Sarah Herring Sorin
Women Lawyers ~ Women Leaders Arch
On November 19, 1882 the people of Tombstone crowded into the local courthouse to witness an important moment in Arizona history. They did not come to witness another criminal trial, which Tombstone had become accustomed to in those days, but to witness Sarah Herring become the first female attorney in Arizona. Sarah was questioned by three attorneys on her knowledge of the law and, according to local newspapers, passed the examination with most distinguished honors.
Sarah was not a native Arizonan. She was born in 1861 in New York City to father William Herring and mother Mary Herring. William Herring started his professional life as a teacher in New York City public schools, but then began practicing law after attending law school. In 1880, William inherited mining claims in Arizona from his brother. Hoping to strike it rich as a miner in the west, William raised money from investors and moved with his wife and two youngest children to Arizona to establish the Neptune Mining Company. Sarah stayed behind in New York with her brother Howard in order for him to finish high school.
In 1882, Sarah and her brother rejoined their family in Arizona. By this time, her father's mining business had failed and he had set up a law office in Tombstone. Moving to Tombstone in the early 1880's must have been an exciting and frightening thing to a young woman. Tombstone was still reeling from the shoot out between Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton. It was also in the middle of a great population boom, as miners and speculators were moving in hoping to strike it rich. In the middle of all this, Sarah pursued the traditional path for a young unmarried woman at that time, and became a school teacher. Sarah was one of the first female school teachers in Tombstone, and later went on to serve as a school principal from 1884-1886, as well as librarian in 1891.
Sarah's entry into the legal field in 1892 came as the result of a great family tragedy. In November 1891, Sarah's brother Howard went to the dentist to have some teeth extracted. As was custom at the time, he requested to receive cocaine for pain relief. Shortly after the dentist gave him a shot of cocaine, Howard collapsed on to the floor and later died. Howard's death had a great impact on the Herring family, especially on William, who had trained Howard as a lawyer and depended on Howard's assistance in his legal practice. Three weeks after Howard's death, Sarah resigned her post as a teacher to help her father with his work. Sarah studied law with her father for one year, and then applied for a license to practice law in the First Judicial District Court of the Territory of Arizona. She received her license, and became the first female attorney in Arizona on November 21, 1892. One year later, the Supreme Court of Arizona admitted Sarah to practice before its court.
After being admitted to practice law, Sarah declined to immediately begin representing clients. She instead decided to enroll in law school at New York University's School of Law. NYU was one of a handful of law schools at the time that not only accepted women, but actively recruited them. Sarah graduated with an L.L.B. in 1894, ranking fourth out of a class of eighty-six.
Upon earning her degree, Sarah returned back to Tombstone to practice with her father. Sarah's practice focused on mining law and her clients ranged from injured mine workers to mining companies. Sarah developed a reputation in the legal community as being a competent and charming attorney. One newspaper wrote that 'she is never at a loss for authorities, being so thoroughly prepared as to have references at her fingers' end, and no matter how complicated the issue, she possess that happy felicity of elucidation that most generally wins for her client a favorable verdict.'
By 1896 Tombstone had lost its status as the largest town in the Arizona territory as many nearby mines had closed. Reacting to this, the Herring family moved to Tucson where Sarah and her father continued their law practice. Two years later on July 21, 1898, Sarah married Thomas Sorin who was a local rancher and newspaperman. Sarah and her new husband moved to his ranch in Cochise County, where she enjoyed its rugged desert landscape. For the first five years of their marriage, Sarah lived on the ranch and would come into Tucson on occasion to handle cases with her father. After a while, she began to spend most of her time in Tucson as her husband was away from the ranch on business most of the time.
During her legal career, Sarah's work brought her in front of the United States Supreme Court on four separate occasions. In April 1906, William Herring applied for Sarah's admission to practice in front of the Supreme Court. Sarah became the first woman from Arizona, and the twenty-fourth women ever, to be admitted to the Supreme Court.
One of Sarah's most crowning legal achievements came when she represented United Globe Mines in the case Work v. United Globe Mines. This case provided Sarah with her fourth and final visit to the Supreme Court, and allowed her to become the first woman to present a case without male assistance. The Supreme Court ultimately decided the case in Sarah's favor.
Four months after the court's decision on April 30, 1914 Sarah died of pneumonia. A description of Sarah in the History of Arizona provides a fitting memorial for her life and character: 'she was constant and dependable in everything, and her innate dignity and charm of manner gained for her the sincere respect and admiration of all who came into contact with her.'