north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



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Susie Marshall Sharp was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on July 7, 1907. After attending Women’s College (now UNC-Greensboro) for two years, she entered law school at the University of North Carolina in 1926 and was the only female in her class. She became widely known for her academic prowess and became an editor for the North Carolina Law Review. Having passed the bar exam in 1928 she received her LL.B. from UNC the following year.
Sharp joined her father’s Reidsville law firm from where over the next twenty years she fine-tuned her legal acumen while becoming active in her community. Her time was largely spent either in her father’s law office in Reidsville or at the Rockingham County Courthouse at Wentworth. In 1939, she became the first female in state history to be appointed a city attorney, acting in this capacity for her hometown of Reidsville. To contextualize her legal training and career to this point, it should be noted that women were not allowed to serve on juries in North Carolina until 1946.
Sharp was an ardent Democrat fueled by her father’s successful campaigns for the state senate. She nurtured her ties with Democratic party leaders on the local and state levels, campaigning ardently for W. Kerr Scott for Governor in 1948 and serving as his campaign manager in heavily Democratic (at the time) Rockingham County. Once Scott won the Governor’s race, he rewarded his worthy lieutenant Susie Sharp with an appointment as a Superior Court judge in mid-1949. In a pattern that lasted throughout her life and career as a legal pioneer for her gender, Sharp became the first female judge in the history of North Carolina. While Scott was indeed noted for his occasional controversial appointments during his one term as governor, his appointment of Susie Sharp to the Superior Court broke the proverbial glass ceiling for North Carolina women to consider a career in the law and in the judiciary.
During her years as a Superior Court judge, Sharp conducted court in two-thirds of the counties in North Carolina from the mountains to the sea. She still maintained Reidsville as her home base and continued to reside there with her now widowed mother. A judicial colleague from Rockingham County remarked that during this time period that Sharp “cemented her commitment to the judiciary and exposed the Bar and public of North Carolina to her remarkable mix of courage, industry, humor, compassion and an incisive legal mind.” Sharp was a Supreme Court justice from 1962 until 1979 and was elected Chief Justice in 1974, the first female to be elected chief justice of any state supreme court in the United States.
Upon her mandatory retirement at age 72 in 1979 and having received many accolades and honorary degrees over the years, Justice Sharp stepped down from the Supreme Court. She gradually faded from public view as her health declined, and on March 1, 1996, she died at her Raleigh home at the age of 89. Following a funeral at Main Street Methodist Church in Reidsville Justice Sharp was buried alongside other family members in nearby Greenview Cemetery. In her passing the Greensboro Daily News remarked that “Susie Sharp was an unlikely heroine. But she was one of the best North Carolina has ever had.” The passage of time has only reaffirmed that sentiment.

Emily Colin and Lynn P. Roundtree, “The Changing Face of Justice: A Look at the First 100 Women Attorneys in North Carolina,” 2004.
Greensboro News and Record, March 2, 1996.
Anna R. Hayes, Without precedent: the life of Susie Marshall Sharp. 2008.
Gary Robertson, , “Pioneer Justice Susie Sharp Dies,” The Associated Press, 1996.
“Sharp, Susie Marshall,” NCpedia, 2017, available at
“Susie Marshall Sharp, Chief Justice,” North Carolina Manual, 1975.
Susie Sharp Papers #4898, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources