James Allred was elected Governor of Texas in 1934, serving from 1935-1939. Howard made a few passing mentions of Allred when he was running for Attorney General in his letters. Allred held that office prior to becoming Governor.
In 1935 women were making slow but steady progress in American society, just a scant 15 years after acquiring the right to vote via a constitutional amendment. That year, Governor Allred appointed Sarah Tilghman Hughes to a vacancy on the Fourteenth District Court in Dallas, making her the first woman state district judge in Texas. In 1936, she was elected in her own right.
Mrs. Hughes was originally from Baltimore, Maryland. She began her career as a science teacher before attending to George Washington University Law School, earning a law degree while working for the Washington, D.C. police department. She married classmate George Hughes, a native of Palestine, Texas, and after graduation the couple began a private law practice in Dallas. Mrs. Hughes soon became one of the first women elected to the Texas House of Representatives.
As you can imagine the appointment of Mrs. Hughes garnered a wide range opinions running the gamut from one extreme to the other. Governor Allred was sent a copy of this resolution from the Business & Professional Women’s Club of Brownwood praising his appointment of Sarah Tilghman Hughes as the first female district judge in Texas. The target of this particular resolution was State Senator Claud Westerfeld of Dallas, who said that Mrs. Hughes “ought to be home washing dishes.”
While the Brownwood ladies group applauded Allred’s appointment of Hughes, another opinion came from the opposite end of the spectrum via this letter from W. G. Hegler of Frijole, Texas. The town, which is located near El Paso, is a ghost town today. The Kipling reference in the letter refers to his poem titled “The Ladies.”
As a Judge, Mrs. Hughes was widely known for her speedy and impartial administration of justice. She was a key player in the construction of Dallas’ first juvenile detention center and in securing the right of Texas women to serve on juries. Despite gaining the right to vote in 1920, it was not until 1954 that the first female sat on a Texas jury.
She continued to serve as district judge until 1961, when President John F. Kennedy named her to the federal bench. Judge Hughes became a national figure on November 22, 1963, when she administered the oath of office to Lyndon Johnson on Air Force One following the tragic assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas.
As a federal judge, her most well-known decisions include Roe v. Wade, 1970 (the legalization of abortion in the United States), Shultz v. Brookhaven General Hospital, 1969 (equal pay for equal work for women), and Taylor v. Sterrett, 1972 (upgrading prisoner treatment in the Dallas County jail). She was also involved with several cases related to conman Billie Sol Estes and to the Sharpstown stock fraud scandal.
In 1975 Judge Hughes retired from the active federal bench, although she still served in a very productive role as a judge with senior status until 1982. She passed away in 1985 at the age of 88, after several years of illness. Judge Hughes often remarked upon a formula she used to live her life. “Pick out your goal, and then use determination and courage to reach it.”