During her career, Jewel Stradford Lafontant-Mankarious, born on April 28, 1922, was the first female deputy solicitor general of the United States, an official in the administration of President George H. W. Bush, and an attorney in Chicago. She also was considered by President Richard Nixon as a possible nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States.
She served on more than twenty educational and corporate boards including Tuskegee Institute, Harvard University, Oberlin College, Revlon, Trans World Airlines (TWA), Jewel Companies Inc., Continental Bank, Mobil Corporation, Ariel Capital Management and Pan American Airlines.
Born in Chicago, Illinois to Aida Arabella and C. Francis Stradford, renowned U.S. Supreme Court attorney and co-founder of the National Bar Association, Lafontant-Mankarious was raised in Chicago and graduated from Englewood High School. She went on to receive her B.A. in Political Science from Oberlin College in 1943, and her J.D. degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1946.
Lafontant-Mankarious achieved many firsts for women in the field, becoming in 1946 the first woman to graduate from the University of Chicago Law School, in 1955 the first black woman to be named Assistant U.S. Attorney, and in 1973 the first woman Deputy Solicitor General of the United States.
By taking her father’s advice, in 1943 she became a third-generation graduate of Ohio’s Oberlin College where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science.
She was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1947 and in the same year handled more than three thousand cases as a trial lawyer for the Legal Aid Bureau of Chicago, which provided free legal representation for the poor.
In 1946, she married John W. Rogers, a juvenile court judge and they had a son, John W. Rogers Jr., who later became the founder of Ariel Capital Management, the largest black-owned investment firm in the nation, according to BlackPast.
Lafontant-Mankarious and Rogers went their separate ways in 1961. She married again that same year, but the man, H. Ernest Lafontant, died in 1976. In 1989, she got married the third time to Naguib S. Mankarious.
Lafontant-Mankarious, as Jewel S. Rogers (her first married name), formed a Chicago law firm in 1949 with her first husband, John W. Rogers. After divorcing him in 1961, she started the Chicago law firm Stradford, LaFontant, and LaFontant with her father and new husband, H. Ernest LaFontant.
In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Lafontant-Mankarious to the post of Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “As the first African-American woman assigned to this position, she began a personal tradition of preparing the way for minorities and continued to hold her own in a forum dominated by men,” according to her biography.
She also helped integrate several Chicago restaurants and the Stateville Prison in Joliet, Illinois. In 1962, Lafontant-Mankarious was the first woman nominated for Superior Court judge in Illinois albeit unsuccessful.
A high point in her career came in 1963 when she argued and won her first case before the United States Supreme Court. The case, State of Illinois vs. Beatrice Lynum, later served as case law for the 1966 constitutional law case Miranda vs. the State of Arizona, which helped establish the Miranda warning police must read upon placing a person under arrest.
Having been a supporter of then-U.S. senator Nixon for more than a decade, she supported his presidential bid so that when Nixon became president of the United States in 1968, he did not forget her.
In 1969, Lafontant-Mankarious served as vice-chairman of the U.S. Advisory Commission on International Educational and Cultural Affairs under President Nixon. Nixon also appointed her to be a representative to the United Nations in 1972.
The following year, she became the first woman to hold the post of Deputy Solicitor General in the Justice Department. She excelled at the position until 1975 when she returned to Chicago to practice law, according to her biography.
In 1989, the year she married her third husband, Mankarious, she returned to government service when President George Bush appointed her as Ambassador-at-Large and U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs of the State Department. Lafontant-Mankarious was the first African-American woman appointed to serve in these positions.
She received many awards, including the Cook County Bar Association Achievement Award, the University of Chicago citation for public service, the CARE Foundation’s International Humanitarian Award, and numerous honorary degrees.
Lafontant-Mankarious passed away on May 31, 1997, aged 75 from breast cancer.