Bertha Snell

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Bertha Snell

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  • Bertha Marguerite Denton Snell

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Dates of existence

1870-1957

History

Bertha Marguerite Denton Snell (1870-1957) was a prominent lawyer in Tacoma in the early 20th century. She was born in Ottawa, Illinois in 1870. As a young child she was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Galway, Saratoga County, New York. Her uncle, the Hon. Patrick H. Meehan, ran a law office and post office in Galway. In later years she would claim that the time spent at his office and under his tutelage sparked her interest in the law. Bertha graduated from the Teachers’ Institute at Saratoga in 1888. In 1889, she moved to Seattle where she worked as a legislative assistant and secretary to the governor of the newly established State of Washington. In 1893 she married Tacoma attorney Marshall King Snell. Bertha assisted her husband in his law practice, and was encouraged by him and others to continue her legal studies. In 1899 Bertha Snell passed the bar and became the first woman lawyer in Washington State. She became a partner in her husband’s firm and together they built a successful practice. Among their cases were suits dealing with land in Pierce and Whitman counties, and a controversial irrigation and water rights suit in Idaho (Nelson Bennett & Co. vs. Twin Falls Land & Water Co., 1906). Marshall and Bertha Snell were instrumental in the development of Ewan, Whitman County, Washington, where they owned property. They also owned property in Spokane, North Puyallup and elsewhere in Pierce County. The Snells had a personal interest in history and supported the establishment of the Washington State Historical Society. The Snell Law Office drew up the Constitution and by-laws for this organization in 1898, and Marshall Snell served as an early trustee. Marshall K. Snell died in Tacoma on April 19, 1939. Bertha Snell continued to practice law until 1953. She died on October 20, 1957.

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