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Townes, John Charles (1852–1923)

Seymour V. Connor Biography Entry

John Charles Townes, judge and law professor, was born on January 30, 1852, in Tuscumbia, Alabama, the son of Eggleston Dick and Martha Cousins (Betts) Townes. In 1856 the family moved to Texas and settled in Travis County. Townes attended Baylor University from 1867 to 1869 and in 1898 received an honorary LL.D. degree from that institution. He married Kate Rector Wildbahn on December 28, 1871, and they had four children, including Edgar and John Charles, Jr. Townes studied law from 1869 to 1873, was admitted to the bar in the latter year, and practiced in Austin until 1877, when he moved to San Saba County. There he practiced until 1882, when he was elected judge of the Thirty-third Judicial District. He resigned in 1885 to resume private practice in Georgetown. He was appointed judge of the Twenty-sixth Judicial District in 1888 but resigned after a few months and moved to Austin to form a partnership with Samuel R. Fisher. In 1896, when Townes was appointed professor of law at the University of Texas, the partnership was dissolved. Townes was made first dean of the university school of law in 1902 but resigned after a year in order to devote his attention to teaching. In 1907 he was reappointed dean and held the position until August 1923, when he again resigned. Townes was a Democrat and a Baptist. He was president of the American Association of Law Schools in 1909 and 1910. His publications included Texas Pleadings (1901, 1913), Studies of American Elementary Law (1903, 1911), General Principles of the Law of Torts (1907), Civil Government in the United States and in Texas (1908), and Law Books and How to Use Them (1909). Townes died in Austin of appendicitis on December, 18, 1923. After his death former students donated to the University of Texas law school a portrait and bust of Townes and established the John Charles Townes Foundation Fund, and the University Baptist Church named its Bible chair the John C. Townes Bible Chair.

Carl John Eckhardt, One Hundred Faithful to the University of Texas at Austin (197-?). Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (5 vols., ed. E. C. Barker and E. W. Winkler [Chicago and New York: American Historical Society, 1914; rpt. 1916]). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Who Was Who in America, Vol.3.


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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Seymour V. Connor, “Townes, John Charles,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 20, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.