Early Illinois Women

Cora Agnes Benneson (1851-1919)

Cora Agnes Benneson, lawyer and writer, was born in Quincy, Illinois on June 10, 1851 to Robert S. and Electa Ann Benneson. Cora was the youngest of four daughters, attended college and law school, became one of the first women to practice law in New England, and traveled around the world to study legal procedures in other countries. Photographs and primary documents are courtesy of Mrs. Caroline Sexauer, Quincy, great niece of Cora.

Cora Benneson
"Miss Benneson was an astute observer of the activities of women. She gave voice to the opinion that 'the coming woman will not hesitate to do whatever she feels will benefit humanity, and she will develop her own faculties to the utmost because by so doing she can best serve'."
Cora Benneson, age 18, Aug 1869
At the University of Michigan Law School, Cora was one of two women in a class of 175. She was admitted to the Michigan and Illinois bars in 1880. At an early age Cora displayed an unusual ability in getting at the core of an argument, according to Mary Esther Trueblood.
Sisters Cora & Lina Benneson
All four sisters were tutored by their mother, Electa Ann Parks Benneson, a former teacher. Cora was an eager student. Miss Trueblood states that "at twelve she was reading Latin at sight, had acquaintance with much of the best literature, and was industriously collecting and tabulating historical facts."
[l to r] Alice Bull, Mary Marsh, Nellie Marsh, Cora Benneson
Graduating class from the Quincy Seminary or Miss Chapin's Private School, as it was commonly known. The Quincy Seminary was in existence from 1867-1876.
Childhood home of Cora Benneson, 214 Jersey, Quincy, Illinois
The homestead of the Bennesons was a large mansion located on the bluffs of the Mississippi River at 214 Jersey Street. The home, situated above a series of terraces, commanded a magnificent view of fourteen miles of the river.
Quincy Academy Booklet, 1864-65
At age 15, Cora finished the course of study at the Quincy Academy, the equivalent of a good high school. The 5 x 7 inch original booklet contains a list of studies and text books as well as policies of the school. [Complete Booklet]
Magazine Article by Cora Benneson. "The Semitic Museum of Harvard University." The Unitarian August, 1891: 362-365.
Cora was a noted writer and wrote extensively on a variety of topics including education, politics, and the social sciences. She became a recognized authority on government and presented papers at various association meetings.
Reprint of 1904 article entitled "Representative Women of New England" by Miss Mary Esther Trueblood. [Complete Article]
Miss Trueblood states that Cora "had scholarly instincts, rare literary taste, and constantly took up new studies."
Letter from Cora to her family in Quincy, May 6, 1909. [Complete letter]
Letter from Cora, May 12, 1912. [Complete letter]
Pioneer Women of Quincy: Cora Benneson predicted modern woman would develop own faculties by Helen Warning

From: Quincy Daily Herald Newspaper, June 12, 1919.



Member of Bar of Three States and Had Won Many Honors-Founder of Unity Club in This City.

Miss Cora Benneson, one of the women who has made the name of Quincy known abroad, and at one time one of the city's best known residents, died at her home in Cambridge, Mass., last Sunday and was buried in Mt. Auburn cemetery. Word of her death came to her sister, Mrs. George Janes of this city. Miss Benneson was one of the few women attorneys in the country, and for many years had been practicing her profession in Boston. About a year ago she gave up her active practice of the law, and fitted herself as a teacher of civics under the auspices of the state board of education of Massachusetts, which has established a school in Boston for the Americanization of foreigners. Miss Benneson worked so hard to fit herself for this new work that she suffered a break down in health about six weeks ago, and her labors were the cause of her death. Her diploma, entitling her to the position which she sought, came just a day after she died.


Miss Benneson was born in Quincy, the daughter of Robert S. and Electa Ann Benneson. She was graduated from Miss Chapin's School, and later attended the University of Michigan, where she received her L. L. B. degree in 1880, and her A. M. degree in 1883. She was admitted to the Michigan and Illinois bars in 1880 and to the Massachusetts bar in 1894.

In [1883], Miss Benneson left Quincy for a tour of the world, which lasted for two years. On her return she went to St. Paul [Minnesota], where she edited law reports for the West Publishing Company. She gave lectures on her trip around the world in 1885-86, and was appointed a special commissioner in Massachusetts in 1895, and subsequent years. She was awarded a fellowship in history at Bryn Mawr College in 1887. She was also an honorary member of the Illinois State Historical society, and sole trustee of the Edward Everett estate in Boston.


Miss Benneson was a contributor to journals on topics of law, education, and political and social science, and throughout the east was recognized as one of the leading members of the bar. In Quincy she was prominent in the literary life of the city, and was one of the early members of Friends in Council and the founder of the original Unity Club of the Unitarian Church. Robert S. Benneson, her father, was one of the first mayors of Quincy and the family was a prominent one. The old family home was at 214 Jersey Street, and afterward on Broadway, between Fifth and Sixth, next door to the F. T. Hill home. The house was torn down to provide additional grounds for the present detention home.

Miss Benneson leaves two sisters, besides Mrs. Janes. They are Mrs. Anna McMahon, now at Atlantic City, N.J. and Mrs. Alice B. Farwell of Boston. Guido Janes, Mrs. Charles Seger and Mrs. Philip Schlagenhauf of this city, are nephew and nieces of Miss Benneson.


  1. "Cora Agnes Benneson, 1851-1919." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society XII (1919): 307-309.
  2. Trueblood, Mary Esther. Cora Agnes Benneson Boston: Geo. H. Ellis Co., 1904.

Contributing Library:

Quincy Public Library, Quincy, Illinois

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