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June 06, 2016

Sarah (Sallie) Kilgore

Sarah KilgoreSarah (Sallie) Kilgore

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

These days, there are great research resources popping up online all the time. The Hamilton East Public Library has access to two online newspaper databases which can be useful and a lot of fun to explore. These are scans of the original papers which means that you can get a full sense of what’s going on in the world as well as see any original illustration

One database is the Hoosier State Chronicles. This is a free site run by the Indiana State Library. It’s connected with the Library of Congress “Chronicling America” project – there is also a link on HEPL’s Indiana Room page.

The other database is Newspapers.com, which is a subscription site. However, it is free to use at the library and at home to library card holders with a PIN number. It can be found through the Online Databases drop down menu under Resources on the library main page.

I sometimes do a random search of the word “Noblesville” on these databases to see what can be found. It’s handy that it’s only city by that name in the country. While doing this recently, I ran across Sarah Kilgore (1841-1935) – also known as Sallie – who was the third woman allowed to practice law in the United States. She was born in Ohio, and lived for many years in Crawfordsville, Indiana. She attended the University of Chicago law school in 1869-1870, then attended the University of Michigan.

Her first case was a moot court as the attorney for plaintiff with one of the Michigan State Supreme Court justices as judge. According to the Des Moines Register from January 21, 1871, “Miss Kilgore is said to have acquitted herself ably, evincing in the argument much care and labor in the preparation of this her first case. … After hearing the arguments pro and con, Justice Campbell rendered a decision in favor of the plaintiff, to the great delight of an enthusiastic audience.”

She graduated in March of 1871, (Poughkeepsie Eagle-News, June 14, 1894), and The Indianapolis News reported on April 5, 1871, that she had been admitted to the bar of the Michigan State Supreme Court. They had possibly mentioned this because someone had said that she was moving to Indianapolis (Greencastle Banner, May 4, 1871). This did not happen immediately, possibly because her life had been too intense. The Detroit Free Press for December 1, 1871, said that she had come down with “nervous debility” and went to New York for treatment.

Her ties to Noblesville came a few years later, as reported in the Crawfordsville Weekly Journal for January 15, 1874.

“From the Noblesville Ledger we learn that Sallie Kilgore, remembered by many of our citizens as a resident at one time of this city, has removed with her mother from Westfield to Noblesville, and will engage in the practice of law. Miss Kilgore is a graduate of the law University at Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Ledger says she will be the first female lawyer for Hamilton County, and wishes for her all the success her industry and talent may entitle her to. Like the Ledger we see no reason why a woman should not practice law or engage in any of the other professions and occupation now monopolized by men if she wants to, and can make a living thereby.”

This information is very useful since the only surviving issues of the Ledger from 1874 start in September. We don’t know how long she practiced law here, but it was probably not for very long. According to the Indiana marriage records, she married Jackson S. Wertman (1846-1909) in Marion County on June 16, 1875. The 1876 Indianapolis city directory has an entry for J. S. & S. K. Wertman, Attorneys at Law. They had two children and the family moved around the US, eventually ending up in Seattle, Washington. Sallie and Jackson are both buried there.

Sallie Kilgore’s connection to Noblesville was very brief, but interesting. However, if it had not been for these databases, it would have been completely forgotten. There are probably many other stories like this to be found. Nancy Massey, the Indiana Room Librarian and County Genealogist, does programs on how to use these databases. It can be a useful and entertaining way to spend some time.