Without Precedent: The Life of Susie Marshall Sharp

By Anna R. Hayes | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 4
FALSE START

Jim Sharp wasted no time in ordering new “Sharp & Sharp” letterhead and adding “Miss Susie Sharp” to his standard ad in the newspaper. Miss Sharp was ensconced in her own office in one of the law firm's three rooms on the second floor of the Whitsett Building in downtown Reidsville.1

Her father intended for her to become his equal in the law practice. Despite his determined equanimity, however, such an attitude toward women in the workplace was by any measure exceptional. For example, less than a month later the news that the vice president of the United States was going to have a “girl secretary” made the front page of the Reidsville Review, complete with a picture of the trailblazer, one Miss Lola Williams.2 At the time, even the secretaries of important persons were male, as of course were nearly all important persons. In the United States, the percentage of lawyers who were women nearly doubled between 1910 and 1930, the year after Susie Sharp first entered practice, but this remarkable increase merely brought the figure from 1.1 to 2.1 percent.3 The numbers were even lower in North Carolina, where women in the legal profession were virtually invisible.

Great fanfare therefore greeted the announcement that a young woman would be practicing law in Reidsville, North Carolina. Newspapers across the state carried reports, most accompanied by photographs. It was not the first such arrangement in North Carolina, following as it did the earlier partnership of UNC law school alumna Kathrine Everett and her father in 1921, but it was sufficiently novel that even the UNC campus newspaper initially reported that Sharp & Sharp was the first of its kind and then was compelled to issue a correction.4 For the rest of her life Susie Sharp would be the subject (or victim, she might have said) of countless newspaper articles and photographs, and her experience with the press would be repeated over and over again: flattering attention, inaccurate information, and objectionable photos.

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