St. Mary's Law Journal


Alice G. McAfee


On the surface, there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the case of Johnson v. Darr, and, in fact it was not the merits of the case that made the headlines. It was the makeup of the tribunal. Long before women in Texas were even granted the right to serve on juries and before any woman ever served as a judge on any of the lower Texas courts, the judges appointed to hear the case of Johnson v. Darr were all women. This was the first time a woman was appointed in any capacity to serve on the Texas judiciary and so the unprecedented nature of the event drew nation-wide attention at the time, including coverage in the New York Times. As an historical event, the all-woman supreme court has proven to be problematic. For obvious reasons, three women sitting on the highest court in the state in 1925 does not fit logically within the chronology of women and the judiciary. And thus, in the retelling of the story of the all-woman supreme court, historians have either relegated it to a footnote or have ignored the event altogether. This conception of the event as an outlier, however, is historically flawed. In this article, I argue that the all-woman supreme court represents a key victory in the women’s movement in Texas and in the struggle for political power and representation. It is within this broader historical context that the all-woman supreme court can best be understood and reconciled. And it is within this context that the all-woman court takes on greater historical significance. This article unpacks the history of the events leading up to the appointment of the three women to the supreme court in an attempt to locate this historical moment within the greater political climate of the day.


St. Mary's University School of Law