It does not come into the experience of every man, worthy though he may be, to serve his fellowmen long and adequately in high office and, in passing off the scene of life, leave behind him a record of noble and far-reaching achievements. Such was the imperishable fabric of the life story of one of Californiaís most distinguished jurists, the late Hon. William H. Beatty, chief justice of the Supreme Court of California. For a quarter of a century he filled this exalted position, one that placed him ever in the public eye, and he bore its closest scrutiny with unruffled calm, amazing efficiency and incorruptible integrity. 

Judge Beatty was born in the Village of Monclova, Lucas County, Ohio, February 18, 1838. His parents, Henry Oscar and Margaret (Boone) Beatty, were natives of Kentucky, and while he was yet an infant they returned to that state and his early boyhood was spent there. In 1853 he accompanied his parents to California, the long journey being made by way of the Isthmus of Panama. Subsequently his father became a lawyer of much prominence in California, and as the son gave early indication of mental ability and preference for the law, his father provided him with educational advantages. In 1856, although but eighteen years of age, he was deemed ready for college, went back East to his fatherís alma mater, and spent the next two years in the study of law in the University of Virginia. 

In September, 1858, Mr. Beatty returned to California and became his fatherís law partner at Sacramento, where he continued until 1863, when he went to Nevada. In those days the legal profession had fewer representative practitioners in that state than at present, and the people were not slow to recognize the caliber of the young lawyer in their midst, and in 1864 he was elected judge of the Seventh Judicial District and continued in that office until 1874, when he was elected associate justice of the Supreme Court of Nevada, taking his seat in January, 1875. Judge Beatty continued on the Supreme bench in Nevada until 1880, during the last two years of his term being chief justice. 

Shortly after retiring from the Nevada high court Judge Beatty returned to California and resumed the practice of law in a private capacity, but not for long, for his talents were too great to be obscured and in 1888 he was elected chief justice of the Supreme Court of California, which office he filled continuously until the time of his death, which occurred at his home in San Francisco on August 4, 1914. Judge Beatty had the unique distinction of having served two great commonwealths of the Union in their highest judicial office and with such efficiency that honor and renown will always crown his name. His opinions as chief justice in California are to be found in ninety volumes, Volumes 77 to 166, inclusive, covering a period of distinguished service unequaled in judicial history. His long term of faithful public service, together with qualities that characterized him, sturdy integrity, a natural conception of right and justice, unflagging industry and personal honor, made him one of the great men of his time and his death an irreparable loss to California. 

Judge Beatty married in 1874 Miss Elizabeth M. Love, of Salisbury, North Carolina, who survives, together with one son, Henry Oscar Beatty. Two grandsons also survive, they being children of a beloved daughter, now deceased. 

Judge Beatty was a member of the Bar Association of San Francisco. The degree of Doctor of Laws was conferred upon him by the University of California, and he belonged to the Phi Kappa Sigma Greek letter fraternity. He was a member of the noted Sutter Club of Sacramento, and of the University, Pacific Union and Southern clubs of San Francisco. Dignified, but never unapproachable in his judicial capacity, those who were permitted his confidence and friendship in social circles found him rarely companionable, kindly without condescension, and generous, tender and considerate in times of trouble or distress. 

Transcribed by Donna L. Becker 

Source: "The San Francisco Bay Region," Vol. 3, page 373-375, by Bailey Millard. Published by The American Historical Society, Inc. 1924.


© 2004 Donna L. Becker.


California Biography Project


San Francisco County


California Statewide


Golden Nugget Library