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Lookin’ Back: State’s first female attorney argued case before high court



Sarah Herring became Arizona’s first female attorney in 1892 because her father was grieving over the loss of his only son and law partner.

And because she had the ability to do so.

That was just the beginning. She would go on to set another milestone: being the first woman attorney to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court without the assistance of a male lawyer.

Herring was born Jan. 15, 1861, in New York City, the first of five children of William and Mary Herring.

Her father, who acquired the deferential title of “colonel” later in his life, had been a New York City public school teacher, state legislator and holder of appointive government offices before settling in as a lawyer.

In 1880, Herring came to southern Arizona to settle his brother’s estate, which included several Arizona mining claims. He returned to New York and raised $100,000 from investors to establish the Neptune Mining Co. in the Bisbee area.

Sarah, her sister Mary and brother Howard remained in New York until Howard could finish high school. Sarah had followed in her father’s footsteps as a schoolteacher.

The elder Herring’s mining venture proved unsuccessful when investors declined to provide additional funding, and he opened a law practice in Tombstone in 1881 – the same year that the boom town witnessed its most notorious event: the shootout near the OK Corral.

Sarah and her siblings joined the family in Tombstone the following year, and she began a 10-year teaching career that included serving as librarian and principal.

Brother Howard had become a lawyer, and he joined his proud father as the junior partner of the expanded law office of Herring & Herring.

A tragedy struck, however, on Nov. 2, 1891, when 27-year-old Howard went to a Tombstone dentist to have some teeth extracted.

Cocaine was the accepted dental anesthetic of that era, and the dentist injected his patient with the drug. The younger Herring collapsed to the floor, experiencing spasms, and died of an apparent overdose soon after.

Devastated, Sarah decided to quit her teaching job and set about “reading the law” so she could try to fill the vacancy of Herring & Herring.

The following year, she received high praise as she easily passed her oral examination and was admitted to the territorial bar association. Rather than begin practicing law, she enrolled at New York University School of Law, graduating in 1894. She ranked fourth in a class of 86.

Much of the legal work in Tombstone involved mining interests, despite the fact that flooding was bringing the silver boom to an end.

In 1896, the family decided to move to Tucson. It bought an elegant home on North Main Avenue and opened a law office at Pennington and Court streets.

On July 22, 1898, Sarah Herring, at age 37, became the wife of 52-year-old Thomas Sorin, a Cochise County rancher, mine investor and co-founder of the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper. Herring & Herring became Herring & Sorin.

When her father died in 1912, she closed the Tucson office and opened a new practice in Globe.

During her legal career, she argued four cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including a “first” in 1913, when she did so without male assistance.

Sarah Herring Sorin died April 30, 1914, of pneumonia at her home in Globe at age 53. Her funeral was in Tucson. She was buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

Paul L. Allen can be reached at 573-4588 and pallen@tucsoncitizen.com. For more history coverage, go to www.tucsoncitizen.com/history.


Chat with Paul L. Allen at Tucson Meet Yourself, 2:30 p.m. Oct. 14 at El Presidio Park downtown. Allen will be talking with Jim Griffith about newpapering’s wild past.

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