Francis Minor was born on August 15, 1820, in Albemarle, Virginia. Only two years later, his father. Dabney Minor II died, setting off a string of deaths that would color is otherwise hidden childhood. On March 27, 1831, Francis’ grandmother, Ann Minor, died, leaving a third of her land to Francis, and the following August his mother died, leaving him a sizable inheritance.
In 1838, Francis began studying law at Princeton University, where developed a love of oratory, literature and debate. After graduating in 1842, he pursued advanced studies in law at University of Virginia Law School. The following year he was awarded the title Bachelor of Law and was considered a licensed lawyer in the state of Virginia.
Early Law Career
His future secure, Francis married his second cousin, Virginia L. Minor, on August 31, 1843. They quickly moved to Holly Springs, Mississippi, likely living with his brother Dabney Minor III while Francis began his law career.
In late 1845 or early 1846, the couple moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Francis made the unusual move of putting his real estate investments, along with all his personal property current and future into a trust for Virginia in such a way that gave her move property rights than most women in Missouri at the time.
His early career as a lawyer in St. Louis is hazy, but he was officially registered in the court of common pleas on November 11, 1846, and November 13 in the criminal court of St. Louis, allowing him to practice law in both places. The first record of him practicing law dates to 1848. In 1852, he took a job at the office of the Surveyor General for Illinois and Missouri. He appears to have held this job through 1854, when he is listed as practicing law (mostly land related) at the southeast corner of Third and Chestnut. From January-May 1857 Francis had his law firm, Minor & Sherrard, with John M. Sherrard. After they split, Francis carried on the work of the firm and may have practiced on his own for a while before joining another firm on Pine Street, possibly Woodson & Bates.
In 1863, 1864 and 1856 he ran for Judge of the Law Commissioner’s Court and Judge of the Probate Court, all of which he lost.
On February 5, 1852, Francis and Virginia’s only child Francis Gilmer Minor was born. Just over a year later they sold their house on Morgan Street in downtown St. Louis and bought ten acres of farmland on the outskirts of St. Louis, land they called “Minoria.” This was a historic move because three women were the ones making the transfer.
An ardent abolitionist, Francis sponsored two Free Negro bonds, one for John Carter Brown on April 25, 1861 and one for William Gaseway on May 17, 1861.
On May 15, 1866, Francis’ only child, Francis Gilmer Minor died in a gunshot accident.
Civil War Service
No records of Francis Minor fighting in the Civil war exist. He was, however, appointed an enrolling officer for the thirty-third district in St. Louis for the Enrolled Missouri Militia, who were fighting against guerilla warfare in the area. He also served as a war claims agent for the Western Sanitary Commission and the state of Missouri from 1864-1877. War claims agents helped widows, wounded soldiers and orphans navigate the legal system in order to get the pension and other monies due to them.
Legal Career After the Civil War
Francis’ exact location of legal employment from 1866-1870 is unclear. In 1866, he is listed as an attorney for R. H. Cowan in a lease transfer for property in city block 587 between his client and Richard Holland. In 1867, he worked at 305 Olive, a building that housed no less than seven law firms. From 1869-1870, Francis worked at 10 North Fourth, directly across from the courthouse.
In January 1871, Francis was elected a clerk of the Missouri Supreme Court, the only political office he ever held. Records of trials in St. Louis have not been processed past 1872, so we cannot say with certainty what cases he was involved in as a clerk and then later in private practice. Francis stepped down from his clerkship in 1873 so that he could present Virginia’s case of Minor v. Happersett to the Missouri Supreme Court without any conflict of interest.
He did not return to the position after the case moved on to the United States Supreme Court but appears to have gone back into private practice. Francis was a founding member of the Bar Association of St. Louis upon its formation on March 16, 1874.
Ally to the Suffrage Movement
Francis first showed himself as an equal suffragist to his wife in 1868, when he wrote to Susan B. Anthony’s paper, The Revolution, stating plainly that if women paid taxes, they should have the right to vote. He likely helped Virginia develop the legal theory behind the “New Departure,” which they announced to the public in October 1869 at the National Women’s Suffrage Association convention in St. Louis. The New Departure stated that the Fourteenth Amendment already gave women the right to vote because it used the gender neutral term “persons,” rather than “males.”
Virginia urged all women to test this theory by attempting to register/vote. On October 15, 1872, she did just that, but was turned away by the election registrar, Reese Happersett. Under Francis’ legal guidance, the Minors file a lawsuit against Mr. Happersett for $10,000 in damages in the St. Louis County Circuit Court on November 9, 1872. On February 3, 1873, the case heard in writing by Judge Horatio M. Jones at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis without a trial or jury. The trial court ruled against the Minors.
When the Minors took their case to the Missouri Supreme Court, Francis was forced to step down as a clerk for the court, a position he had held for the previous two years. On May 7, 1873, the Missouri Supreme Court heard the Minor’s case and ruled against them.
Francis appealed to the Supreme Court, who heard his case on February 9, 1875, now forever called by its legal name, Minor v. Happerset. More than a month later, on March 29, 1875, the Supreme Court refuted their argument, upholding the right of individual states to define who could vote within them, stating in a unanimous decision “that the Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon any one,” rather that right belongs to the states.
Life After the Court Case
Francis retired from law due to a problem with his hearing in 1878 and spent the remainder of his life supporting his wife in her suffrage work. He wrote many articles and pamphlets including a controversial 1888 “Address to Republicans,” in which he advocates for universal female suffrage; “The Right of Women to Vote at Congressional Elections” in 1888; and “Citizenship and Suffrage; The Yarbrough Decision” in 1892. He even authored a Federal Suffrage Bill that was presented posthumously to Congress, but failed to gain traction.
Francis Minor died at the age of 71 after a brief illness of the lungs on February 19, 1892, and was buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis on February 22, 1892. No photos of him remain.