Sterling is born in St. Louis, Missouri on August 13, 1876 and is an 1898 graduate of Harvard University. After working on a ranch in Texas and manufacturing woolen goods, he becomes a career Foreign Service Officer in 1911. Assignments include work in Peru, China, Russia, and England.
On July 27, 1927, Sterling is the first person appointed U.S. minister to the Irish Free State. After confirmation by the United States Senate, and presentation of his credentials to Irish leaders W. T. Cosgrave and Timothy Healy in July, he holds the formal title of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary.
Sterling’s post in Ireland ends on March 7, 1934, when he becomes U.S. minister to Bulgaria, a position he remains in until 1936. In 1937, he is appointed to minister roles for both Latvia and Estonia, however he does not accept the post. In 1938, he becomes U.S. minister to Sweden and remains in that role until 1941.
For years Sterling owns a summer house in Newport, Rhode Island, which he shares with his wife, two sons and one daughter. He dies in Washington, D.C., on August 21, 1957, and is buried in Falls Church, Virginia.