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Sarah T. Hughes: Wikis


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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 of her administering the oath of office to Johnson remains the most famous photo ever taken aboard Air Force One, as Kenneth T. Walsh, White House correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, said in Air Force One: A History of the Presidents and Their Planes.


Birth, education and early career

Born Sarah Tilghman in Baltimore, Maryland, she was the daughter of James and Elizabeth Haughton Tilghman. After high school at the girls-only Western High School in Baltimore, she attended Goucher College. After graduation she 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. At that time she lived in a tent home near the Potomac River and commuted to the campus by canoe each evening.[1]

She moved to Dallas, Texas in 1922 with her husband, George Hughes, whom she had met in law school. 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

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.

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:[2]

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.

Later life

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.[3]


External links

Texas House of Representatives
Preceded by
John E. Davis
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from District 50-3 (Dallas)

Succeeded by
Sam C. Hanna


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