Tag Archives: Fast Facts

Fast facts on the personal life of William O. Douglas

  • Born October 16, 1898 in Maine Township, Otter Tail County, Minnesota
  • Mother, Julia Bickford, born 1872 in Maine Township, Minnesota, died 1941 in Chicago, Illinois
  • Father, William Douglas, born 1856 in Canada, died 1904 in Portland, Oregon
  • Married Mildred Riddle in 1923, divorced 1953
  • Married Mercedes Hester Davidson in 1954, divorced 1966
  • Married Joan Martin in 1963, divorced 1966
  • Married Cathleen Heffernan in 1966 (married until death of William O. Douglas)
  • Died January 19, 1980 at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland
  • Interred in Section 5 of Arlington National Cemetery


1898 William Orville Douglas is born to the Reverend William and Julia Douglas in Maine, Minnesota.

1901 Three-year-old “Orville” is gravely ill from infantile paralysis, possibly polio. The Douglas family moves to Estrella, California.

1903 Family moves to Cleveland, Washington.

1904 Reverend Douglas, an itinerant minister described as a rigid Presbyterian, dies in a Portland, Oregon hospital. The widow Douglas moves her family to Yakima. William begins hiking to help him recover from a lingering weakness caused by a childhood illness. To compensate for his physical shortcomings, Douglas pushes himself to achieve academic excellence.

1906-1915 The Douglas household is a Spartan one. All three children work year-round to help support the family. Young Orville, as he was known, delivers newspapers, sets pins in a bowling alley, and works in an ice cream plant. None of these jobs has a more profound impact on him than working in the fields and orchards of Eastern Washington. As a result, he grows to know and respect the many different migrant groups and develops a profound compassion for society’s underprivileged.

Young William O. Douglas standing next to a tree in 1914.
Young William O. Douglas in the woods. 1914

1916 Graduates from Yakima High School as class valedictorian and is awarded a tuition scholarship by Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.

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Fast facts on the writing life of William O. Douglas

  • Published over 40 books in his lifetime
  • Wrote hundreds of articles for a wide array of publications
  • Writing has been translated into over 10 languages
  • Prolific writing and publication career also included thousands of letters of correspondence, transcribed speeches, and countless other documents
The translated writing and books of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas


1929 First published article, “A Functional Approach to the Law of Business Associations,” appears in March issue of Illinois Law Review.

1942 Writes article “Press Must be America’s Wartime University” for July issue of Life magazine.

1948 Writes article “Way to Win Without War” for July issue of Reader’s Digest magazine.

1949 Horseback-riding accident results in 23 broken ribs and nearly ends Douglas’ life. Writes first book, the memoir Of Men & Mountains, during his recovery. Published in 1950 by Harper, it remains his most critically acclaimed.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas at a book signing for his book "Of Men and Mountains". Black and white
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Fast facts on the political and professional life of William O. Douglas

  • B.A. in English and Economics from Whitman College, law degree from Columbia
  • Professor at Yale from 1928 to 1934
  • Spent six years at SEC (1934-1939), rising the ranks to Chairman
  • Sworn into office on Supreme Court on April 17, 1939, replacing Justice Louis D. Brandeis
  • Served as Supreme Court Justice for 36 years, 211 days, the longest tenure in American history
  • Wrote over 1,200 opinions while a Supreme Court Justice, a record
  • Also holds SCOTUS record for most dissenting opinions
  • Four impeachment attempts are the most ever for a sitting justice


1916 Graduates from Yakima High School as class valedictorian and is awarded a tuition scholarship by Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.

1920 Graduates Phi Beta Kappa from Whitman. Begins teaching English and Latin at Yakima High School.

1922 Enters Columbia Law School in New York City. After one year, he makes the staff of the prestigious Columbia Law Review. Among his classmates at Columbia are Thomas E. Dewey and Paul Robeson.

1925 Graduates second in his class from Columbia. Begins professional career at Wall Street law firm of Cravath, deGersdorff, Swaine, and Wood. Teaches at Columbia on the side.

1926 Briefly returns to Yakima to practice law, then accepts a position teaching full-time at Columbia Law School.

1928 Accepts a teaching position at Yale University.

1934 Accepts a position with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

1936 Is appointed commissioner of the SEC.

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