(Sketch written by Judge Nelson E. Lurton, Commissioner of the United States Court, at Shanghai, China, who served in Mr. Able’s law office as his assistant from 1912 to 1916.)
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It is so unusual to find read merit displayed in a man until he has been put through some of the trying experiences of life that it is a pleasure to find such in one born and reared as Sidney Thorne Able was, surrounded with all the comforts of life, the son of a southern banker and cotton planter.
In order to know a man well we must know something about his boyhood days. The photograph of his boyhood home reproduced from a small kodak picture, shows Sidney Thorne Able, a bare legged boy about to enter the Mississippi home in which he lived until he was seventeen years of age, when he came to St. Louis to enter Washington University. In the pony cart is his sister, Elise, now Mrs. George Doling Haynes of Kansas City. Much to the delight of the boy, the home was equipped with a complete gymnasium and with bowling alleys. As a boy he spent much time riding horses and upon Chatam plantation at Erwin, Mississippi, a plantation that extended almost the entire length of and along the north shore of Lake Washington and required over one hundred and twenty-five mules and a hundred negro families for its operation. He also spent many summers in Asheville, North Carolina, and about his mother’s odd home in Airlie, Halifax county, North Carolina.
Sidney Thorne Able was born in Water Valley, Mississippi, February 24, 1889. His father, George Dudley Able, was cashier of The Bank of Water Valley and a cotton planter. He owned and operated through managers, the Chatam plantation on Lake Washington at Erwin, just south of Greenville, Mississippi. The father, George Dudley Able, was mayor of the city for twelve years and vice president of the American Bankers Association for the state of Mississippi. His mother, Elizabeth Harris Thorne, as wild be noted from page 480 of “The History of the Alston Family” was the daughter of Edward Alston Thorne and Alice It. Harris and until her marriage dived in Halifax county, North Carolina, with her parents.
The family estate near Airlie, North Carolina, is known as Prospect Hill. The home is of colonial type and was designed and all the interior woodwork was manufactured and carved in England. It was built by William Williams Thorne, greatgrandfather of Sidney Thorne Able in 1789. “The History of the Alstons” traces the family back to William Alston of Saxham Hall, Newton, who was born there in 1537 and was buried there January 13, 1617. The Alstons purchased Odell Castle, which commands a delightful prospect over the beautiful meandering Ouse (County Bedford, England) from the Chetwoodes in 1640. Several of the towers and the wails remain today. The castle contained a number of good paintings, some of which were bought by Sir Thomas Alston in Italy in 1650. The honor of knighthood was first conferred upon Thomas Alston in 1642. (Kimber and Johnson, Baronetage of England, 1771, Volume 1, page 457). And he was afterwards advanced to the higher dignity of a baronet (18 Car 1) (The History of the Alston Family, page 21). The family coat of arms is thus described: “Arms azure, ten stars, 4, 3, 2, 1, Or, Crest on a wreath, a half-moon Argent, charged with a star Or in the Arms, Motto Immotus.”
Sidney Thorne Able’s paternal grandfather fought in the Civil war on the aide of the south, while three of the brothers of such grandparent fought on the northern side. His maternal grandfather, Captain Edward Alston Thorne, fought on the side of the south.
Sidney Thorne Able attended the grade schools in Water Valley, Mississippi, and later attended high school and the Water Valley Military Academy. During several summers he attended summer school and in 1904, at the age of fifteen, was sent from his home in Mississippi to attend Missouri Valley College at Marshall, Missouri, from which he later graduated with the degree of A. B. A short time prior to 1904 his father bad served as a delegate to a convention in Fresno, California, for the union of the two great Presbyterian churches and had there met and become acquainted with Dr. William H. Black, president of Missouri Valley College.
Sidney Thorne Able later entered the law department of Washington University, from which he graduated in 1910, at the age of twenty-one years, with the degree of LL. B. In order to graduate from the law department of Washington University each senior is required to write a thesis upon a given subject and a prize is awarded. In 1910 the subject upon which each senior was required to write was “The Extra-Territorial Enforcement of Statutes Imposing Liabilities on Stock Rolders.” The thesis prize was won by Sidney Thorne Able. The thesis, about a year later, appeared as an article in the Central Law Journal. Sidney Thorne Able was a member of the Gamma Omicron (Washington University) Chapter of the Sigma Nu Fraternity.
In 1906, his father, George Dudley Able, was elected vice president of The Versailles & Sedalia Railroad Company and treasurer of the Corinth Woolen Mills (now Curlee Clothing Company) and moved from Water Valley, Mississippi, to St. Louis to live. He later became president of the Link Fabric Company of America and is now serving in that capacity.
Sidney Thorne Able took the Missouri bar examinations and after successfully passing them was licensed to practice law and in the fall of 1910 entered the law offices of Fordyce Holliday & White. After serving as an assistant in their offices for a year, to get the experience, he took a position, which paid him a salary of only fifty dollars a month, as an investigator in the St. Louis office of the American Fidelity Company and in less than a year was elevated to the position of counsel for such company for the states of Missouri and Illinois, a position which later paid him five thousand a year for legal services. In April, 1913, he opened his present law offices at 303-5 Pierce building, St. Louis, and shortly thereafter also became counsel for Missouri for the Georgia Casualty Company. In 1915 he started an insurance agency in offices adjoining his law office under the name of the Able Insurance Agency Company, which company was general agent in Missouri for the Georgia Casualty Company, but about a year later he found that this took too much of his time from his law practice and gave it up. From the very start his work has been of the character that required him to be in court almost constantly, which experience enabled him to make the remarkable showing he has made since 1916 as a trial lawyer. He is a member of the St. Louis, the Missouri and the American Bar Associations.
In the fall of 1913 he persuaded Miss Grace Shafer, who was then a sophomore in Bryu Mawr College to postpone temporarily her collegiate work and on February 2, 1914, at the Kingshighway Presbyterian church in St. Louis, they were married. Dr. William H. Black, president of the Missouri Valley College, performed the wedding ceremony. They have three children: Mary Ellen, born September 27, 1915. Who has attended Miss Wilson’s kindergarten for two years and enters Mary Institute in the fall of 1921; Edward Thorne, born August 21, 1917; and Charles Robert, born December 16, 1918. Mrs. Sidney Thorne Able is now completing her college course. She attended Washington University the year 1919-1920 and the half year ending June, 1921, and will graduate with the degree of A. B., June, 1922. She is a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorgrity. They live in the Warwick Court Apartments on the corner of Clara avenue and Kingsbury boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri.