Justice Edward T. Fairchild (1872–1965)

Justice Edward T. Fairchild

Justice Edward T. Fairchild

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice: 1930–1957
Chief Justice: 1954–1957
Life: 1872–1965

"All you have to do is to use common sense, the trouble starts when you have to decide whose common sense is to prevail." – Chief Justice Edward T. Fairchild, oral history (1957)

Edward Thomas Fairchild was born on June 17, 1872, in Towanda, Pennsylvania. He was raised and educated in Dansville, New York. He was admitted to the New York Bar in 1894 and was the last Wisconsin Supreme Court justice not to earn a law degree from an institution of higher learning. Although he spent the majority of his life in Wisconsin, he never lost the connection with his hometown. He bought a farm in Dansville in the 1920s and returned to vacation there throughout his life.

In 1897, Fairchild moved to Milwaukee and practiced law for 19 years. From 1903 to 1906, he was an assistant district attorney for Milwaukee County. He was elected to the Wisconsin Senate in 1906 and served for two sessions. In 1910, he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Wisconsin, but was re-elected to the Senate in 1914.

Fairchild was appointed a circuit judge for Milwaukee County in 1916, where he served until his appointment to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1930. Fairchild's chambers served as the "social center of the court." Fellow justices gathered there to have tea and tell stories. A skillful storyteller, Fairchild often entertained his company with amusing accounts of political and legal battles from the turn of the century.

After 40 years of service in the state judiciary, Fairchild, 84, retired from the Supreme Court in 1957. Before retiring, Fairchild swore in his son, Thomas E. Fairchild, as a member of the state Supreme Court.

Throughout his life, Fairchild helped people. He was active in organizing Milwaukee's Community Welfare Council and the Urban League of Milwaukee. While in the Senate, he introduced legislation supporting vocational training and later became known as the "father of the Vocational School System in Wisconsin." He also served on a committee that wrote the Workmen's Compensation Act.

Fairchild died October 29, 1965, at the age of 93. He was married to Helen McCurdy Edwards. Two of their five children survived him, Anne and Thomas.

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