Arizona's first female attorney argued before Supreme Court

2014-07-05T00:00:00Z 2014-07-05T10:41:59Z Arizona's first female attorney argued before Supreme CourtBy Jan Cleere For the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

There are those who believe the ghost of Arizona’s first woman attorney hovers around Globe’s ornate old Amster Building, where she once practiced law.

Sarah Inslee Herring Sorin may still haunt the rooms above the first floor Palace Pharmacy, where she ran one of the first female law practices in the territory, but it was her appearance before the nation’s highest court that opened doors for women in the legal field.

Born in New York in 1861, Sarah was 21 years old when she arrived in Tombstone in 1882, a year after the infamous gunfight between the Earps and Clantons. Her father, attorney William Herring, had come to Tombstone two years earlier with his wife Mary and their two youngest children, Bertha and Henrietta. Sarah, her sister Mary and brother Howard remained in New York until Howard completed high school.

Sarah taught school in New York and continued to teach in Tombstone as well as serve as principal and school librarian.

Howard Herring practiced law with his father until he died in 1891 at age 27 from an overdose of cocaine administered by a local dentist. Sarah left teaching to assist her father in his law practice and study under his tutelage. In 1892, she applied for a license from the First Judicial District Court of the Territory of Arizona, becoming the first woman admitted to practice law in Arizona. Shortly after, she was also admitted to practice before Arizona’s Supreme Court, the highest court in the territory.

Sarah left town to attend New York University’s School of Law, then graduated with honors in 1894 and returned to Tombstone to join her father in the firm of Herring & Herring. Her sister Bertha worked in the office as stenographer, notary and administrator of probate issues.

Although the firm handled a variety of cases such as probates, land grant claims, accidents and corporate issues, Sarah concentrated on mining law.

The firm also took on criminal and divorce cases, considered unfit issues for a woman to hear. Many men believed women too weak and frail to withstand the rigors associated with the legal process.

Sarah handled her first case before the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court in 1896, winning a reversal of a lower court’s finding and remanding the case for a new trial. Her conduct in the courtroom earned praise from male colleagues. One attorney even admitted she “excelled him in argument.”

The year before, in 1895, Herring & Herring had represented the Copper Queen Consolidated Company against the U.S. Government in a dispute over whether timberlands should be considered mineral lands.

In 1902, William Herring took this case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Sarah attended as her father’s assistant and, as the Bisbee Review reported, “The Queen company won a clean victory over the big United States, and much of the credit is due to the fine legal ability of this eminent lady.”

The father/daughter law firm moved to Tucson in 1897. Their law library, consisting of more than 1,800 volumes, was one of the largest private collections of law books in the territory. Most of it was destroyed in a fire in 1898.

After her marriage to rancher Thomas Robertson in 1898, Sarah lived in Tucson during the week to practice law, but she headed for Robertson’s ranch in Dragoon on weekends. She bore one child who was stillborn.

On April 16, 1906, William Herring submitted a motion to admit Sarah to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Since its establishment in 1789, the Supreme Court had allowed only men to argue cases while women lawyers were relegated to assisting their male colleagues.

Sarah first appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in October 1906, standing stoically beside her father, who won a favorable opinion for the firm. She and her father appeared again the following year but this time, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled against the Herring team.

After Sarah’s father died in 1912, she dissolved the law firm, moved her office to the Amster Building in Globe and represented the Old Dominion Copper Company and United Globe Mines.

Once again, she went to Washington, D.C., this time standing beside her brother-in-law, attorney Selim M. Franklin, who had married her sister Henrietta. But in 1913, she stood alone before the U.S. Supreme Court, representing the defendant in the case Work v. United Globe Mines.

James Work sought a quiet title action on the O’Daugherty and Big Johnny Mines that United Globe Mines had been working for over 30 years. Sarah and her father had started the case in 1906, arguing before the lower courts for several years. Now, without her father, she stood alone to argue her client’s position before the highest federal court in the United States.

“Arizona Woman Lawyer First to Appear Before Supreme Court at Washington as Sole Representative,” read the headline in the Tombstone Prospector. “A rare occurance [sic] took place in the supreme court of the United States yesterday when Mrs. Sarah Sorin of Tucson appeared as the sole representative of a mining corporation in a big mining suit. ... Mrs. Sorin was the sole pleader for the defending claim in behalf of the United Globe Mines, ... in which James Work alleges that the properties are his. Mrs. Sorin fought the case through the Arizona supreme court, where a decision was rendered in her favor.”

On January 4, 1914, Sarah claimed victory when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of United Globe Mines.

Four months later, 53-year-old Sarah was dead. Her death certificate says she died from pneumonia as a result of influenza. Her career as an intelligent and compassionate advocate ceased at the imposing doors of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jan Cleere is an award-winning author, historian and lecturer. Her latest book, “Levi’s & Lace: Arizona Women Who Made History” (Rio Nuevo Publishers), is available in bookstores and online. Email her at Jan@JanCleere.com.

Sources:

Allen, Paul L., “Lookin’ Back: State’s First Female Attorney Argued Case Before High Court,” Tucson Citizen, Oct. 7, 2006

“Arizona Woman Lawyer First to Appear Before Supreme Court at Washington as Sole Representative,” Tombstone Prospector, Nov. 6, 1913

Bisbee Review, March 28, 1900

Branning, Debra, “Ghosts of Globe Arizona: A Ghost Above the Law,” www.examiner.com/article/ghosts-of-globe-arizona-a-ghost-above-the-law

Interviews with Mary Rose Duffield and Christopher Carroll, grand-niece-and-nephew of Sarah Sorin, March 10, 2010

Janitch, Danielle, “Sarah Herring Sorin: Arizona’s First Woman Attorney,” Stanford: Stanford University Law School Women’s Legal History Biography Project, 2001

Kasper, Jacquelyn, “Arizona First Woman Lawyer: Sarah Herring Sorin,” AZ History Convention paper, 1999

Kasper, Jacquelyn Gayle, “Practicing Law in Territorial Arizona in a Skirt: The Tucson Years of Arizona’s First Woman Lawyer, Sarah Herring Sorin,” AZ History Convention paper, 2006

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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