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Entries about Minnesota history from MNopedia are made available through a partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society and with funding from the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

For Minnesota’s first female sheriff, enforcing prohibition was an ongoing challenge

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society/
End-o-Line Railroad Park and Museum

Anna Sheerin Lowe

Anna Sheerin Lowe became Minnesota’s first female sheriff when the Murray County Commissioners appointed her to fill her husband’s unexpired term in 1923. Faced with the difficulty of enforcing Prohibition laws, Lowe fulfilled her duties as sheriff and won the respect and gratitude of the community for her three years of service.

Anna Margaret Sheerin was born to Irish immigrants John and Anna Sheerin on March 15, 1861. From her birthplace near Waseca, Minnesota, she moved west with her family to Murray County when she was eight years old. There she grew to adulthood and at the age of nineteen married James “Jim” Lowe, a thirty-one-year-old Scots Canadian recently arrived in the area.

After their August 2, 1880, wedding, James and Anna worked as farmers for the next decade. They quit farming and moved to the city of Slayton when James was elected Murray County Sheriff in 1890. A popular man who “performed the duties of his office fearlessly and honorably” according to a report in the Murray County Herald, James was re-elected in the next eight successive elections.

During her husband’s long tenure as Murray County Sheriff, Anna assisted James in his duties while raising the couple’s nine children: Minnie, Vernon (who died in infancy), John, Miles, Harry, James, George Kenneth, Charles, and Florence. In the community she became known as “Aunty Lowe” because of her cheerful and helpful personality.

Tragedy struck in August 1923 when James died of a sudden heart attack at the age of seventy-four. Six people applied to complete James’ unexpired term as sheriff: five men and one woman, Anna Lowe. By a 3-1 vote the Murray County Commissioners chose Anna for the position, making her the first female sheriff in the state of Minnesota.

News of her appointment spread across the nation, appearing in newspapers as far away as Pittsburgh and Virginia. These brief articles usually noted that, like her husband, she would not work while armed. However, local newspaper reports on her activities as sheriff never mentioned that fact.

As Murray County Sheriff, Anna faced a number of difficult cases, including a bank robbery, the county’s first automobile theft, and the statutory rape of two local teenage girls. The greatest challenge, however, was the enforcement of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition). Local newspapers regularly reported police raids of suspected moonshiners and bootleggers conducted primarily by Deputy Sheriffs Miles Lowe and John Lowe (Anna’s sons) and Henry Stube.

Although it appears that Anna rarely or never accompanied her deputies on these liquor raids, her office came under criticism for its policing of illegal liquor activity in the county. In March 1924 County Attorney A. W. Tierney and Sheriff Lowe called a community meeting to discuss the problem.

County officials expressed frustration that local residents were not reporting those whom they knew were illegally manufacturing or transporting liquor. Community members demanded that law enforcement officials do a better job of enforcing the Prohibition laws, noting how difficult it was for them to “rat out” their neighbors, friends, relatives, or customers.

Despite these difficulties, Anna remained a beloved member of the community and a popular official. When she announced in April 1926 that neither she nor her son would campaign for sheriff in the upcoming election, the editor of the Herald remarked that many would be disappointed. He called the Lowe family’s record in the sheriff’s office “one to be proud of,” marked by earnestness and efficiency.

When Anna’s term officially expired in January 1927, J. V. Weber of the Herald again editorialized on the Lowe family’s service to the county. The paper’s staff and readers, he wrote, felt a “deep and abiding love for her and her deceased husband” and valued their combined thirty-six years of law enforcement.

After her term as Minnesota’s first female sheriff, Anna spent her remaining years in quiet retirement. She died of a stroke in June 1933 at the age of seventy-two.

It was not until 2002 that the state of Minnesota elected (rather than appointed) another female sheriff: Terese Amazi of Mower County.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.

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