Without Precedent: The Life of Susie Marshall Sharp

By Anna R. Hayes | Go to book overview
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If, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function,” then Susie Marshall Sharp was a genius. 1

Brains and a propensity for hard work were two of Susie Sharp's most obvious characteristics. On both sides of her family, these qualities had enabled her forebears to survive and even prevail over the difficulties of war, poverty, and the general benightedness of the backcountry in the South. In her parents were joined long lines of patrician plantation owners on one side and yeoman farmers on the other, both sides smelted in the furnace of the Civil War and the hard years that followed. Susie Sharp embodied the paradoxes of the South, with its twin strands of pride and humility, romance and pragmatism. The brutal years after the Civil War had imbued her family with a deep-seated fear of poverty, ignorance, and stagnation, but also with a dawning and determined optimism arising from unprecedented opportunities. In Susie Sharp, the determination and optimism were matched to an exceptional intelligence, which seemingly catapulted her far ahead of her times, even as she retained many attitudes typical of the nineteenth century.

The story of her career is a significant piece of North Carolina history, with implications not only for women but also for every citizen, because every citizen in the state was affected by her jurisprudence and her administrative initiatives. As a female pioneer in the state's legal profession, Susie Sharp saw North Carolina women gain the right to serve on a jury, achieved recognition as one of the earliest female political operatives on a statewide level, and influenced the national outcome of the vote on the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

When she graduated at the top of her law school class in 1929, she was one of a bare handful of women in North Carolina, or in the country for


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Without Precedent: The Life of Susie Marshall Sharp


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