JOHN C. TOWNES
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
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
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.
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 Masters 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
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 http://www.law.utexas.edu/rare/archives.htm