Hattie Leah Henenberg (1893-1974)
Special Associate Justice,
Texas Supreme Court,
Hattie Leah Henenberg was born to a Hungarian mother and an American-born father in Ennis, Texas on February 16, 1893. Her parents moved to Dallas with Hattie and her six siblings in 1904, and she attended public schools there. She worked as a stenographer and studied law at night at the Dallas School of Law, affiliated with Southern Methodist University. She obtained her law license in 1916 and practiced law in Dallas until 1966.
Henenberg was committed to social causes throughout her life. During the First World War, as a member of the Legal Advisory Board, she helped men complete their draft registration forms. She was the founding director of the Dallas Bar Association's Free Legal Aid Bureau in 1924. She also initiated a toy-lending library for poor children and served on the State Bar of Texas child welfare committee.
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 the 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.
Following her service on the court, Henenberg served as a Texas assistant attorney general from 1929 to 1931 and as a special assistant to the U.S. attorney general in 1934. She served as an assistant district attorney in Dallas County from 1941 to 1947. Hattie Leah Henenberg died November 28, 1974 in Dallas at the age of eighty-one. She was buried at Restland Memorial Park.
Johnson v. Darr, 114 Texas reports 516 (1925), concurring opinion (majority opinion written by Hortense Sparks Ward).
Sherilyn Brandenstein. Henenberg, Hattie Leah. Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001). http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhe41
Debbie Mauldin Cottrell. All-Woman Supreme Court. Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001). https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jpa01
Elizabeth York Enstam. Women and the Law. Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).
Jewish Virtual Library. Hattie Leah Henenberg. (visited August 29, 2006).
Mary G. Ramos. Texas' All-Woman Supreme Court. Texas Almanac 2006-2007 (visited August 28, 2006). http://www.texasalmanac.com/history/highlights/supreme/
Speer, Ocie. Texas Jurists 729 (Austin, Texas: the author, 1936).
Additional information available in Southwestern Historical
Quarterly as follow:
Volume 60, page 11
Cook, Fiona Hale. Who's Who Among Women Lawyers 1939, 41 (Boston, Massachusetts: the author, 1939).
Additional information available in Texas Bar Journal as
Volume 38, page 186
Henenberg, Hattie L. Women of the Supreme Court of Texas, 19 Women Lawyers' Journal 16 (August, 1932).
Moorhead, Dean. Texas' All-Woman Supreme Court, Texas Star, Feb. 11, 1973, at 13.
Neff Appoints Three Women to Court, San Antonio Light, Jan. 2, 1925.
Supreme Court of Women, First Such Body in the Country Meets in Texas Today, New York Times, Jan. 8, 1925, at 12.
New Bench Will Hear Argument, San Antonio Light, Jan. 8, 1925.
Women Sit as Texas Supreme Court: Sentiments of Women Judges are Outlined, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 9, 1925.
Women Justices Grant Error Writ in W.O.W. Case, San Antonio Express, Jan. 9, 1925.
World's First Women Supreme Court Judges Named in Texas, San Antonio Light, Jan. 11, 1925.
Miss Henenberg, Law Pioneer, Dies, Dallas Morning News, Nov. 29, 1974.
Miss Henenberg's Rites Conducted, Dallas Morning News, Nov. 30, 1974.
Hall, Sue M. The 1925 All-Woman Supreme Court of Texas. School of Law, St. Mary's University (San Antonio, Texas: 1978).