sarah herring sorin wild women of the west cowgirl magazine

Among the many short news articles included in the October 5, 1886, edition of the Daily Tombstone was the announcement of a new teacher to the well-known Arizona town.  Miss Sarah Herring, her four siblings, and mother, Mary arrived in Tombstone in 1882 to join her father, mine owner and lawyer, Colonel William Herring.  Born on January 15, 1861, in New York, Sarah acquired her father’s desire to teach.  The Colonel was employed as a public schoolteacher for many years prior to moving his family West.  She believed teaching children reading, writing, and arithmetic, was crucial to providing stability and opportunity to their lives and by extension brought respectability to wild frontier communities.  A year prior to Sarah riding into Tombstone, the boomtown witnessed its most notorious event, the shootout near the O.K. Corral.  She was convinced Tombstone’s rough and rugged reputation would improve by educating the youngsters who lived there.

Sarah was among several aspiring teachers summoned by the Board of School Examiners in December 1885 to take a test to determine their qualifications.  She was one of four teachers that day who obtained a territorial certificate necessary to work at the school.  Sarah began her career at the Tombstone school teaching the first grade.  The February 21, 1886, edition of the Tombstone Daily Epitaph included a brief note about her accomplishment.  “Miss Herring is an excellent teacher,” the article read, “who has been tried in this city, and in her selection the Board of Trustees have acted wisely, and their appointment will be approved by every parent in this city.  

The Tombstone school board provided Sarah with the books she was to use in her classroom.  Among the limited material suppled was Appleton’s School Reader for Elementary Students, the Elementary Spelling Book by Noah Webster, and Ray’s New Primary Arithmetic.  

Tombstone residents were urged to financially support the local school not only so educators could purchase additional books for students, but for upgrades to be made on the school building itself.  Sarah wasn’t shy about sharing with residents how crucial it was to fund such efforts, but not everyone agreed.  Articles in the Tombstone Epitaph focused on residents against the venture.  One letter to the editor of the paper on the matter outraged not only the teachers and the Board of School Trustees, but students as well.  

“I have read an article in the Tombstone Epitaph of January 19th, a letter to the paper which reads: ‘We are called upon to vote a special tax of $8,000 to beautify our schoolhouse in the Tombstone school district and for the young ones who care nothing for it,’” a schoolgirl wrote the editor of the Epitaph on February 22, 1886.  ‘“Why expend money upon such a lot of thoughtless monkeys?”’  

“The author of the letter went on to ask why the necessity of building fences, etc., that the children do not live or feed on lumber and ends by insulting our teachers.  …Now what is his meaning, he pretends to be opposed to the tax in question.  Yet he seeks to criticize us children and our teacher in the manner above stated.  As a school child and I presume one of the children the writer pleases to call a monkey, I desire to show the public the aims and objects of the writer.

“First, if the school tax is carried the writer perchance has a wife or a friend who is looking for a school.  Second, the writer is of the opinion that by calling us school children monkeys our parents will flock to the polls and vote for the tax to benefit that unscrupulous person.

“Now, Mr. Editor, if the writer wishes to compare his own child to a monkey, why, I have no objection; but he should have included himself with his child.

“Mr. Editor, I am but a school child and cannot do this subject justice.  I will rely upon you to unmask the person above referred to.  Now you can see the anxiety of that person.  He may feed his child on lumber, if he so wishes, or I would suggest that shaving would be more appropriate for himself.

“I am, sir, respectfully yours, A School Girl.”  

The special tax was ultimately approved and notorious lawman, John Behan, Sheriff of Cochise County, was made the collector of the tax.

Conditions at the Tombstone Public School improved because of the renovation to the building and the purchase of new textbooks.  Sarah used those books, one of which was the Aldine Grammar Guide, to help her class learn to write proper sentences.  By 1889, Sarah had been moved from teaching first grade and was teaching second grade.  Her class consisted of fifteen students.   In addition to teaching, she also served as the school’s principal for a short time.  She helped organize teacher conferences and gave lectures on the methods for instructing children in understanding fractions and punctuation.  Outside of the school, Sarah was involved in civic clubs such as the Dairymaids and was a member of the Tombstone Baptist Church choir.  She also helped found an organization to stop the cruelty to animals and assisted in establishing the town library.  

If not for the sudden tragedy that struck Sarah and her family in November 1891, she might have been content to remain an educator for the rest of her life.  The death of her older brother, Howard prompted her to leave the profession and pursue a different line of work.  Howard was a well-respected attorney in Cochise County, Arizona, with a thriving practice he shared with his father.  On October 8, 1891, he went to see a dentist about some work he was having done.  The dentist gave him a hypodermic shot of cocaine to anesthetize him for the procedure.  Howard immediately went into convulsions and in less than an hour died.  Sarah submitted a letter to the school announcing her intention to vacate her job on Friday, November 20, 1891.

“Miss Sarah Herring, who has taught so long and satisfactorily in the Tombstone public school, has sent in her resignation, which was reluctantly accepted by the trustees,” a report in the November 29, 1891, edition of the Tombstone Weekly Epitaph read.  “Miss Herring will assist her father, Colonel Wm. Herring in his office.  In the loss of Miss Herring’s services, the public have cause for regret.  Her scholars lose a friend and an instructor which time or circumstances will not efface from their memories.”

Sarah studied law under her father’s tutelage and after a year working as Colonel Herring’s assistant, chose to take the strenuous test to become a lawyer.  The challenging oral examine was held in open court in early December 1892.  “Miss Herring answered all questions propounded in an intelligent manner and was warmly congratulated by the members of the bar and a large number of prominent citizens who were present,” the December 8, 1892, edition of the Los Angeles Times reported.  “A brilliant career as an attorney awaits Miss Herring, whose many unexcelled qualities will crown her efforts with success.”

Having officially passed the bar, Sarah became the first female attorney in Arizona.  She then returned to Tombstone for a nine-month period to work alongside her father.  The first case of Sarah’s career as an attorney was before the probate judge in the case of Walsh vs. Haberhn in which a will was sought to be broken.   A decision was given in her favor and the case was appealed to the District Court by Allen English attorney for Walsh.  The judge upheld the ruling of the lower court and found in favor of the prospector in the case Sarah represented.  

In September 1893, Sarah traveled to the East Coast to attend the New York University Law School.  Her father accompanied her as far as Benson, Arizona, and at that point she was on her own.  Sarah completed her course work at the University in May 1894, finishing in the top ten out of a class one hundred. She returned to Tombstone on June 17, 1894.

During her time practicing law from the summer of 1894 to the summer of 1898, Sarah handled a variety of cases.  From representing individuals accused of cutting timber on surveyed government land to petitioning the court to compel the Board of Supervisors of Cochise County to consider a bid for a new newspaper to begin printing in town.  Sarah’s clients regarded her as “keen, shrewd and quick, and thoroughly competent to handle the defense of big cases alone.”

Between trying cases, Sarah met and began courting Thomas Sorin.  Thomas was from Tombstone, was a mining expert and the Arizona Commissioner at the World’s Fair.  The two were married on July 24, 1898, at the Congregational Church in Tucson.  “The couple are well and favorably known in Cochise County which has been their home for years and are held in the highest regard and esteem,” the July 24, 1898, edition of the Tombstone Weekly Epitaph noted.  “Miss Herring, besides attaining professional prominence and deserved honor as a lawyer and pedagogue of recognized ability, possesses many virtues of worth; her extremely agreeable nature, superior mind, and amiable character endearing her to all, and winning for her favor and prestige.  Mr. Sorin is a gentleman well known in mining circles throughout the territory.  He is popular among his large circle of friends because of his sterling qualities, intellectual acquirements and with a character and reputation that is at once appreciated.”

According to the July 20, 1898, edition of Tucson Citizen, the Sorins planned to make their home in Tombstone where Thomas, cofounder of the Tombstone Epitaph, managed mining interest in the Dragoon Mountains and Sarah maintained her law practice.  The pair did spend a brief time of their marriage in Tombstone, but eventually relocated to Tucson where Sarah and her father joined forces at the firm of Herring and Sorin.  

On April 16, 1906, Colonel Herring made a motion for admission of his daughter to practice before the United States Supreme Court.  The unusual scene of a father making such a motion made the front page of many prominent Arizona newspapers.  The motion unanimously passed making Sarah the twenty-fifth women admitted to practice in the court.  During her career she argued four cases in front of the United States Supreme Court.  

Between 1906 and 1912, Sarah and her father worked diligently representing individuals and corporations throughout Arizona.  The law firm of Herring and Sorin was highly respected and in addition to practicing law, both Colonel Herring and Sarah gave lectures at various schools and churches about their work.  When Sarah’s father passed away at the age of seventy-nine on July 10, 1912, she assumed full responsibility of the firm.  

Shortly after Colonel Herring’s death, the Sorins moved to Globe where Sarah became the chief council for the Old Dominion Copper Company and took on a controversial case involving the United Globe Mines.  In the fall of 1913, an itinerant prospector named James H. Work, hired an attorney to file suit against the mining corporation claiming he owned two of the mines the company was prospecting.  The case was heard by the United States Supreme Court on November 6, 1913.  The matter of James H. Work vs. United Globe Mines made headlines not only because of the nature of the case, but because of the rare occurrence of a female attorney appearing as the sole representative of a major corporation in the setting.  

“The country was given something new to talk about the other day and it was a Tucson woman who furnished the topic,” the November 16, 1913, edition of the Arizona Daily Star reported.  “This widely-heralded incident was when Mrs. Sarah Herring Sorin, formerly an attorney of this city, appeared alone and unafraid before the Supreme Court of the United States to argue a case.

“Women have appeared before the highest tribunal in the land before, but they have appeared only associate counsel and hardly ever have been given a chance by their vein male associates to say, ‘If the court pleases,’ and all that sort of stuff.  They have usually been content to look wise and charming.  

“With Mrs. Sorin, however, it was different and that’s what all the talk is about.  Mrs. Sorin appeared before the court in the interest of clients and argued her case alone.  But that’s not the best of it.  She won.

“Mrs. Sorin also disproved that women and logic are strangers, or at least she proved that she and logic are intimate acquaintances.  Several times in her argument she was interrogated by Mr. Justice Pitney about certain points in the case.  Did Mrs. Sorin answer ‘Because?’  She did not.  She explained them lucidly and to the entire satisfaction of the high court.”  

The United States Supreme Court officially announced the decision in favor of Sarah’s client on January 4, 1914.  Four months after the decision was rendered, Sarah became ill and died of bronchial pneumonia.  The May 8, 1914, edition of the Copper Era and Morenci Leader reported that she had taken ill on Friday, April 24, but that her condition was not considered critical until four days later.  At that point she was taken from her home to the local hospital.  Her decline was steady and rapid.  She was fifty-three when she passed away.  Her funeral was held on May 3, and she was laid to rest at Evergreen Memorial Park in Tucson, Arizona.  

“Mrs. Sorin, although she had invaded a field thought peculiarly to belong to the masculine sex, was universally liked by the attorneys on account of her dignity and tact,” an article in the Arizona Daily Star from May 1, 1914, read.  “She was wholly wrapped up in the study of her profession and was in no sense of the word a society or club women.  She was a steadfast opponent of woman’s suffrage, curiously enough, and appeared to look at her activity as a woman lawyer as something entirely different from the participation of women lawmaking and elections.

“Mrs. Sorin was an Episcopalian in religion.  She and her husband never had any children, and she was thus enabled to devote her time solely to her work.”

Sarah was universally respected and admired for her common sense and intellectual gifts, and in her death, many remembered her as brilliant woman who gave up her promising career as a teacher to aid in the running of her father’s law firm.