William Orville Douglas

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William Orville Douglas

Maine, Otter Tail County, Minnesota, USA
Death 19 Jan 1980 (aged 81)
Bethesda, Montgomery County, Maryland, USA
Burial Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA
Plot Section 5, Grave 7004-B-1
Memorial ID 296 · View Source
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United States Supreme Court Associate Justice. An outspoken judicial activist for liberal causes and underdog individuals, he maintained a much higher public profile than most members of the Court. He did not hesitate to publicly debate his critics on and off the Court, including some highly unconventional forums such as “Playboy” magazine. Born in Maine, Minnesota, he grew up in Estrella, California and Cleveland, Washington. His mother moved the family to Yakima, Washington. He was stricken with polio as a child, and took up hiking in the mountains to strengthen his weak legs. This activity gave rise to his love of the natural environment. Douglas graduated from Yakima High School as the Valedictorian of the Class of 1916. He won a partial scholarship to attend Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington where he graduated (1920) Phi Beta Kappa. He returned to Yakima where he taught Latin and English at the local high school for two years. He attended Columbia University (1923-1925) where he received his law degree (1925). After graduation he joined the Wall Street law firm known today as Cravath, Swaine & Moore where he practiced corporate law (1925-1926) and taught part time at Columbia Law School. He returned to Yakima, Washington (1926) where he practiced law on his own before returning to New York City (1927) where he taught full time at Columbia Law School. He joined the faculty at Yale Law School where he taught from 1928-1934. While at Yale he became known for his work in bankruptcy law. He accepted a position with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)(1934) and was appointed SEC Commissioner (1936). He became Chairman of the SEC (1937-1939), replacing Joseph P. Kennedy after he became Ambassador to Great Britain. President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Douglas to the Supreme Court (1939) to replace Justice Louis D. Brandeis. Many thought that Douglas would be pro-business but, instead, he became a strong individualist and an activist interpreter of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights. He opposed censorship in any form and maintained a powerful distrust of government power. Douglas supported unpopular political causes and maintained an unconventional lifestyle, including four marriages and three divorces: to Mildred Riddle from 1923 to 1953, Mercedes Hester Davidson from 1954 to 1963, Joan Martin from 1963 to 1965, and Cathleen Hefferman from 1965 until his death. Roosevelt came close to picking Douglas as his running mate in the 1944 election, which would have made Douglas president upon Roosevelt's death in 1945. In 1952 he refused to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. As Supreme Court Justice, Douglas wrote many dissenting opinions. During his stay on the bench he often faced critics who demanded his impeachment. The first came in 1952 when he granted a stay of execution to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who had been found guilty of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. In 1954, Douglas organized a 189 mile hike along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath to protest a proposed highway into the area. Thanks to his efforts the highway plans were abandoned. Four years later, Douglas organized a hike along a secluded section of beach in Olympic National Park to protest a roadway planned for the area. The roadway plans were later abandoned. There were more calls for his impeachment in the late 1960s because of his criticism of the Vietnam War and his marriage to a woman 40 years his junior. In 1970, Congressman (later President) Gerald R. Ford organized yet another attempt to impeach Douglas, which also failed. On December 31, 1974 Douglas suffered a stroke at his home and was rushed to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. After months of convalescing he returned to the Supreme Court but his health was fragile at best. Recognizing that he was no longer up to doing his job, Douglas retired on November 12, 1975, after 36 years, 6 months and 25 days of service on the Supreme Court, a record not likely soon, if ever, to be broken. William O. Douglas died on January 19, 1980 at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, at age 81. The William O. Douglas Wilderness in Washington State was named for him and honors him for his role in Federal Wilderness legislation and environmental issues, as well as his dedication and love for the Cougar Lakes region (now part of the Wilderness).

Bio by: Edward Parsons

Family Members



William O
United States Army
October 16 1898
January 12 1980


ASsociate Justice
United States Supreme Court
April 17 1939 - November 12 1975



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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 296
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for William Orville Douglas (16 Oct 1898–19 Jan 1980), Find a Grave Memorial no. 296, citing Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .