Biography of Judge John W. McElhinney

For the fourth term Judge John W. McElhinney has been called to the bench of the thirteenth circuit court of Missouri having entered upon the duties of this position in 1901. His course has at all times reflected credit and honor upon tile state that has honored him and he is today numbered among the ablest of Missouri’s jurists, for film decisions have at all times been strictly fair and impartial, and moreover have been the expression of a comprehensive knowledge of tile principles of jurisprudence, combined with ability to apply accurately his principles to tile points in litigation.

Judge McElhinney was born February 4, 1851, on the Mason road in Bonhomme township, between Manchester and Creve Coeur, his parents being Alexander and Martha J. (Hibler) McElhinney. It was about the year 1845 that his father removed to St. Louis county, Missouri, from Butler county, Pennsylvania, and here took up the profession of school teaching and also followed carpentering at an early day. Later, however, he turned his attention to agricultural pursuits and subsequently prepared for the bar, devoting his time and attention to law practice in St. Louis and adjoining counties from 1860 until his demise, which occurred July 3. 1985. For almost two years he had survived his wife, who spent leer entire life in St. Louis county and who passed away in December, 1893.

The youthful experiences of Judge McElhinney were those of the farm bred boy. It was four miles from the old homestead to the nearest town and his youthful days were largely passed in attendance at the district school and in tile work of tile fields. He found great enjoyment in reading and when leisure permitted spent his time in reading, thus constantly broadening his knowledge and laying the foundation for success in later life. Moreover, he was ambitious to acquire knowledge and when about fourteen years of age began preparing for a classical college education by studying under the direction of his father. For a time he was a pupil in the public schools of the county and city of St. Louis and then entered Wyman’s City University an academy for boys in St. Louis, remaining fn attendance there fn 1866-7. He was afterward tinder the instruction of a private tutor at Amherst, Massachusetts, and then spent four years as a student in Amherst College, completing the classical course by graduation in 1871. For two years thereafter he followed the profession of teaching, spending the second year as a teacher in a private academy at Washington, Missouri. He then entered upon preparation for the bar and for two years attended the St. Louis Law School and the law department of Washington University, from which he was graduated fn 1876. It was his purpose to make the profession of teaching his life work, but dissatisfied with tile methods of school management he studied law and since 1874 the legal profession has claimed his time and energy. He took high rank in both college and law school and following his graduation entered at once upon active practice and from the beginning of his professional career has made sturdy progress. In this connection a contemporary biographer has said: “lie took high rank in both college and law school and following his graduation entered at once upon active practice, in which no dreary novitiate awaited him, for his preparation was thorough and his native talents seemed to qualify him for the work. He possesses an analytical mind and has looked with unbiased judgment upon not only tile questions that have come before him fn his judicial opacity but also upon the carves with which he has been connected as a trial lawyer. He continued in the active work of the courts as advocate and counselor until January, 1901, when he went upon tile circuit bench, whereon he is now serving for the fourth term. He was first a candidate for public office when nominated for the position of prosecuting attorney of St. Louis county in 1878, when he was defeated by thirty votes. He remained a worker in the party but sought no office for many years and was legal adviser to five successive sheriffs of the county, covering a period of twenty years in 1900 his name was placed on the ticket as a candidate for judge of the circuit court of the thirteenth district, then including St. Louis, Franklin, Gasconade and Osage counties. He was again elected in 1904 and 1910, when the circuit included only St. Louis county.” Further judicial service came to Judge McElhinney in 1916, when he was elected for a fourth term as judge of the circuit court. Again we quote from a former biographer, who has said: “He has always been a republican in principle and in party association but not inclined to merely partisan controversy or to any factionalism. He has ever lifted the judicial ermine above the mire of party politics and in his record on the bench has shown that there is little or none of that variable and disturbing element which oftentimes in a measure thwarts justice. He is exceptionally free from personal prejudice or bias. His is, in a marked degree, a judicial mind, capable of an impartial view of both sides of a question and of arriving at a just conclusion.”

The name of Judge McElhinney has also figured prominently In connection with financial interests. He became a director of the St. Louis County Bank in 1892, and three years later was elected to the presidency, in which position he served for a number of years and is still a member of the board of directors, although not an officer.

At Palmyra, Missouri, in 1887, Judge McElhinney was united in marriage to Miss Mary E. Suter, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John J. Suter, of an old and highly respected family of that community. They have reared a family who are indeed a credit to their name, their daughter, Lucy May, having graduated from Mary Institute of St. Louis and pursued a special college course at Washington University; Rovert W., a graduate of Smith Academy, became a student in Washington University, from which he was graduated on the completior. of a classical course in 1913. He remained as a law student and won his LL. B. degree in 1916. He then located for practice in Clayton and at the present time is assistant to the prosecuting attorney of the county. Herbert. W., who was graduated from Westminster College at Fulton, Missouri, in 1912, later became a student in the engineering department of Washington University, from which he was graduated with the Al. E. degree in 1915. At present he is superintendent of a manufacturing plant in Madison City, Illinois.

Judge McElhinney belongs to the Amherst Alumni Association of St. Louis and the Washington University Association and has membership with the Missouri State Bar Association. It would be almost tautological in this connection to enter into any series of statements showing Judge McElhinney to be a man of marked capability in his profession, for this has been scattered forth between the lines of this review. Elected for the fourth term to the circuit court bench no higher testimonial of his capability and fidelity could be given. The soundness of his decisions and the clearness of his opinions, rank hire with the leading representatives of the bench and bar of Missouri and so honored is his name in professional connections that no history of the state would be complete without reference to hire.



Stevens, Walter B. Centennial History of Missouri (The Center State) One Hundred Years In The Union 1820-1921 Vol 6. St. Louis-Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company. 1921.

Search Military Records - Fold3

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top