Bertha Snell Papers

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2.5.1

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Bertha Snell Papers

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6 boxes

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(1873-1957)

Biographical history

Bertha Marguerite Denton Snell was a lawyer in Tacoma in the early 20th century. According to the Tacoma News Tribune, she was the first woman to be admitted to the bar in the state of Washington. Born in Ottawa, Illinois in 1873, she was soon sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Galway, Saratoga County, New York. Her uncle, the Honorable Patrick H. Meehan, ran a law office and post office in Galway. Bertha graduated from the Teachers’ Institute at Saratoga in 1888. In 1889, she moved to Washington where she worked as secretary to the governor of the newly established State of Washington, Elisha P. Ferry. She also served as a legislative intern. In 1893, she married Tacoma attorney Marshall King Snell. 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. They first operated out of the Equitable Building and then relocated to the Puget Sound National Bank Building. 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 helped develop the town 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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Includes legal documents, correspondence, and other material related to legal cases handled by or involving attorney Bertha Snell. Materials related to Bertha's husband, Attorney Marshall Snell, are also included. Personal photographs, correspondence, and ephemera created or collected by Bertha and Marshall are also a part of the Bertha Snell Papers.

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