Walter C. Owen (1868-1934)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice (1918-1934)
"He was always kind, considerate, open-minded, tolerant. The attachments which he formed were lasting and deep. While upon every occasion he supported his views firmly and skillfully, he was always willing to reconsider his opinion and to give respectful and sympathetic hearing to those who opposed him." - Chief Justice Marvin B. Rosenberry, Owen's memorial service (1934)
Walter Cecil Owen was born September 26, 1868, near Trenton Prairie, Wisconsin. He attended high school and common school before earning a teaching certificate. He taught in a rural school for a few years and later served as principal of Maiden Rock Village School. In addition to teaching, Owen studied law to prepare for the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he received his degree in 1891.
After graduating, Owen moved to Superior where he and childhood friends William R. Foley and Charles H. Crownhart (later a state Supreme Court justice) started a law firm. When the economy in Superior suffered from the depression of the 1890s, Owen returned to Maiden Rock to practice law.
Owen's career in public service began in 1906, when he was first elected to the state Senate, and continued until his death. During his two terms as senator, major legislation was enacted, including the Workmen's Compensations Act (written in part by Crownhart), the Income Tax Act and the State Highway Act.
In 1912, Owen won his first of three elections as attorney general of Wisconsin. He was known as an excellent administrator. His office released more than 2,000 official opinions over a five-year period. The "clear, concise, direct, and simple elegant language" which characterized his legal writing as attorney general made him a fine choice for the vacant seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He was elected in 1917. He resigned as attorney general in 1918 and began serving on the Supreme Court. He was re-elected to the Supreme Court for a second term without opposition.
Attorney Ferris M. White said of Owen: "He was at once attentive and impartial, considerate of the young lawyers and patient with the old. He was never swayed from the true judicial attitude."
In 1933, Owen became ill. At the urging of his friends and colleagues on the bench, he retreated to Florida to recover. When his health improved, he made plans to return to Wisconsin to resume his duties on the bench. On the eve of his departure, he suffered a relapse and died April 15, 1934.
He was married to Alta Otis and had one daughter, Laures Margaret.