Sarah Herring Sorin claims the distinction as Arizona’s first female lawyer. She was born on January 15, 1861, in New York City, the first of Col. William and Mary Herring’s five children.
Herring’s title of colonel appears to be an honorary one bestowed on him by friends. For 20 years he was a teacher in New York. Then in 1880, he inherited the Neptune and several other Bisbee mining claims.
He and his wife moved to Bisbee with their two youngest children. Sarah stayed behind in New York and taught school while her younger brother, Howard, finished high school.
Then she, Howard, and her sister Bertha joined the family in Bisbee.
After a time, Herring sold his Bisbee mining claims to the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company and moved his family to Tombstone where he set up his law office in partnership with his son Howard. Bertha also worked for the firm as a stenographer, notary and administrator of probate cases. Sarah taught at Tombstone School and also served as principal and librarian.
During her spare time she worked in her father’s law office, rode her horse Button, wrote poetry and short stories, played parlor cards and enjoyed Tombstone’s social life. By all accounts she was tall and lovely.
In 1881, Howard was given cocaine for a dental procedure, collapsed and died on the floor of the dentist’s office. Sarah resigned as a teacher and stepped in to take her brother’s place in the law office.
A year later, she applied for a license to practice law. Her examination was held in open court on November 24, 1892, before attorneys C.S. Clark, Allen English and Judge W.H. Barnes. It was reported that Miss Herring passed a rigid examination with distinguished honors.
A month and a half later, on January 12, 1893, Sarah was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Arizona and signed the court’s official Roll of Attorneys.
In reporting her achievements, the Arizona Weekly Star described Sarah as a “genuine heroine” who blazed a path for women to higher fields for their talents.
Sarah decided that she needed more formal education and enrolled in New York University’s School of Law. NYU was one of the few schools that admitted women as law students and actively recruited them. Sarah received her L.L.B. in 1894 with honors, graduating fourth in her class. She returned to Tombstone to work in the family law firm.
The Herring firm handled criminal defense for murder, burglary, robbery and forgery along with probate, guardianship, divorce, land claims and mining claims.
It also represented both railroad and mining companies on corporate legal issues.
Sarah made her first appearance before the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court in 1896. An injured miner, Michael Welch, had obtained a $5,000 judgment in a lower court. Sarah was hired by his employers to appeal the decision and proved before the court that Welch had been injured through his own negligence. The Supreme Court reversed the lower court ruling and ordered a new trial.
When Tombstone’s economy began to decline in the late 1880s because of falling silver prices, labor strikes and mine flooding, the Herring family moved to Tucson and opened a law office at the corner of Pennington and Court streets.
On July 21, 1898, at the age of 37, Sarah married rancher and newspaperman Thomas Sorin, 15 years her senior. He had owned the Tombstone Epitaph with John Clum.
He was an expert on mineral resources and was in charge of Arizona’s mineral exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World’s Far.
Sorin’s ranch was in Middlemarch Canyon in the Dragoon Mountains. Sarah divided her time between the law firm in Tucson during the week and the ranch on weekends.
Three months after her marriage, Sarah and her father were on opposite sides of the courtroom in McElwee v. Tombstone Mill and Mining Company. Her father lost and Sarah secured an $8,000 judgment for McElwee.
On April 6, 1913, Herring filed a successful motion for Sarah’s admission to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Belva Lockwood, the first woman so admitted (in 1879), was present for the occasion. Six months later, Herring and Sarah traveled to Washington, D.C., where they successfully argued the appellant’s case in Taylor v. Burns, a dispute over title to a mining claim.
On November 6, 1913, Sarah made legal history when she appeared as sole counsel, “the first woman lawyer unassisted and unaccompanied by a male lawyer.” She won her appeal in Work v. United Globe Mines, a case in which James Work claimed title to the big Johnny and Old Dominion mines, and won an important victory for the Phelps Dodge Corporation.
Sarah moved to Globe to serve as counsel for the Old Dominion Copper Company. Four months later, on April 30, 1914, she died of pneumonia.
Her grief-stricken husband printed up a commemorative folder with two of Sarah’s poems and carved a juniper branch on her gravestone.
Sarah is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson near Col. Herring and her mother. Tom Sorin died at his ranch in 1923, and is buried next to Sarah.
Photo and research courtesy Janes Eppinga. ©Arizona Capitol Times.