Sarah Tilghman Hughes (August 2, 1896 – April 23, 1985) was an American lawyer and federal judge who swore in Lyndon B. Johnson as President of the United States on Air Force One after the Kennedy assassination. She is the only woman in U.S. history to have sworn in a United States President, a task usually executed by the Chief Justice of the United States.
Birth, education and early career[edit | edit source]
Born Sarah Tilghman in Baltimore, Maryland, she was the daughter of James and Elizabeth Haughton Tilghman. She went to high school at the girls-only Western High School in Baltimore, where she was elected president of the freshman class and demonstrated the same indomitable spirit in that position that would characterize her for the rest of her life. Although standing only five feet one-half inch at maturity, she was described by a classmate as, "small but terrible". Her determined personality extended to the athletic field where she participated in intramural track and field, gymnastics, and basketball. Another instance of Sarah's strong discipline was seen in her habit of going to bed by 8 pm and getting up at 4 am, a habit she continued through much of her life. After graduating from Western High School, she attended Goucher College an all women's college in central Baltimore very close to her home. She participated in athletics at Goucher College, and "learned to lose without bitterness, to get up and try again, to never feel resentment," a trait that would serve her well through many years of political victories and defeats.
After graduation Sarah taught science at Salem Academy in North Carolina for several years. She then returned to school to the study of law. In 1919 she moved to Washington, D.C. and attended The George Washington University Law School. She attended classes at night and during the day worked as a police officer. As a police officer, Sarah did not carry a gun or wear a police uniform because she worked to prevent crimes among women and girls, patrolling areas where female runaways and prostitutes were normally found. Her job was an expression of the progressive idea of rehabilitation instead of punishment. Hughes later credited this job with instilling in her a sense of commitment and responsibility to women and children. At that time she lived in a tent home near the Potomac River and commuted to the campus by canoe each evening.
She moved to Dallas, Texas in 1922 with her husband, George Hughes, whom she had met in law school. George was able to find a job quickly, and began work for the Veterans Bureau, but no law firm would hire Sarah. Eventually, the small firm of Priest, Herndon, and Ledbetter gave her a rent-free space and even referred some cases to her in exchange for her services as a receptionist. As her practice grew and became more successful, she became increasingly active in local women's organizations. She joined the Zonta Club, the Business and Professional Women's Club, the Dallas Women's Political League, the League of Women Voters, YWCA, Dallas College Club, and the American Association of University Women. She practiced law for eight years in Dallas before becoming involved in politics, first being elected in 1930 to three terms in the Texas House of Representatives.
Service as a judge[edit | edit source]
In 1935, she accepted an appointment as a state judge from Governor James Allred for the Fourteenth District Court in Dallas, becoming the state's first woman district judge. In 1936 she was elected to the same post. She was re-elected six more times and remained in that post until 1960.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed her to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. She was the first woman to serve as a federal district judge in Texas.
Civil Rights and Women on Juries[edit | edit source]
Judge Hughes was a pioneer in the fight for civil rights. She was never afraid to exhibit her passionate convictions and beliefs, especially when it came to equality and rights. One of Hughes major interests involved women's rights. She was concerned over the ineligibility of women in Texas to serve on juries even though they had the right to vote. Many people believed that suffrage would have automatically allowed women to serve on juries as well, but that was not the case. Judge Hughes found it ironic that she could not serve on a jury in the very courtroom over which she presided. She and Helen More coauthored a proposed amendment that would allow women on juries in Texas, but the bill failed and went nowhere. Despite defeat, Hughes became closely identified with this cause and few people were recognized as working harder for this right. Texas women were not allowed the right to serve as members of juries until 1954.
Administering the oath of office[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Lyndon B. Johnson 1963 presidential inauguration
Two years into her tenure as a federal district judge, on November 22, 1963, she was called upon to administer the oath of office to Lyndon B. Johnson after the assassination of President Kennedy.
|“||LBJ called Irving Goldberg from the plane and asked, 'Who can swear me in?' Goldberg called me, and I said, 'Well, we know a federal judge can.' Then I got a call from the President's plane, with the command 'Find Sarah Hughes.' Coincidentally, Judge Hughes, Jan [Sanders' wife] and I [Sanders] were supposed to go to Austin that night for a dinner for President Kennedy. I reached her at home and said, 'They need you to swear in the Vice President at Love Field. Please get out there.' She said, 'Is there an oath?' I said, 'Yes, but we haven't found it yet.' She said, 'Don't worry about it; I'll make one up.' She was very resourceful, you know. By the time she got to the airplane, someone had already called it into the plane. We quickly realized that it is in the Constitution.||”|
Hughes believed that President Johnson chose her to administer the oath of office due to their friendship, but recognized that Johnson was not pleased with other federal judges in Dallas. Because of this, Hughes was the most suitable choice.
Other Significant Contributions[edit | edit source]
Throughout her lifetime, Sarah Hughes was a great advocate of justice and was known for her speedy and impartial administration. In 1950, she assisted in establishing Dallas's first juvenile detention center.
She was involved in multiple court decisions, including Roe v. Wade, Shultz v. Brookhaven General Hospital, and Taylor v. Sterrett. In the latter case, she argued to upgrade prisoner treatment in the Dallas County jail.
Hughes noted that "the Dallas County Jail was very much in need of change. It was in deplorable condition, and [she] think[s], that under [her] jurisdiction, it became one of the best jails in the whole United States."
Later life[edit | edit source]
Hughes was a member of the three-judge panel that first heard the case of Roe v. Wade; the panel's decision was subsequently affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States. She retired from the active federal bench in 1975, though she continued to work as a judge with senior status until 1982.
A close friend of Lyndon Johnson and his family, Hughes participated in his inauguration in 1965, took part in the book-signing of Lady Bird Johnson's White House memoirs, and participated in the dedication of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.
She is buried in Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas.
References[edit | edit source]
- terHorst, Jerald F.; Albertazzie, Col. Ralph (1979). The flying White House: the story of Air Force One. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan. ISBN 0698109309.
- Walsh, Kenneth T. (2003). Air Force One: a history of the presidents and their planes. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 1401300049.
- T. Hughes Archive
- Judge Sarah T. Hughes Collection — University of North Texas Libraries
- "Sarah Tilghman Hughes (1896–1985) – Find A Grave Memorial". FindAGrave.com. FindAGrave.com. 2000-12-14. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=18855.
[edit | edit source]
- The Sarah T. Hughes Center for Field Politics at Goucher College
- Sarah T. Hughes Archive at University of North Texas
- Indomitable Sarah: The Life of Judge Sarah T. Hughes by Darwin Payne (Texas A&M University Press)
- Sarah T. Hughes at Find a Grave
- Oral History Interview with Sarah T. Hughes, from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library