John McGrath

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John McGrathServed from 1891 through 1895
Chief Justice: 1892, 1894, 1895


John W. McGrath was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on January 12, 1842. In his youth, he spent most of his time engaged in three activities: attending school, working in the fields, and teaching school. Teaching school was an interesting experience for McGrath since he taught many of his peers. (Reed, George I. The Bench and Bar of Michigan: A History and Biography. Chicago: The Century Publishing and Engraving Co., 1897.)

In 1864, he began his law studies at the University of Michigan. However, in 1865 he was employed in the provost marshal’s office while taking night law courses. This job did not satisfy him, and he returned to Pennsylvania in 1867 to pursue the commercial oil field business. His career path changed again, and he returned and completed his law courses in 1868 in Ann Arbor and immediately began practicing law.

For the first part of his career he was associated with the Republican Party. McGrath served on the school board for a number of years. He was appointed labor commissioner for the newly organized Labor Bureau by Governor Josiah Begole. McGrath also served as the City Counselor for Detroit from 1887 until 1890.

In 1890, McGrath was nominated to fill the vacancy on the Michigan Supreme Court Bench caused by the death of James V. Campbell and continued his service until 1895.

Following his service on the Bench, he resumed his private law practice. George Reed, author of The Bench and Bar of Michigan, stated that McGrath, “was a man of invincible determination and unflagging perseverance . . . and the buoyancy of spirits transmitted through his Irish lineage, enabled him to surmount difficulties which would block the progress of a weaker man.”

John W. McGrath died on December 9, 1905, after a distinguished career of public service. (Michigan Supreme Court. Michigan Reports: Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of Michigan. Chicago: Callaghan and Co., 1879 – 1948, Vol. 113.)

Portrait presented on: (Click link to read transcript)
April 5, 1898

Oil on canvas

Owned by:
State of Michigan

Current location:
State Capitol