28 September 1877, in Rising Sun, Indiana
John H. Coles and Fanny McAdams
3 brothers and 1 sister
Law Office Study:
In her father, John Coles’s office, beginning in 1898
Entered the senior class of Indiana Law School of the University of Indianapolis; graduated May 1901
Admitted to Practice:
- Indiana 1898
- Montana 1918
With her father from 1898-1911, then continued until 1917, when she moved to Montana
High Profile Case:
State v. Gillespie: accused of murder of his twin sister, Elizabeth Gillespie; John and Cynthia Coles represented Gillespie
Wymond G. Sink on 5 December 1905; divorced in 1911
26 December 1905 — Cincinnati Enquirer
“One of the Attorneys in the Gillespie Trial, is Now a Bride”
“Mr. Wymond G. Sink and Miss Cynthia A. Coles surprised their many friends by being quietly married at the residence of the bride’s parents, Captain and Mrs. John B. Coles. Rev. Ira A. Paternoster, pastor of the first Presbyterian Church, officiated in the presence of the members of the immediate families and a few intimate friends.
After a sumptuous luncheon the happy couple left for a bridal trip through the south.
Mr. Sink is the Recorder of Ohio County and Democratic county Chairman. His bride has been associated with her father in the practice of law for several years, and is the only lady ever admitted to practice at the bar in the Seventh Judicial District and to be admitted as a member of the Dearborn and Ohio Bar Association.
She assisted her father in the defense of the celebrated Gillespie murder trial.”
May 13, 1911 — Indianapolis News
“Woman Lawyer Divorced. Pleads Her Own Case and Gets Decree and Maiden Name.
Judge George E. Downey has granted Mrs. Cynthia Coles Sink an absolute divorce from Wymond G. Sink, former Ohio county recorder, and restored her maiden name, Cynthia Coles. She is a practicing attorney and prepared her divorce petition and conducted her case. She had petitioned for $1,500 alimony, but withdrew this request at the trial. Miss Coles was associated with her father, Captain John H. Coles, in the Gillespie murder trial in Rising Sun a few years ago.”
10 October 1921, in Flathead County
8 December 1898 — Cincinnati Enquirer
” . . . Miss Cynthia Coles, daughter of Captain J. B. Coles, one of the best criminal lawyers in this section, was admitted to the bar. Miss Coles in an accomplished young lady in social circles, and of late years has acted as stenographer and studied law with her father with the intention of completing the profession.”
28 June 1904 — Cincinnati Post
“Miss Cynthia Coles and Her Legal Career
How the Woman Who is Helping in the Defense of James Gillespie Believes that Her Famous Client Will Be Cleared”
“The Portia of Southern Indiana. This is the title bestowed upon Miss Cynthia Coles, the only woman lawyer in Rising Sun, Ind., by her confreres in the famous Gillespie case.
In the small, seldom-used jail in the pretty village Jim Gillespie, charged with the murder of his twin sister, Elizabeth, plays cards, knowing that ‘Cynthia’ and the ‘Captain,’ her father, are working day and night to prove his innocence.
Miss Coles by her work in the Gillespie case, has attracted the attention of the entire Indiana bar and fairly won her spurs as a criminal lawyer.
‘A woman lawyer,’ I mused, as the omnibus on which one enters Rising Sun rattled along between fields of sweet-scented clover and wild mustard, ‘should have an iron jaw and hair pulled tightly back in a knob!’
The serious nature of the law led me into this error. I retracted gladly when a slim, girlish figure in a gray skirt and pink shirt waist came out to welcome me to the offices of Coles & Coles, attorneys-at-law, when the bus drew up in High Street.
‘Item, gray eyes and softly coiled brown hair,’ I wrote upon my mental register, and Miss Cynthia Coles broke in with a laugh and a sly wink at her father. ‘There will soon be no one in Rising Sun but lawyers and reporters if we don’t get this case settled soon. What do you say, father?’
The law offices of Capt. Coles and his daughter are on the ground floor, facing a wide street bordered by tall oaks and maples. Wedged between a butcher and a barber shop, its door stands hospitably open to the town folks, who, from the Mayor down to the dwellers in ‘Bucktown,’ manage to look in at least once a day and say, ‘Howdy,’ to Miss Cynthia and the Captain, who are held in high regard by their ‘fellow citizens.’
‘The real murderer of Elizabeth Gillespie will never be found until the $1000 fund set aside by Ohio County to prosecute the case has been exhausted,’ exclaimed Capt. Coles, hotly. ‘It is a corruption fund, which will seriously interfere with justice in the Gillespie case.’
‘That’s right,’ nodded Miss Coles from her desk, where she was busily preparing a habeas corpus petition in the Gillespie case. ‘Until the money is gone no jury will agree in Rising Sun.’
Capt. Coles, a white-haired veteran of the Civil War, with brown eyes, brimming over with fun, is the senior member of the unique law firm. Cynthia Coles is the junior, who does the routine work, tries cases before Magistrates and attends to the probate work. Father and daughter are the best of chums.
‘Women lawyers are usually regarded as freaks, are they not?’ laughed Miss Coles, in reply to that cobwebbed question, ‘Is the law a suitable profession for women?’
‘I can only answer for myself — it is the only profession for me.’
Over her father’s desk hangs the daughter’s diploma. Miss Coles is a graduate of the Indiana Law School class of 1901. ‘Circumstances made me a lawyer, and I think father assisted circumstances,’ said Miss Coles. ‘You see, we all work in Rising Sun at something or other. After I was graduated from the high school in ’95 I taught school. Hoping to enlarge my horizon, I took charge of a school in Wisconsin. I taught there a year, reading law at night for my own pleasure. Then I came back to Rising Sun and taught four months, but went back to Wisconsin.
‘I wanted to be at home, and I didn’t like teaching, so I decided to study law in earnest and help father. I had no idea of a “career” for myself. No, indeed! I had been used to writing wills and preparing briefs for father, and I thought I could perhaps be of enough use to him to repay him for having me at home. We made it up between us, and I was admitted to the bar five years ago.
In Indiana one has only to be 21 and of good character to be admitted to the bar. That is only a preliminary step. Then I entered the Indiana Law School. I was the only girl in a class of 35 boys, but I was so worried over the examinations I had no time to notice that until we were all the best of friends. I shall never forget my college days, and the courtesy and kindness of those boys! They treated me as one of themselves, and I had a voice in all the class meetings and college affairs. One of the boys, an artist, used to revel in his caricatures of me, which he distributed impartially in the class room.’
One would hesitate to call Miss Coles a ‘pretty girl.’ She is a ‘good fellow,’ a devoted daughter, and a scholar whose brains in no wise interfere with her enjoyment of a joke, either on herself or the other fellow.
Through the open window of the law office, gay with its daily bouquet of roses, Miss Coles democratically returns the greetings of the people of Rising Sun. Some linger for a little harmless gossip, other pass with a cheery, ‘Hello, Cynthia?’ and once while I lingered by Miss Coles’ desk. Howard North, Clerk of the Court, passed with a fraternal ‘How?’ which was returned in kind, as frankly as a boy.
‘It’s about dinner time, Cynthia,’ says the senior member, and Miss Coles, attorney, is merged in Cynthia, the daughter of the house. Quite simply she put on her hat, received some money from her father and started out to do some buying ‘for mother.’ Up the shady street we went to an old-fashioned, gray, brick house, the Coles residence, set in a bower of cherry trees, with crimson rambler roses and myrtle clambering over the deep porches. Here Mrs. Coles, a beautiful woman, with silver threads just showing in the mass of brown that frames her thoughtful face, makes ‘home’ a place of rest and peace for the workers. Of the Coles family, three boys and three girls, all are married but Cynthia, John and the ‘baby,’ Thomas McAdams Coles, a 10-year-old, usually known as ‘Mac.’ The atmosphere of the Coles home, with it old-fashioned simplicity and bits of rare colonial furniture, brought from Kentucky by the mother, is one of ease and culture. Out behind the house is Capt. Coles’ ‘playhouse,’ a carpenter shop, with a valuable collection of tools, where he rests his brains by making ‘mission’ furniture by hand. In the stable further back is Miss Coles’ only ‘fad,’ a horse called ‘Topsy,’ with which she takes long rides or drives about the country.
Over the porch is ‘Cynthia’s room’ a bower of blue and white, suggesting nothing of the legal lore and Latin terms which flow so glibly from the owner’s lips in conversation. A row of photographs, Miss Coles’ classmates at the law school, decorate the mantel.
‘I dislike one branch of law extremely,’ said Miss Coles, naively, discussing her profession, ‘and that is divorces. I have had a few cases of that kind, but it seems to me when one person takes another “for better, for worse,” it shows a streak of yellow to “lay down” on the contract.’
From Portia’s lips certain slang phrases, learned, of course, from ‘Mac,’ sound peculiar mixed with law phrases.
‘Father has built up a reputation as a criminal lawyer, but if I had my choice I’d stick to civil law. One of the best known cases that I have been interested in was the Gregg will case, still unfinished. The Gillespie case has tired me out considerably, but I can’t give up when I know Jim Gillespie is innocent. I have known the whole family since we were children, and it would be impossible for Jim Gillespie to do a wrong act, not to mention a murder. Why, he is a deacon in our church, the Presbyterian church, and is marked with a Calvinistic conscience. When first arrested he told father a lie, that is, he made a mistake because he did not remember a certain fact, and he came to the office with tears in his eyes to confess.
‘I am a member of the Woman’s Literary Club, to which Elizabeth Gillespie belonged, and from what I know of her convinces me the family had no hand in her death.’
One of the stories Capt. Coles tells on his daughter shows her vivid sense of humor. When about to graduate the Dean of the Law School, willing to concede some feminine frills to the only girl in the class, asked if she had a middle name she wished put on her diploma. ‘Simple Cynthia’ is what father calls me, sir,’ she retorted, and the class howled.
Miss Coles was in the plot which sent that latter-day ‘Nick Carter,’ Detective Franklin, back to Cincinnati from Rising Sun, convinced some one was on his tr-r-r-rail, prepared to end his life. Franklin went to Rising Sun to shadow Jim Gillespie. Miss Coles, for the defense, with another congenial friend, secured a man to shadow Franklin, and the whole town was in the joke — all but Franklin.
Miss Coles would make a first-rate politician. She has a genial, democratic manner that makes her hosts of friends, and she has a speaking acquaintance with every one for miles around.
‘I don’t think much of women voting and running around to clubs and generally trying to make the world move. We all have some individual talent and there is a special work for us all to do.’ This is Miss Coles’ opinion of women’s rights and privileges.
‘Were the schools in Wisconsin, where women are allowed to vote, better than the Indiana schools?’ I asked.
‘No, but the women thought they were,’ was the crisp answer.
Inspired by her success in the Gillespie case, Miss Coles has been admitted to practise in Dearborn County, and will take a more active part in her father’s criminal cases hereafter. While Capt. Coles was ill during March, Miss Coles continued her work in Jim Gillespie’s defense without his aid, and won the hearty admiration of her co-workers.
‘I think we’ll clear Jim,’ she declared, as I bade her good-by under the maples. ‘A man with a Presbyterian conscience could not commit murder and not tattle.’
Jessie M. Partlon”
For a little about the reporter, Jessie M. Partlon, see http://handeaux.tumblr.com/post/94242310237/cincinnatis-scrappy-girl-reporter-fought-for
5 April 1908 — Indianapolis Star
” . . . . Probably the most famous Indiana case in which a woman lawyer has participated was the trial of James Gillespie for the alleged murder of his sister, Miss Elizabeth Gillespie, at Rising Sun in December 1903. In the trial which followed, in 1904, Gillespie was defended by Capt. J. B. Coles of Rising Sun, ex-Congressman F. M. Griffith of Vevay and Miss Cynthia Coles, daughter of Capt. Coles. Although Gillespie was sentenced to prison for life, his attorneys have since secured his freedom by a ruling of the Supreme Court reversing the decision of the lower court. Both Capt. Coles and Mr. Griffith give much of the credit for their final victory to the modern Portia who assisted them. For weeks and months she worked incessantly on the case. In 1906 Miss Coles was married to W. G. Sink, then recorder of Ohio County, of which Rising Sun is the county seat, but she found her law practice too large to abandon and she is still a member of the firm with her father. She graduated from the Rising Sun High School in the class of 1895 and at once set out to fulfill her lifelong ambition — to become a lawyer. Though her father tried to persuade her otherwise, she began the study of law in his office, and when he saw the rapid progress she was making he sent her to the Indiana Law School of Indianapolis. She graduated in the class of 1901 with high honors.”
9 June 1916 — Cut Bank pioneer press
“Miss Cynthia Coles of Rising Sun, Indiana, was here Sunday in company with Fred Egelston in Ethridge. Miss Coles, who is a lawyer by profession, has filed on a homestead not far from Ethridge and is highly pleased with the prospects and opportunities in this part of the west. ‘Many of my friends back in Indiana are greatly interested in this part of Montana but few seem to have the courage to go so far from home; however, I am certain that there will be a movement from that part of the United States this fall, provided the Montana crops prove nearly as good as they did last year . . . .'”
25 August 1916 — Cut Bank pioneer press
“Miss Cynthia Coles, a bright and successful lawyer from Rising Sun, Ind., came out to Ethridge last spring and filed on a homestead. Miss Coles completely succumbed to ‘the lure of the plains.’ She is now on a visit to her old home. In the following clipped letter to her home paper, she tells how she had to break a resolution not to talk too much, lest the wise heads at the corner grocery might conclude that ‘someone was lyin’, gosh durn it.’
‘My good resolution to emulate the Sphinx was shattered at the inception. Mr. Ben Carter, a homesteader near Ethridge, give me samples of his winter and spring wheat, flax, oats, and timothy, and their excellence attracted attention and favorable comment all the way down on the train and even on the bus in Chicago and so I got “wound up” and have talked Montana almost constantly and displayed the bouquet to all who would look and listen.
‘Rain has been plentiful in Montana, hail almost unknown — and the bountiful crop is now ready for harvest hands. Last Sunday Enquirer had an ad in the R. R. news for hands to help harvest the crops, offering to furnish the names and address of the farmers in the North West who need help.
‘Go west, young man, to west, continues to be good advice. Montana is rightly name the “Treasure State” and I found the climate in summer ideal and the air dry, light and invigorating.'”