Arizona's First Female Attorney Argued before US Supreme Court

By Cleere, Jan | AZ Daily Star, July 5, 2014 | Go to article overview

Arizona's First Female Attorney Argued before US Supreme Court


Cleere, Jan, AZ 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. …

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