Index of Memorial Resolutions and Biographical Sketches

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Upon the death of Judge John Charles Townes, which occurred on December 18, 1923, the University of Texas suffered a great loss. Judge Townes became a member of the faculty in 1896, and was, at the time of his death, in the midst of his twenty-eighth year of his service as professor of law. During sixteen years of that time, from 1907 to 1923, he was dean of the School of Law.

His Education

Judge Townes was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on January 30, 1853. He came to Texas with his parents at the early age of three, and grew to manhood near the town of Manor in Travis County. His father having died during the Civil War, he was compelled to help his widowed mother earn a living for the family. As a consequence, his opportunities for education were very limited, and his only college training consisted of a part of one year at Baylor University.

His marriage, before the twentieth birthday, to Miss Kate B. Wildbalm, was the beginning of a beautiful family life that lasted for forty-four years, until Mrs. Townes’ death in 1915.

Came to Austin

In 1871, Judge Townes moved to Austin where he studied law in the office of Judge George F. Moore, afterwards chief justice of this state. In 1872, he was admitted to the bar. For a number of years he practiced law at San Saba, and for several years was judge of the Thirty-third Judicial District, extending from San Saba and Llano on the east to San Angelo on the west.

Strong Law Firm

Later he practiced his profession at Georgetown and for a short time, in 1888, was judge of the Twenty-sixth Judicial District, composed of Travis and Williamson Counties. From 1888 to 1896, he was a member of the firm of Fisher and Townes, at that time one of the strongest law firms in Central Texas. From that connection, Judge Townes entered the faculty of the School of Law in 1896.

Many Books on Law

As a law teacher, Judge Townes was thorough and painstaking. Himself a profound student of the law, he strove to teach his students to think for themselves, and it was one of his most characteristic traits that he strove always to work out the fundamental principles upon which the law was based. His success as a teacher of law is attested by the very high regard in which his instruction has always been held by the hundreds of able lawyers who were members of his classes.

As a by-product of his teaching, Judge Townes left behind valuable works on Torts, American Elementary Law and Texas Pleading. He was also the author of a small work on Law Books and How to Use Them and another on Civic Government.

Progress of Law School

The extraordinary value of the work done by Judge Townes in the upbuilding of the School of Law may be realized in part by noting the progress made by that school since he became connected with it in 1896. During these years, the faculty increased in number from three to ten, and the student body from 150 to nearly 400.

The Law Library, the indispensable workshop of an efficient law school, grew from 3,500 volumes to more than 26,000.

The entrance requirements, which were almost non-existent in 1896, were successively advanced first to graduation from a recognized high school, then to one year of college work, and finally to two years of college work. During the same time the law course was expanded from two years to three.

To give Judge Townes credit for all the important improvements that have been made in the School of Law would be to ignore the valuable services of other able and devoted men who were associated with him; but it is well within the facts to say that Judge Townes was mainly responsible for bringing the school to its present position.

Activities as Citizen

Though his hands were at all times full to overflowing with the work that came to him as teacher and administrator, Judge Townes never allowed himself to forget that he was a citizen and that he owed important civic duties to his country, his state, and his city. With rare courage and exceptionally sound judgement he espoused the cause of civic righteousness when vice was strongly entrenched and defended by men in high places.

As a result he had a conspicuous part in freeing our city and state of the liquor evil and of the kindred vices so dangerous to the welfare of the young men with whom he was associated in his University work. And this same keen sense of civic responsibility made him a most devoted friend to the University as an agent through which the state could most surely hope to raise up leaders of character and ability adequately trained for the public service.

Friend of University

Therefore, on all occasions he stood steadfastly against, not only those who would destroy the University, but equally against those who would shackle its freedom in its search for truth, or would exploit it for their own selfish purposes. To him the University and its resources were a sacred trust placed in our hands to administer for the benefit of the young men and the young women of today and of the generations to come. No selfish or sordid interests, in so far as it lay in his power to prevent it, were permitted to lay unholy hands on this priceless heritage.

His Religion

Judge Townes was a profoundly religious man. He early became a member of the Baptist Church, and was most zealous in the performance of all duties that came to him in this connection. His religion was a religion of deeds and service. He was active in establishing the University Baptist Church and from the beginning was chairman of the board of deacons.

For many years, he was superintendent of its Sunday school and taught a large Bible class composed of University students. His religious convictions, which were deep and abiding, permeated all his thinking, and made his daily life an exemplification of the Master’s teachings.

Good Personal Friend

Personally Judge Townes was a most companionable and likeable man. With his fine courage and his great moral and religious earnestness, he combined a cheerful optimism and an unfailing good humor that endeared him to his associates and especially to his boys of the Law School, and made him one of the best loved men the University has ever had. Measured by the impress he has left on the hearts and characters of his former students many of whom now occupy important places on the bench and at the bar, and in the halls of Congress and of state law-making bodies, it is no exaggeration to say that he was one of the leading men of his generation.


John R. Durbin, Secretary
The General Faculty

This memorial resolution was reproduced from an article that was printed in the Daily Texan shortly after Judge Townes's death. There is no reference to the faculty committee that prepared it. Posted on the Faculty Council web site on February 8, 2001.

The UT Law Library Archives has addtional materials at