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Sarah T. Hughes

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Title: Sarah T. Hughes  
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Subject: First inauguration of Lyndon B. Johnson, Patrick Higginbotham, Oath of office of the President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ann Richards
Collection: 1896 Births, 1985 Deaths, American Episcopalians, American Women Judges, American Women Lawyers, American Women Police Officers, George Washington University Law School Alumni, Goucher College Alumni, Judges of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Members of the Texas House of Representatives, Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia Officers, People Associated with the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, People Associated with the John F. Kennedy Assassination, People from Dallas, Texas, Texas State Court Judges, United States District Court Judges Appointed by John F. Kennedy, Women State Legislators in Texas
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Sarah T. Hughes

Sarah T. Hughes
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
In office
Judge of the Texas Fourteenth District Court
In office
Appointed by James Allred
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas
In office
October 5, 1961 – April 23, 1985
Appointed by John F. Kennedy
Personal details
Born Sarah Tilghman
(1896-08-02)August 2, 1896
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died April 23, 1985(1985-04-23) (aged 88)
Dallas, Texas
Spouse(s) George Ernest Hughes (m. 1922)
Children none
Alma mater Goucher College
George Washington University Law School
Religion Episcopalian[1]
Judge Hughes, lower left with back to camera, swears-in Lyndon B. Johnson as President of the United States. Photo by Cecil W. Stoughton.

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.

The photo depicting Hughes administering the oath of office to Johnson is the most famous photo ever taken aboard Air Force One.[2][3]


  • Birth, education, and early career 1
  • Service as a judge 2
  • Women on juries 3
  • Administering the oath of office 4
  • Other significant contributions 5
  • Later life 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Birth, education, and early career

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 Salem Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she was elected president of the freshman class. Standing only five feet one-half inch at maturity, she was described by a classmate as "small but terrible".[4] Her determined personality extended to the athletic field where she participated in intramural track and field, gymnastics, and basketball. Another instance of Hughes's strong personal 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 from college, Hughes taught science at police officer. As a police officer, Hughes 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.[4]

She moved to politics, first being elected in 1930 to three terms in the Texas House of Representatives.[5]

Service as a judge

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. She was the only female judge appointed by Kennedy, and only the third woman ever to serve on the Federal bench.[6]

The appointment almost did not happen, according to historian Robert Caro, because the Kennedy administration thought she was "too old" and they were seeking younger jurists for the lifetime tenure afforded by Article III Federal judgeships. Hughes had been a "longtime Johnson ally," and as Vice President, Johnson had asked Robert F. Kennedy, the Attorney General of the United States and brother of President John F. Kennedy, "to nominate Mrs. Hughes" for the Federal bench, but the United States Justice Department turned him down. Johnson then offered the job to another attorney. However, Hughes was also an ally of the Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, who held up a bill important to RFK until Hughes' appointment was announced.[7]

Johnson was outraged at the chain of events because it appeared to be an intentional attempt to insult him, and made him look like the "biggest liar and fool in the history of the State of Texas". President Kennedy's White House appointments secretary called it a "terrible mistake", citing negligence on the part of Kennedy's staff. The story of how Hughes received her appointment made the rounds of Washington, D.C. insiders, including the political gossip columnists Evans and Novak, which hurt Johnson's reputation for political effectiveness.[7] Historian Steven Gillon agrees with Caro's story, although it was not cross-cited.[8]

Women on juries

Hughes was concerned over the ineligibility of women in Texas to serve on juries even though they had the right to vote. 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. Due in to part to Hughes's work, Texas women secured the right to serve on juries in 1954.[9][10]

Administering the oath of office

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.

According to an interview with Barefoot Sanders, who was United States Attorney for the Northern District of Texas at the time:[11]

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.

Sanders and Hughes no doubt believed those rationales, but Johnson had other reasons to choose her, according to Caro: "He knew who he wanted - and she was in Dallas." Citing another historian, Max Holland,[12] Caro noted that the circumstances surrounding Hughes's appointment meant that she "'personified Johnson's utter powerlessness'" when he was vice president. The new President ordered his staff, "'Get Sarah Hughes ... Find her.'" Hughes was found and driven to Love Field, while Air Force One—and thus the inauguration of the new President—was held up just for her. Caro asserts that Johnson, in his insecurities, chose Hughes to show to the world that he was now powerful.[13] Two other historians (Holland and Gillen) agree with Caro's assessment that Johnson was still upset that he'd not been consulted on Hughes's appointment in the first place, so it was a way to placate his weak ego.[8][12]

On the other hand, Johnson needed to make sure that "the swearing in take place at the earliest possible moment ... to demonstrate, quickly, continuity and stability to the nation and the world...." Johnson used the "few minutes to spare" while waiting for Hughes to arrive to plead to Kennedy's staffers to stay awhile for the transition. Finally, she arrived, along with the media and Jackie Kennedy; only then the swearing in could take place. Hughes noted that Jackie's "eyes 'were cast down'" when Johnson nodded to the judge to start the oath of office.[14]

Other significant contributions

Throughout her lifetime, Sarah Hughes 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. 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. In Taylor v. Sterrett, 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

Hughes 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.[15] The dress Hughes wore during the swearing in on Air Force One was donated to a wax museum in Grand Prairie, Texas. It was destroyed in a fire in 1988.[16]


  1. ^ "JUDGE SARAH T. HUGHES COLLECTION, 1910-1982: MANUSCRIPTS". Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Walsh, Kenneth T. (2003). Air Force One: a history of the presidents and their planes. New York: Hyperion.  
  4. ^ a b Judge Sarah T. Hughes Collection — University of North Texas Libraries
  5. ^ Texas Legislators Past and Present-Sarah Hughes
  6. ^ Clark, Mary (2002). "Carter’s Groundbreaking Appointment of Women to the Federal Bench: His Other "Human Rights" Record" (PDF). AALS. pp. 1–2. Retrieved January 17, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Caro, Robert (2012). ""Genuine Warmth"". The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power. New York City: Albert A. Knopf. pp. 187–188.  
  8. ^ a b Gillon, Steven (2009). ""I Do Solemly Swear". The Kennedy Assassination - 24 Hours Later. New York City: Basic Books. 
  9. ^ "Biographies: Women in Texas History". 2007. Retrieved January 23, 2014. 
  10. ^ From Gutsy Mavericks to Quiet Heroes: True Tales of Texas Women. Dallas, Texas: Foundation for Women's Resources. 1997. 
  11. ^ vd_2002_fall_Barefoot%20Sanders(1)
  12. ^ a b Holland, Max (2004). The Kennedy Assassination Tapes. New York: Knopf. p. 24. 
  13. ^ Caro, Robert. ""Taking Charge"". The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power. New York City year=2012: Albert A. Knopf. pp. 328–329.  
  14. ^ Caro, Robert (2012). The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power. Albert A. Knopf. pp. 333–336.  
  15. ^ "Sarah Tilghman Hughes (1896–1985) – Find A Grave Memorial". 2000-12-14. 
  16. ^ "Irreplaceable items lost in museum fire". The Seguin Gazette-Enterprise (Seguin, Texas). AP. September 11, 1988. p. 3. Retrieved October 4, 2015. 

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