Artist and poet Hulda Knipling Sellingsloh doesn’t live in Texas anymore, but she still feels drawn to the Lone Star State. On August 12, 1940, she passed the Texas Bar Exam, and she’s been an active member of the Texas Bar ever since—even though she has never practiced law. Sellingsloh spent her early career as a draftswoman for a Houston oil company and as an assistant engineer for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, drawing complex—and highly confidential—aerial maps. Those skills later translated to her own sketching and painting pieces. But Sellingsloh credits her success in life to being a lawyer, which provided her with the critical thinking and public speaking tools to become a leader in the community where she lived. An avid reader of the Texas Bar Journal, Sellingsloh, who turns 104 in November, would send Judge Jerry L. Buchmeyer humor submissions for his column that ran in the magazine for 28 years. Sellingsloh recently talked with the Texas Bar Journal about her life, the legal profession, and new lawyers.
How and why did you become interested in the law?
During the Great Depression, I worked caring for a lady’s son for my tuition. I then worked for a gentleman who owned a title business. I typed legal matters in the courthouse every day. A county judge had an office next to my employer. These two men noticed my talent for legal matters. They both told me I should study law.
You never practiced law but applied your legal knowledge to other disciplines and industries. What do you think is the most important thing you learned from attending law school and becoming a licensed attorney?
I learned to do what is right for myself, family, and children. I became a good public speaker and a good leader, earning respect for working for public matters and to advance the status of women.
In 2015, you received your 75-year lawyer recognition from the State Bar of Texas. Why did you decide to keep your status as an active attorney for all of these years?
I worked hard to pass the Texas Bar. I wanted to be a force for good in life, to be known as an individual who could work for justice in America.
If you were to begin practicing law right now, what kind of law would you focus on and why?
I would focus on writing legal instruments properly. Then reading legal matters for details, being quick to see errors. I caught an error once in my job and saved the company $1 million. The oil company employees seemed to enjoy telling this story about me to my father and others.
Do you have any advice for new and young lawyers?
I would advise them to always to be up to date on legal affairs. To be honest always. To work hard for clients and charge proper pay for service. And they should look for humor!
Is there anything you would like to add?
I plan to leave an honorable legend of my life for my family and society. I hope to inspire goodness through being honored as a woman lawyer. All lawyers should be aware of the young citizens who follow us. In organizations I have been involved with, I always encouraged doing matters regarding civic work. Young people will be the leaders in America in the years to come.