Rollin PersonIn 1915 Justice Aaron McAlvay died suddenly, leaving a vacancy on the Michigan Supreme Court. Governor Woodbridge Ferris (the only Democratic governor between 1893 and 1933) appointed Rollin Person to the spot a week later on July 16, 1915. Person, an attorney and former judge, was defeated in the 1916 general election; his term ended on December 31, 1916, and he was replaced by Justice Grant Fellows.

While Justice Person’s time on the Court was brief, he has endured because of his daily habit of writing a diary. Entries include information about his family and friends, his work on the Court, the weather, and even the score of the UM vs. MAC (now MSU) football game. May history prevail again this Fall!

The diary entries are part of the Society’s High School Lesson Plans  and were studied by students in the Exploring Careers in the Law summer program this week. To learn more about Exploring Careers in the Law, including what they have planned for tomorrow, read the article in the Legal News.

Had Person lived a century later, one can only imagine that he might have been writing a blog instead.

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The Sunday paper has been filled with back-to-school ads for the past two weeks. While it is still a bit early to declare this summer done, it IS a great time for us to remind teachers of the many educational resources available from the Society.

Chief among these is the week-long teaching unit on the Verdict of History, the most significant Michigan Supreme Court opinions from the first two centuries of the Court. The Verdict of History lesson plans profile seven of the 20 top cases, asking students to think about how they would decide if they were the justice. The lesson plans include instruction on legal brief writing and a mini-moot court activity.

All of which have been designed to make the job of educators easier this fall so they can continue to enjoy summer now.


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The current issue of Chronicle, the quarterly magazine of the Historical Society of Michigan, includes a story about Jane Sweetman Bacon, the first wife of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Nathaniel Bacon (MSC 1855-1857). Their pioneer life in Niles, Michigan, in the 1830s was described by their daughter Mary Hannah:

Ah, what a playground was here for the children…all summer here they raced and climbed and swung….the wise young mother turned the grove into an academy, herself a modest and unconscious Plato.

Sadly, Jane died in 1841, more than a decade before her husband was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

For more about Justice Bacon, you can read his biography, the transcript of his portrait dedication, and the reason what we do here at the Society is so important. Yesterday, July 14, was the 211th anniversary of his birth.

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Our executive director Carrie was on vacation last week on the shores of Lake Michigan. She came back with a sunburn … and a little inspiration from an unusual source.

“But isn’t the human factor what connects us so deeply to our past? Will future generations care as much for chronologies and casualty statistics as they would for the personal accounts of individuals not so different from themselves? By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from a history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it?”

This wonderful, fabulous line about preserving history is from World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. The Society maintains its own, zombie-free oral histories here.

WORLD WAR ZPhoto Source

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Artist Gamble

Roy Charles Gamble was born on June 12, 1887, the son of George and Lena Gamble.  His father, an Englishman by birth, had immigrated to the United States in 1876 and made a living as a brick mason.

A Detroit artist, Gamble painted ten portraits of Michigan Supreme Court Justices during his career–more than any other artist in the history of the Court’s portrait collection. To see images of his work, click on the links below.

Gamble recorded an oral history at the Detroit Institute of Arts for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, on August 26, 1968–four years before his death. He talks about going to Europe to study art in 1908-1909 and meeting Gertrude Stein & Henri Matisse, then going back in 1926 and meeting James Joyce & Ezra Pound. Click here to listen.

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Honolulu House


In 1857, Abner Pratt resigned from his position as Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. He had been given the opportunity of a lifetime: a presidential appointment based in Honolulu. Tough gig…

Captain James Cook found the Hawaiian islands in 1778 (a “discovery” that did not end well for him). He named the area the “Sandwich Islands” in honor of his benefactor the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. When President James Buchanan chose Abner Pratt to serve as his consul nearly eighty years later, the islands were still being referred to as the Sandwich Islands.

Pratt’s job as consul was to assist and protect the citizens of the U.S. (remember Hawaii did not become a state until 1959), and to facilitate trade and friendship between the peoples of the two countries. A consul is distinguished from an ambassador, the latter being a representative from one head of state to another.


Pratt held the post until 1862, about ten years before the end of the Kamehameha dynasty. Upon his return to Marshall, Michigan, Pratt built a beautiful home inspired by his time on the islands. A place that came to be known as “Honolulu House.”

Today Honolulu House is the home of the Marshall Historical Society. It is open for tours from May 1st through October 31st. Please visit their website to learn more.

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Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in which he wrote:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Words to ponder and to become better by…

Read the full text here.

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Go Blue

When the Michigan Wolverines take on the Louisville Cardinals tonight the cheering section will include many past and present justices of the Michigan Supreme Court.

First territorial justice Augustus Woodward is well-known for the instrumental role he played in designing the city of Detroit (his name is synonymous with the area’s “Main Street”); however, perhaps less well known was his role in the creation of the University of Michigan. If he had had his way, the school would have been known as Catholepistemiad or “system of universal science”. Read more here.

Alpheus Felch, who served on both the Michigan Supreme Court and as Governor of Michigan, was a Tappan Professor of Law at UM and also served on the Board of Regents toward the end of his life in the late nineteenth century. The Society is currently inquiring into the whereabouts of his portrait, which exists but was never found.

Big Four Justices James V. Campbell and Thomas M. Cooley were the first and second deans of the law department, respectively. Campbell was a Marshall Professor and Cooley was a Jay Professor.

Most recently, Justice Bridget Mary McCormack served as a dean in the University of Michigan Law School before being elected to the Court in 2012.

All of which is to say, Go Blue!

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This year marks the silver anniversary of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. Chief Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley (MSC 1982-83, 1985-1997) incorporated the Society as a nonprofit on April 19, 1988. To commemorate that special day, let’s see if we can get 25 new members by April 19th. We have two weeks… Let’s do this!

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John Voelker was a mid-twentieth century justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. But he had another side. Under the alias Robert Traver he wrote several novels including Danny and the Boys, Trout Madness, Trout Magic, Laughing Whitefish, and Anatomy of a Murder. This last one was turned into an Academy Award-nominated movie that continues to be lauded as one of the finest courtroom dramas in American film.

Visit our Verdict of History section to learn more about the Art of Crafting an Opinion. Then, be sure to read the Majority Opinion which begins “I dissent”.

Justice Voelker’s portrait is hanging out in the Society’s office today, awaiting its new location in the Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center. If only the ghost of John Voelker/Robert Traver could guide these blogging fingers…

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