CHIEF JUSTICE WHITEHOUSE
Colby graduates who were privileged to attend the last Commencement Dinner
witnessed the writing of a page of most interesting Maine history. There were
present as guests of the occasion the chief executive of the State, Frederick
W. Plaisted, himself not a college graduate, but the son of Harrison W.
Plaisted, Colby, '53, a former governor of Maine; several members of the
official staff of the Governor; Chief Justice Lucilius A. Emery, a Bowdoin
graduate, and recently resigned from the high judicial position which he had
held for many years
Justices William P. Whitehouse, Arno W. King, and Leslie C. Cornish; President Arthur J. Roberts of Colby, and a score of other men connected officially with the college or the State. It was generally understood that the Governor was to speak, but that he was to make any announcements which had aught to do with the official life of the State was farthest from the minds of the several hundred people present.
When the Governor was introduced and had been given a most hearty welcome, he launched at once into a speech of appreciation of the work of the men associated with him in the government of Maine. He paid a glowing tribute to the retiring Chief Justice, and then brought forth a storm of cheers and hand-clapping which completely drowned his words when he said, in substance,--"A Bowdoin graduate, after years of faithful service, is now laying aside the ermine to seek well deserved rest from arduous labors; and what can now be more fitting on an occasion like this than that I should announce to you that the ermine laid aside by this distinguished Bowdoin graduate is now to be placed upon the shoulders of a distinguished son of old Colby." No name had been mentioned; it was not necessary. Everyone who was at all acquainted with events knew that he had named William Penn Whitehouse for the honorable position of Chief Justice. It was a dramatic moment and the scene presented was at the same time affecting. Later both the retiring and the newly named Chief Justice gave brief and telling speeches which seemed to give fitting climax to a day which had been full of interesting events.
William Penn Whitehouse, who will be the tenth chief justice of the State of Maine, is a native of Vassalboro, where he was born April 9, 1842. His parents were John Roberts and Hannah Percival Whitehouse. Besides attending the common school of his own district working on his father's farm, and attending the High School at China he began at the age of sixteen to fit himself for college at Waterville Academy in February, 1858. Here he made such rapid strides that he was able to enter Colby College in the following September without conditions. He was graduated in 1863 with first class honors, delivering the English oration at Commencement.
He began soon after graduation to teach and was for a time the principal of Vassalboro Academy. Having decided upon the profession of law he first entered the office of the late Sewall Lancaster, of Augusta, and afterwards continued his studies with ex-Senator Hale at Ellsworth. He was admitted to the bar in Kennebec County in October, 1865. His first year's practice was in the city of Gardiner with Lorenzo Clay, as a partner. He removed to Augusta in December of 1866, ever since his residence, and here formed a partnership with George Gifford, which lasted only until June, 1867.
He was elected city solicitor in 1868 and during his incumbency in that office he defended the city successfully in several important cases. He was appointed county attorney in 1869 by Governor Chamberlain to fill a vacancy caused by the death of the late Francis E. Webb, of Winthrop, and was twice elected afterwards to the same office, thus serving more than seven years in all.
He was chairman in 1873 of the commission on the new insane hospital and wrote the report which was published by the State. He advocated the adoption of a system after careful investigation that was indorsed by the highest medical authorities. He entered in 1875 into the agitation which secured the abolition of the death penalty. He was in 1879 chairman of the committee of citizens in the city of Augusta that erected the graceful and artistic soldier's monument which adorns the public square in that city.
The superior court of Kennebec County was established by act of the Legislature of 1878 and on February 13 he was appointed to its bench. The twelve years during which Judge Whitehouse presided in the superior court are remembered for the ease and urbanity with which he dispatched business. Industrious and polite, clear and interesting, he soon became popular in the right sense of that word with the bar and retained its respect and esteem.
He was first appointed to the bench of the Supreme Judicial Court as associate Justice April 15, 1890 by Governor Burleigh and was reappointed April 24 1897 by Governor Powers, April 5, 1904 by Governor Hill and April 3, 1911. As the senior associate he was directly in line for appointment as chief justice to which he was appointed officially, July 27, 1911.
He married June 24 1869, Evelyn M., daughter of Col. Robert Treat of Frankfort who was descended in the fifth generation from Col. Robert Treat Colonial Governor of Connecticut. Their only child is Robert Treat Whitehouse, United States district attorney of Maine, since Jan. 11, 1906, and resides in Portland.
Justice Whitehouse was given the degree of LL. D. from his alma mater in 1896.
Colby College now has the honor of claiming three out of the eight members of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine as sons of her own--Chief Justice William Penn Whitehouse, '63, Arno W. King '79-'81, and Leslie C. Cornish, '75.
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