1936 : Emilia Schaub Becomes Michigan’s First Woman County Prosecutor (Officially!)

January 1, 2023 all-day

Emilia Schaub was born in 1891 to German immigrants in a log cabin in Leelanau County. Schaub holds many firsts in Michigan’s history. While practicing law in Detroit, she was the first woman in the nation to successfully defend an accused murderer. After she decided to return home to Leelanau County, she became Michigan’s first woman to be legally elected and serve as county prosecutorin 1936. Schaub was also the first woman from Leelanau County to practice law in Michigan.

During her tenure as prosecutor, Emelia championed the rights of the local Ottawa and Chippewa bands. She wrote to federal officials, then took her case to President and Eleanor Roosevelt to help secure the bands’ right to continued possession of tribal lands. Frustrated at the federal level, she turned to Leelanau County, where she succeeded in having lands held in trust ‘‘for Indian community purposes.’’ Her efforts led the tribe to make her an honorary member in 1942. The land base she secured made it possible for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians to secure federal acknowledgement in 1980.

Emilia Schaub retired as prosecutor in 1954 and turned to general practice in her home community. She continued as a general practitioner for nearly 40 years, making occasional court appearances even after her 100th birthday.

As she reduced her legal work, her civic efforts expanded. She helped organize the Leelanau Historical Foundation, serving as that organization’s president, museum director, and on their board of directors until 1986, when she was 97 years old. She was also a charter member of the Traverse City Zonta Club and the first secretary of the Leelanau Chamber of Commerce.

One of her greatest roles throughout her professional life was that of mentor. At the dedication of the State Bar’s Legal Milestone in 1994, now Chief Justice Elizabeth Weaver recalled that Emilia Schaub’s friendship dated to Weaver’s first appearance in the Leelanau County courts. Emilia Schaub vouched for the young attorney’s integrity and ability then, and their friendship continued. ‘‘I have shared Emilia’s friendship and help to me because it is just one example of the thousands of us she has quietly befriended over the past 100 years.’’

Emilia Schaub YouTube video.

Ann Miller, “Michigan Lawyers in History — Emilia Schaub: 100 Years of Leadership”, Michigan Bar Journal.

Note : In 1898, Merrie M. Abbott was elected prosecutor of Ogemaw County. Although she assumed the duties of office on January 1, 1899 and served capably, Abbott was ousted by Supreme Court order on October 17, 1899 because women were not allowed to be “electors”, i.e., serve in public office.

Source : Eric Freedman, “Appearing for the People”, Dome, July 19, 2013.

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