Wess, Lulie E. Mackey
Attorney, Historic Preservationist
Lulie E. Mackey was the daughter of Vienna entrepreneur Ira B. Mackey, Sr. She was born in the same year Ira sunk the first coal mine in Vienna, in 1866. Despite his financial successes—he also owned a lumber business, a construction firm, and a bank—Ira died at the early age of 49 years in 1879.
According to family memories, Lulie Mackey early on thought about a career in the law. She came of age when women were moving into the professions—although not without loud complaint by men. Only in 1869 was the first woman in the United States permitted to practice law. This was Iowan Arabella Mansfield. In 1870, Ada H. Kepley graduated from the Union College of Law in Chicago, Illinois, as the first woman to graduate from a law school.
One need not attend law school to be a lawyer. Many men “read law”—that is, they studied with a lawyer and then took the bar examination to become a practitioner. This is what Lulie Mackey did. In her spare time, she read law, and at the age of 32 she became the first woman in Trumbull County to pass the Ohio State bar examination. Around the same time she was appointed as the official court stenographer for the Trumbull County courts. In 1900, the American Lawyer magazine called her “the only lady member of the Trumbull county bar.”
Lulie Mackey’s dedication to the law went even further. On March 25, 1895, she was in her office in the Trumbull County Courthouse when fire broke out and threatened the records for which she was responsible. She personally saved these valuable legal—and historic—documents.
In June 1899, she helped to establish the Trumbull County Law Library Association and served as its first librarian. She refused the annual salary of $500 for the first year, donating her services so that the Association could use that money to purchase law books. By 1911, the library contained almost 3,000 volumes occupying two rooms on the third floor of the Trumbull County Courthouse.
Lulie Mackey Wess was not only a pioneering woman in law. She also was an early advocate of historic preservation. Lulie Mackey married Joseph Wess on February 3, 1910. In that same year, she purchased former president William McKinley’s birthplace in Niles, Ohio. The building had been divided into two and each part had been moved. Lulie Mackey Wess rejoined and restored the buildings on a property east of Niles that became known as McKinley Heights. The couple operated and managed the house as a museum, until her death in 1934. The house burned to the ground in April 3, 1937. Joseph Wess died in 1940.
From Harriet Taylor Upton, A Twentieth Century History of Trumbull County, Ohio: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People, and Its Principal Interests (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1909), Volume 1, p. 182:
Lulie E. Mackey was born in Vienna in 1870. She is a self-made woman, although like most self-made men she owes a great deal to her mother, who sympathized with her in her ambitions and who made some of her work possible. Her father was Ira B. and her mother Mina Mackey. She attended school in Vienna, Niles, and began teaching when she was sixteen. She took care of herself by hard work at the time she was studying stenography. Although she never mentions this fact, it is generally known that she obtained the education in this line which made her success possible by working early in the morning and very late at night. This sacrifice she had to make because her father died in 1889. Her mother, who is still living, lives with her at their country home between Niles and Girard. Here Miss Mackey owns a large farm. In 1894 Miss Mackey was appointed court stenographer by T. I. Gillmer, upon the recommendation of two associate judges and the leading attorneys of Trumbull and Mahoning counties. She was the first woman to hold so responsible a place in this judicial district, and made good to such an extent that she is still serving, at the end of fifteen years. The salary and fees of this office are very good, and Miss Mackey has made good investments, so that she is not only successful in her calling but in the way in which the world speaks of success. Her court association led her to study law under Judge T. I. Gillmer, and in the offices of T. H. Gillmer, Hon. E. E. Roberts and Prof. Kinkead of the Ohio University of Columbus. She was admitted to the bar in 1898, being sworn in by Judge William T. Spear. She is the only woman attorney in Trumbull County.