Luda: A Leader in Law a Century Ago

Many Sonoma County women attorneys can be proud to claim “firsts.” But the most notable “first” goes to Luda Fulkerson Barham as the first woman attorney in the county. At age 23, Ms. Fulkerson likely was also one of the youngest to be admitted to the practice of law. She became an attorney at a time before women had voting and most common rights.

Luda Fulkerson was born on July 8, 1872 in Santa Rosa to John Fulkerson of Sonoma and Rachel Cannon of Missouri. The Fulkerson family members were reknowned early residents of Sonoma County. Luda taught in Sonoma County public schools during her late teens and early twenties. Her stature in Santa Rosa must have been increased by the fact that she owned a piece of property, deeded by her father on November 12, 1892.

After teaching for three years, Luda commenced the study of law. She soon married Edwin Chester Barham, the son of Congressman John A. Barham, the first republican congressman from this area. In 1895, Luda and her husband were admitted to the California bar and sworn in before the U.S. Supreme Court upon introduction by the Congressman. As a newspaper wedding announcement stated, “Both bride and groom are exceptionally intellectual, and the honored name of Barham will be distinguished in this State in more than one generation.”1

The couple began practicing law together out of an office at 543 Fourth Street in downtown Santa Rosa. As reported in the November 30, 1895 edition of The Sonoma Democrat, Ms. Barham "will next Monday commence the practice of law in association with Barham & Miller. Mrs. Barham . . . pass[ed] very successful examinations to the bar. She holds a certificate which entitles her to practice before all courts." Luda and Edwin most certainly were the first husband and wife team to practice law in Sonoma County.

In 1903, the couple and their surviving son, John Stuart, lived at 552 B Street in Santa Rosa. Their other son, Louis, died at an early age of diptheria. John was the first local Piper Cub airplane dealer. The couple’s grandson, John L. Barham, is still a Sonoma County resident.

While Luda was a teacher prior to entering law, her husband was a candymaker, having first owned the Candy Kitchen in Napa at 18 years old, then the Palace of Sweets in Santa Rosa. He then studied law for about two years while employed in the office of his father, the congressman. One source credited Edwin as “a young man of good habits, always found in his office, a thorough student, and with a bright future before him.” 2 He did not live to prove the accolades true, having passed at the young age of 34 in 1906. Luda remarried a respectable five years later to Stephen R. Chaffee.

Luda Barham, “one of Santa Rosa’s widely known and most respected pioneer women,” 3 died on July 9, 1947, at 75 years old. She died from coronary disease and, at the time of her passing, was at a friend’s house near her home on Sonoma Avenue, now in Montgomery Village. A long article in the July 11, 1947 edition of The Press Democrat credited Luda as being “a brilliant woman, and a student of national and world affairs . . . and widely known in literary circles.” Both she and Edwin are buried in the Fulkerson Cemetery which, collectively with the Moke, Old Rural and Stanley Cemeteries, are now known as the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery located on Franklin Avenue.

By Rose Zoia, an environmental land use and appellate attorney and the 1996 President of the Sonoma County Bar Association. The article was originally published in the Sonoma County Bar Association’s “The Bar Journal,” volume 18, issue 3, Fall 2009. Thanks to Ms. Zoia and the Bar Association for their permission to reproduce it here.

Sources:

  1. Newspaper extracts from The Marin Journal, Marin County Tocsin, and Sausalito News, January 3, 1895 to December 31, 1896, abstracted by Carol Schwab, Marin County Genealogical Society.
  2. Illustrated Atlas of Sonoma County, CA (Reynolds Procter, 1898), p. 6. Other sources: Gaye LaBaron, Santa Rosa: A Nineteenth CenturyTown, p. 142; An Illustrated History of Sonoma County, California (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1889), pp. 328-329;http://www.wendtroot.com/fulkerson/d0003/I167.html.
  3. The Press Democrat, July 11, 1947.
  4. Luda Fulkerson Barham, Photo from Illustrated Atlas of SonomaCounty, CA