, 1952

Indianapolis City Directory, 1922-1935

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