Biography of Judge Elbert Osborne Hand

Judge Elbert Osborne Hand, long a distinguished member of the Racine bar and for thirteen years occupying the bench of the County court, passed away June 19, 1915, an occasion which carried with it a sense of deep regret and sorrow to many who have been his associates and contemporaries. He was then nearing the eighty-fifth milestone on life’s journey and there came to him “the blessed accompaniments of age-honor, riches, and troops of friends.” Judge Hand was a native of New Lebanon, Columbia County, New York, born November 29, 1830, and came of English ancestry in both the maternal and paternal lines. His grandfathers were natives of New York, and John S. Hand, father of the judge, was born in New Lebanon, in 1804. He became a mechanic and was employed along that line until after his removal to the west, when he became connected with agricultural pursuits. Before leaving New Lebanon, however, he married Miss Emma J. Cowells, who was there born in 1810. She too was of English descent and her grandfather served in the War of 1812. It was in 1841 that John S. and Emma Hand arrived in Wisconsin, settling in Walworth County, where the father entered land and with ‘characteristic energy began the development of a farm. He lived a quiet and unassuming but useful life, never seeking to figure prominently in public connections. He gave his political allegiance to the Whig party until the question of slavery became a foremost one in the minds of the public, when he supported the abolition party. When the Republican Party was formed to prevent the further extension of slavery into the north he joined its ranks and continued to follow its banner until his death, which occurred in 1875. He had long survived his wife, who died at, the age of fifty-three years. They were both devout members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Judge Hand was the eldest of their nine children. He was reared on the old homestead with the usual experiences that fall to the lot of the farm bred boy, dividing his time between the acquirement of an education in pioneer schools, and the work of developing a fertile farm. He displayed aptitude in his studies and at the age of eighteen became a teacher, but with the discovery of gold in California he joined the Argonauts who went to the Pacific coast in search of the Golden Fleece, arriving at Hangtown, now Placerville, in 1849. He engaged in mining in that locality and also on the north fork of the American river until 1853, when he returned home by way of the Panama route. His ambition prompted his preparation for a professional career and after mastering the preparatory studies, he entered the sophomore class of the State University at Madison and won the Bachelor of Arts degree upon graduation in 1859. The following year was devoted to the study of law in Albany, New York, and he was there graduated in 1860.

Before leaving his native state, Judge Hand, in September, 1861, wedded Miss Margaret S. Budd of Chatham, New York, who was born in Rensselaer County. In time the young couple established their home in Racine and as the years passed five children were added to the household: Mary E., who became the wife of John D. Rowland, of Phillips, Wisconsin; Imogene F., the wife of Charles R. Carpenter, of Racine; Elbert B.; Mrs. Jessie L. MacGregor, of Racine, who married Wallace F. MacGregor, formerly of Janesville, Wisconsin, and Mrs. Edith M. Simmons of Chicago, Illinois, who married John Edward Simmons, formerly of Racine.

Upon his return to Racine Judge Hand entered at once upon the practice of his profession and soon gained a distinctively representative clientage. In 1868 Governor Fairchild appointed him County judge and to that office he was three times elected, so that he served upon the bench for thirteen years, a period longer than that of any other incumbent in the position. His rulings were strictly fair and impartial and his ability was recognized by colleagues and contemporaries. In 1890 he was elected district attorney, receiving loyal support from all parties, and he occupied that position for two years. Judge Hand always voted with the Democratic Party although he was not bitterly partisan. He held membership in the Presbyterian Church and guided his life according to the teachings. In matters of public concern he was deeply interested and gave his aid and co-operation to many plans and projects for the general good. He was a member of the board of visitors of the University of Wisconsin, of the school board of Racine, and for many years was a trustee of Carroll College, at Waukesha, Wisconsin. He ranked high in professional circles, for he possessed marked ability and moreover prepared his cases with great thoroughness, so that his position was seldom seriously questioned, his natural and acquired talents winning him high rank at a bar which has numbered many distinguished members. Farming was always his hobby and from the time of his marriage he always owned a farm.

In 1911 Judge Hand was called upon to mourn the loss of his wife, who died on the 29th of November of that year. She was a member of the Woman’s Club, was for over fifty years a devoted member of the Presbyterian church and was much interested in charitable work, her many good deeds causing her death to be deeply regretted by her friends.

Judge Hand had been a resident of this state for seventy-four years at the time of his demise, a period exceeding the life span of the great majority, and had not only witnessed the wonderful transformation of this section of the country, but had been a most potent element in that transformation, leaving the impress of his individuality for good upon many lines of public progress.


Racine County Wisconsin History: Racine Belle City of the lakes and Racine County Wisconsin a record of settlement organization progress and achievement. SJ Clarke Pub Co. Chicago. 1916. 1216 pgs.

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