Biography of Robert Ward Olmsted

A good mental and physical equipment, unflagging energy, and temperate habits have been leading factors in the elevation of Robert Ward Olmsted, from a poor boy, dependent upon his own resources, to the honored position of judge of Rock Island County. Born on a farm in Edgington Township, Rock Island County, Illinois, May 6, 1868, he became almost, if not quite, self-supporting at the tender age of thirteen, and though employed early and late for the greater part of each succeeding year of his youth, he cultivated studious habits, and by close application to his books, both in and out of school, and by strict economy, he secured an education. Having done this, his advancement was rapid.

Our subject is the son of Robert B. and Mary M. (Linn) Olmsted: The father was born April 13, 1832, at Havensport, Fairfield County, Ohio. He was left an orphan at an early age and grew to manhood in Defiance County, Ohio. He came to Knox County, Illinois, in 1856, and to Rock Island County in 1860. He was successively school teacher, farmer, merchant, postmaster of Milan, Illinois, insurance agent and for the last twelve years has been deputy sheriff and bailiff of the circuit and county courts.

The foundation of the Olmsted family in America was laid by three brothers of English Puritan stock, who removed to this continent in the seventeenth century, one of the brothers being a pioneer settler of Hartford, Connecticut. The mother of our subject was born March 22, 1844, near Viola, Mercer County, Illinois, her parents, who were of Scotch-Irish descent, coming to Illinois from Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

The son at the age of thirteen began work as cutter boy in a paper mill at Milan, being employed twelve hours a day and earning at first but $4.50 per week. During the next three succeeding summers he was employed in another paper mill, on a farm and in a drug store. Then he was assistant postmaster at Milan and at Reynolds, Illinois, for two years; at the age of eighteen, taking up school teaching near Milan. In February, 1887, he entered the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanics Arts at Ames, and after four years graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Science. While in college he earned practically all the money required to carry him through. In 1890-91 he was teacher in the Northern Iowa Normal School at Algona, and the following year he was principal of the public schools in Milan. Then for three years he was superintendent of schools of Orange City, county seat of Sioux County, Iowa. Prior to this, in 1891-92, he studied law with Jackson & Hurst in Rock Island, and while at Orange City he completed his course under L. D. Hobson, an attorney of that place. In 1895 he passed the examination and January 16 was admitted to the bar of Iowa. After practicing four years at Orange City he was elected county attorney, and served till shortly before his removal to Rock Island in May, 1899. From 1900 to 1904 he was assistant state’s attorney of Rock Island County. In the Spring of 1907 he received the nomination for County Judge at the hands of the Republican party, to fill the unexpired term of Judge E. E. Parmenter, deceased. His election by a handsome majority followed.

While attending Iowa Agricultural College Mr. Olmsted was a cadet, obtaining some military experience. He at one time took first prize in a competitive drill in which his Company participated. During his term of service he rose to the rank of Captain, being by virtue of his commission, a member of the Iowa National Guard. Mr. Olmsted is a Presbyterian, a member of the Broadway Church of Rock Island. In politics he has always allied himself with the Republican party. Fraternally he is a member of the Masons and the Modern Woodmen of America.

Mr. Olmsted married August 25, 1892, Jennie E. Fahnestock, of Lewiston, Illinois. To them four children have been born: Margaret, February 7, 1894; Elizabeth, June 11, 1898; Robert Ernst, December 2, 1899, and Jeanette, October 20, 1903.



Biographical Publishing Company. Portrait and Biographical Album of Rock Island County. Illinois; Chicago: Biographical Pub. Co.

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