Without Precedent

The Life of Susie Marshall Sharp

By Anna R. Hayes

576 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 20 Illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4194-2
    Published: December 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-8781-3
    Published: June 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8190-8
    Published: June 2009

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Awards & distinctions

2008 North Caroliniana Book Award, The North Caroliniana Society

2009 Ragan Old North State Award, North Carolina Literary and Historical Association

The first woman judge in the state of North Carolina and the first woman in the United States to be elected chief justice of a state supreme court, Susie Marshall Sharp (1907-1996) broke new ground for women in the legal profession. When she retired in 1979, she left a legacy burnished by her tireless pursuit of lucidity in the law, honesty in judges, and humane conditions in prisons.

Anna Hayes presents Sharp's career as an attorney, distinguished judge, and politician within the context of the social mores, the legal profession, and the political battles of her day, illuminated by a careful and revealing examination of Sharp's family background, private life, and personality. Judge Sharp was viewed by contemporaries as the quintessential spinster, who had sacrificed marriage and family life for a successful career. The letters and journals she wrote throughout her life, however, reveal that Sharp led a rich private life in which her love affairs occupied a major place, unsuspected by the public or even her closest friends and family.

With unrestricted access to Sharp's abundant journals, papers, and notes, Anna Hayes uncovers the story of a brilliant woman who transcended the limits of her times, who opened the way for women who followed her, and who improved the quality of justice for the citizens of her state. Without Precedent also tells the story of a complicated woman, at once deeply conservative and startlingly modern, whose intriguing self-contradictions reflect the complexity of human nature.

About the Author

Anna R. Hayes is a former partner in the Raleigh, North Carolina, law firm of Manning, Fulton, and Skinner, P.A. She divides her time between Paris and Chapel Hill.
For more information about Anna R. Hayes, visit the Author Page.


"Extremely well written and meticulously documented. It presents a vivid portrait of a highly intelligent, courageous woman who braved many personal tragedies while carving a place of honor in the state's judiciary history."--A.C. Snow, Raleigh News & Observer

"[An] outstanding and revealing biography. . . . A fascinating account of Sharp's extraordinary professional life. . . . A compelling read, and one that makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of North Carolina in the 20th century and the woman who changed our judiciary forever."--Jack Betts, Charlotte Observer

"An engaging book. . . . Author Anna Hayes is both a historian and a lawyer, which is a winning combination in chronicling the life of one of the most outstanding jurists North Carolina has ever produced."--Charles Blackburn Jr., Our State

"It is the complexity of the portrait that makes Hayes' biography fascinating to those who thought they already knew Susie Sharp."--Carolina Alumni Review

"Glowing praise may not sufficiently describe the merit of this book and the high standard it sets as an example of how to tell the story of an important person."--D.G Martin, Raleigh News & Observer

"Presents Sharp's career as an attorney, judge and politician within the context of the social mores, the legal profession and political battles of her day, and illuminates it with a revealing examination of Sharp's family background, personality and rich private life."--Carolina Country