Texas Originals, a co-production with Humanities Texas

Texas Originals: Sarah T. Hughes

Black and white portrait of Federal Judge Sarah T. Hughes, dated 02/1972. Image provided by the Archives Department of the State Bar of Texas.
She was a trailblazing attorney and the first female federal district judge in Texas.

SARAH TILGHMAN HUGHES
August 2, 1896–April 23, 1985

 

When Sarah T. Hughes arrived in Dallas as a young lawyer, in 1922, no firm would hire a woman. Nevertheless, as Hughes put it, she had “an ambition to do something for the state.”

Although she is best known for administering the oath of office to Lyndon Johnson aboard Air Force One after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Hughes considered her 1930 election to the Texas Legislature to be her greatest accomplishment.

After serving three terms, Governor James Allred appointed her to the bench of Dallas’s Fourteenth District Court, in 1935, making her the state’s first female district judge. Although opponents proclaimed that she should be “home washing dishes,” she was elected to the same post the following year.

Dismayed that women could not serve as jurors in the very courtroom over which she presided, Hughes played a key role in the passage of a 1954 amendment to the Texas constitution allowing women to serve on juries.

Hughes served six terms on the state bench and earned wide respect as a tough and exacting jurist. President Kennedy appointed her as the first female federal district judge in Texas, in 1961.

Over the course of a fifty-five-year career, Hughes championed equal rights and encouraged women to get involved in politics, illustrating her lifelong belief that “women can indeed be a force in history.”

LBJ taking oath of office from Hughes
Lyndon B. Johnson taking oath of office from Sarah T. Hughes
Photographer: Stoughton, Cecil. UNT Digital Library. http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc177458/. Accessed December 20, 2013.

More about Sarah Tilghman Hughes

The Judge Sarah T. Hughes Collection, 1910–1982, is at the University of North Texas Library. The collection contains correspondence, minutes, notes, publications, and more, much of which documents Hughes's involvement in various women’s and international organizations.

An interview with Hughes is available through the LBJ Library’s Oral History archives.

Hughes’s alma mater, Goucher College, maintains the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center, which facilitates student involvement in government and political affairs.

Sarah Tilghman Hughes is buried at Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas.

Hughes and other Texas judges with JFK and LBJ
Sarah T. Hughes and other Texas judges with John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson
Photo credit: Knudsen, Robert L. (Robert LeRoy), 1929-1989. UNT Digital Library. http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc177457/. Accessed December 20, 2013.

Bibliography

La Forte, Robert S. “Hughes, Sarah Tilghman.” Handbook of Texas online.

Payne, Darwin. Indomitable Sarah: The Life of Judge Sarah T. Hughes. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2004.

Riddlesperger, James W. Sarah T. Hughes. MA Thesis. North Texas State University, 1980.

Sanders, Bob Ray. “There’s More to Know about Sarah T. Hughes than Swearing in LBJ.” Dallas Morning News, January 22, 2013.

State Bar of Texas, “Sarah T. Hughes.”