The late Juanita Kidd Stout, a diminutive woman from Wewoka, Oklahoma, was and continues to be celebrated nationally and internationally for her accomplishments and dedication at a time when opportunities for African American women were restricted.
Not one to allow societal prejudices to limit or deny her ambitions, Kidd Stout left Oklahoma at age 16 to find an accredited college that would admit African American women. She was later inducted into the state’s “Hall of Fame” in 1981. In 1939, Kidd Stout earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Iowa; in 1948, a law degree from Indiana University; and in 1954, a graduate law degree.
In September 1959, five (5) years after passing the Pennsylvania bar exam, the governor of Pennsylvania appointed Kidd Stout a judge of the municipal court in Philadelphia. That November, she won a ten-year term on the court, thus becoming the first African-American woman appointed or elected judge of a court of record or general jurisdiction in the United States. In 1969, Kidd Stout was the first African American woman to be elected to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Appointed in 1988, Kidd Stout was the first African American woman in the United States to serve on a state Supreme Court.
Her force extended outside the courtroom and into other regions of the world. As a participant in a State Department cultural exchange program, Kidd Stout toured six (6) African countries.
A respect for the rules and the results of discipline were evident throughout Kidd Stout’s career, first as a teacher and then a judge. Often the subject of news and magazine articles, Kidd Stout was recognized for her tough stance on crime and juvenile delinquency. Though tough, her courtroom was not an end but rather an opportunity for change. The venerable Kidd Stout extolled the benefits of education to all. For defendants, education was a requirement of probation. For others, her passion was so strong that self evaluation and a change of course resulted. Many of the judges and attorneys in today’s courtrooms can attribute a milestone or two to the role model who accomplished much “just because [she] wanted to.”