Recalling pleasant things and taking the time to dwell on them.
Two Ohio Friends – One SUI Law Library Letter.
It’s October 1880, and in Iowa City, the State University of Iowa is abuzz with both students and faculty settling in for a new school year. Most student activity is focused around University Square (see pic above) and the word around campus is that construction will soon begin on the new Medical Building to be built adjacent to South Hall.
Over in Central Hall – today’s Old Capitol – every inch of space is being used for academic purposes. On the second floor, the growing SUI Law Department has been assigned the job of training new lawyers using makeshift classrooms that were once the Senate and House chambers of the state capitol. Read more about the early years of SUI School of Law here.
Allow me to introduce you to one of those SUI law students in 1880 – Charles Burke Elliott of West Liberty, Iowa. Charles enrolled in the Law Department in 1879, and in this – his second year – Charles has now been assigned as student librarian for the Law Library – located on the second floor of Central Hall (see pics below).
Which now brings us to…
Our five-page letter – begun on September 8 and finished up on October 3, 1880 – is from C.B. Elliott – Librarian to O. L. Watkins in Fultonham, Ohio, and is written on State University of Iowa Law Department letterhead and mailed – on October 4 – in a beautiful envelope that shows the school’s upcoming calendar for 1881.
This personal letter from Charles Elliott is fascinating, especially when we uncover more of the stories of these two Ohio friends both born in 1861 – but now separated by their schooling. Charles, age 19, was now attending Law School at SUI and Oscar is in Ohio studying music and liberal arts. Apparently, back in Fultonham, Oscar’s father – Oscar M. Watkins, MD – suggested that his son seek the advice of his friend, Elliott, regarding a decision on which law school to attend. It’s in the midst of that conversation, Elliott responds to Oscar. Charles’ letter includes many wonderful themes. Allow me here to summarize…
A strong invitation to Oscar to come to Iowa to take coursework and become Charles’ roommate.
Many references to Charles’ dedication to his school work, taking a whole summer to study literature.
A reference to his job as College of Law librarian with two assistants given him to help with the work
Charles’ amazing vision and fortitude for where he wants to go with his life and career, including law and foreign travel after graduation on June 21, 1881.
References to their new lady friends, not named, but Oscar’s “little woman” is a musician back home.
Best wishes for success in Oscar’s 19th year – challenging him to know what profession he is working toward, and finally,
A friendly close that includes a reference to sending his “shadow” which must have been a poor-quality photograph of himself.
In so many cases like this one – when we come across a rare, historical postal cover – it’s usually one-and-done. But, when it comes to the friendship between these two Ohio friends, we’re so fortunate that the dealer on Ebay who had this rare 1880 SUI letter – also had six other letters from Charles – written to his good friend, Oscar – ranging from 1880 to 1888. Allow me now to share them here…
Graduating from SUI in the spring of 1881 with his Bachelor of Law degree, Elliott was not yet twenty-one and was, therefore, too young for admission to the bar. He was, however, able to secure a position as a law clerk in Muscatine, where he waited out the seven months – January 1882 – until he could apply for admission. After being admitted to the bar in Iowa, Elliott moved to South Dakota where he spent a short amount of time in Aberdeen working as legal counsel for a land company. In 1884, he married Edith Winslow in Muscatine and relocated to Minneapolis.
In 1887, Charles returned to the study of law, earning the first degree of Doctor of Philosophy ever granted by the University of Minnesota. His dissertation – “The United States and the Northeastern Fisheries A History of the Fishery Question” – brought attention to him as a legal scholar, both in the United States and abroad. In 1890, at age 29, he began teaching Corporations and International Law at the University of Minnesota, which he continued until 1899. That same year, Elliott was appointed to the municipal bench in Minneapolis and four years later, was appointed to the district bench.
On October 1, 1905, Governor Johnson appointed Elliott as Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. On September 1, 1909. Justice Elliott resigned from the Court to accept a presidential appointment from President Taft as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands. He held that position for two years and then was appointed Secretary of Commerce and Police in the Philippine Commission, which he held until 1912 when he returned to Minnesota to practice law. Elliott was also an active representative of his profession, serving as president of the American Branch of the International Law Association and speaking on their behalf at such notable venues as The Hague.
Oscar L. Watkins was born on September 27, 1861 in Fultonham, Muskingum County, Ohio, and followed several occupations including teaching in Chillicothe, Ohio, school principal, and a textbook sales representative for Ginn & Co. beginning in 1892. On April 29, 1896, in Chillicothe Ohio, Oscar married Rosa Mills (see below). Rosa’s mother, Kate Morris, was a descendant of Robert Morris, financier of the Revolutionary War.
In 1892, Oscar left his teaching position in the public schools to become a textbook salesman – Midwest & Mideast representative – for Ginn & Company. Ginn and Company, founded by Edwin Ginn (1838-1914), was one of the world’s largest textbook publishers from 1837 to 1937. Today, the company has evolved into Pearson Education. Thanks to that same Ebay vendor who had the Charles B. Elliott letters, we’ve also recovered five letters from Oscar to Rosa. Allow me to share them here…
Charles died in Minneapolis on September 18, 1935 and is buried alongside his wife, Edith (1934) in Lakewood Cemetery in Hennepin County, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Oscar L. Watkins and Rosa Mills had three children: Osric Mills Watkins (1897), Maida Watkins (1900), and Dorothy Wordsworth Watkins (1904). Oscar died February 25, 1945 and is buried alongside his wife Rosa (1960) in Crown Hill Cemetery in Marion County, Indianapolis, Indiana.Oscar L. Watkins’ papers/writings are available here.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.