Attorney. “Miss Jim” Perry was the first woman admitted to the South Carolina Bar and a distinguished lawyer and civic leader for forty years. Born in Greenville on May 10, 1894, she was the third daughter of James Margrave Perry, an instructor at the Greenville Female College, who named her for himself, and Jeanne LeGal, a music teacher at the Due West Female College. A delicate child, she was educated primarily at home before she entered the Greenville Female College in 1909. After receiving her bachelor of arts degree in 1913, she enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, where she earned a second B.A. in 1915. That fall she entered Boalt Hall, the university’s law school. In 1917 she received her J.D. and was admitted to the California Bar.
“Miss Jim,” as she was called, returned to Greenville and joined the law firm of Haynsworth & Haynsworth. In 1918 she became the first woman admitted to the practice of law in South Carolina. She became a named partner in 1937, and the firm was renamed Haynsworth, Perry, Bryant, Marion & Johnstone. At first she practiced behind the scenes, doing legal research and briefing other attorneys on cases. As women became more accepted in the profession, she began to specialize in corporate and federal taxation law and wills, trusts, and estates.
A member of the South Carolina Bar Association, the National Association of Women Lawyers, and Kappa Beta Phi legal sorority, she served as president of the Greenville Bar Association in 1955. The American Bar Association appointed her to a committee to draft national marriage and divorce laws.
Active in civic affairs throughout her life, Perry volunteered with the Girl Scouts, helped begin the Hopewell Tuberculosis Hospital, and was a Greenville Library trustee. She was also a charter member of the Greenville Business and Professional Women’s Club, serving as president from 1920 to 1922. Involved in the club’s state federation, she was a member of its legislative and policy-making committees. Miss Jim was active in the League of Women Voters and Democratic politics, serving a term as vice president of the Greenville Democratic Party. She received the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award from Furman University in 1955 and was named Professional Woman of the Year in 1961.
Perry’s most sustained civic contribution, however, was beginning the local humane society. An animal lover who had more than thirty cats and a dozen dogs, she worked almost single-handedly to establish the Greenville Animal Shelter. She was president and treasurer of the organization for many years and also served as a director of the American Humane Society. She was as proud of her contributions to the well-being of animals as she was of being a role model for young women. James Margrave Perry died on April 19, 1964, and was buried in Greenville’s Christ Church Cemetery.
Cooper, Nancy Vance Ashmore. Greenville: Woven from the Past. Sun Valley, Calif.: American Historical Press, 2000.
“Miss Perry, Attorney, Dies Here.” Greenville News, April 20, 1964, pp. 1–2. Richardson, James M. History of Greenville County, South Carolina, Narrative and Biographical. 1930. Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1980.