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Ruth Virginia Brazzil (1889-1976)

Special Associate Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1925

Ruth Virginia Brazzil was born September 12, 1889 in Tyler, Texas, and attended Wharton public schools. After working her way through The University of Texas as a special student in law, she passed the bar exam in 1912. She did not concentrate solely on a law career, however, and her various occupations included realtor, manager of an abstract company in Wharton, and assistant general manager of American National Life Insurance Company in Galveston.

In 1924 Johnson v. Darr, a case involving the fraternal organization Woodmen of the World (WOW), was appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. The case involved a lien on two parcels of land in El Paso County belonging to WOW. At the time, WOW was a powerful group in Texas to which nearly all of the state's elected officials and lawyers belonged. Members of the organization received insurance benefits with premiums based on claims paid. As a result, judges and attorneys who belonged to WOW were required to recuse themselves from cases involving it. In March 1924, chief justice C.M. Cureton and associate justices Thomas B. Greenwood and William Pierson recused themselves from hearing the case on the basis of their membership in WOW.

Gov. Pat Neff spent the next ten months in an unsuccessful search for male judges or attorneys not associated with WOW to sit on a special court to hear the case. Finally, on January 1, 1925, one week before the case was to be heard, Gov. Neff solved the problem by appointing three women to the special court. He appointed Hortense Sparks Ward special chief justice, and Hattie Leah Henenberg and Ruth Virginia Brazzil were appointed special associate justices. This special court served for five months, met twice, and heard only the case of Johnson v. Darr. The male justices continued hearing other cases during this time.

Brazzil was married in 1927 to a rice farmer from Wharton County before divorcing him two weeks later. She is sometimes referred to by her ex-husband's last name, Roome. Following her brief marriage, Brazzil moved to Bandera, where she served as postmistress. She also lived in Center Point and Kerrville, where she sold real estate. Unlike her colleagues on the court, Hortense Sparks Ward and Hattie Leah Henenberg, Brazzil was said to have been an opponent of women's suffrage and political participation.

Ruth Brazzil spent the final decade of her life confined to a wheelchair, and died May 22, 1976 in Kerrville. She is buried in Kerrville's Garden of Memories Perpetual Care Cemetery.

Notable opinions

Johnson v. Darr, 114 Texas reports 516 (1925), concurring opinion (majority opinion written by Hortense Sparks Ward).

Sources

Brandenstein, Sherilyn. Roome, Ruth V. Brazzil, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).
http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/RR/froey.html

Cottrell, Debbie Mauldin. All-Woman Supreme Court, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).
http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/AA/jpa1.html

Enstam, Elizabeth York. Women and the Law, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).
http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/WW/jsw2.html

Ramos, Mary G. Texas' All-Woman Supreme Court, Texas Almanac 2006-2007 (visited August 28, 2006).
http://www.texasalmanac.com/history/highlights/supreme

Extended bibliography

Speer, Ocie. The Special Justices and Judges, Texas Jurists 729 (Austin, Texas: the author, 1936).

Additional information available in Southwestern Historical Quarterly as follow:
Volume 60, page 11

Henenberg, Hattie L. Women of the Supreme Court of Texas, 19 Women Lawyers' Journal 16 (Aug., 1932).

Moorhead, Dean. Texas' All-woman Supreme Court, Texas Star 13 (Feb. 11, 1973).

Morehead, Richard. Texas Had One All-woman Court, Dallas Morning News, Oct. 3, 1955.

Neff Appoints Three Women to Court, Fair Sex to Preside for the First Time in High Texas Tribunal, San Antonio Light, Jan. 2, 1925.

Sentiments of Women Judges Are Outlined, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 9, 1925.

Supreme Court of Women, First Such Body in the Country Meets in Texas Today, New York Times, Jan. 8, 1925, at 12.

Women Judges Take Oath, New York Times, Jan. 9, 1925, at 19.

Women Justices Grant Error Writ in W.O.W. Case, San Antonio Express, Jan. 9, 1925.

Women Sit as Texas Supreme Court, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 9, 1925.

World's First Women Supreme Court Judges Named in Texas: Please Fraternity of Lawyers, San Antonio Light, Jan. 11, 1925.

Hall, Sue M. The 1925 All-Woman Supreme Court of Texas. St. Mary's University School of Law (San Antonio, Taxas).