Denman, William, 1872-1959

Alternative names
Birth 1872-11-07
Death 1959-03-09

Biographical notes:

After his resignation from the Shipping Board, Denman returned to his law practice in San Francisco. He was later appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and was named Chief Judge in 1948.

From the description of William Denman miscellany, 1917-1959. (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 48781370


William Denman was born in San Francisco on November 7, 1872, the son of James and Helen Virginia (Jordan) Denmen. He attended the public schools in the city, the University of California, from which he was graduated in 1894, and then the Harvard Law School, receiving his Bachelor of Laws degree there in 1897. In 1898 he was admitted to the California state bar and shortly after to the Supreme Court of the United States and the federal courts in California. From 1902 to 1903 he was assistant professor of law and lecturer at the Hastings College of Law and the University of California.

Denman always had a strong interest in public affairs in California. In 1908 the mayor of San Francisco appointed him chairman of the committee to report on the causes of municipal corruption in the city and he drafted a report on the subject. In 1908, also, he organized a state wide movement for the non-partisan election of Judges, which was enacted into law in 1911. He drafted the non-partisan majority election law as a part of the city charter of San Francisco and actively participated in the campaign for its passage. He also advocated and participated in legislation for workmen's compensation and limitation of women's hours of work. At the request of Governor Hiram Johnson, he successfully defended, in the state courts and the U. S. Supreme Court, the state's eight hour law for women.

A considerable part of Denmen's practice was in maritime law. In 1915 and 1916, he conducted, in Washington, D.C., various cases involving the question of freedom of the seas, during which time he contributed to the legislation for the creation of the United States Shipping Board. He was appointed chairman of the Board by President Woodrow Wilson in December 1916, but resigned in July 1917 after a dispute with General George W. Goethals over the construction of wooden ships for the war emergency.

Denman then returned to his law practice in San Francisco. In 1919 he was appointed federal receiver for the Coos Bay Lumber Company. Successful in securing the refinancing of the company he served as chairman of its board of directors from 1922 to 1925.

On February 1, 1935 he was appointed U. S. circuit judge, 9th circuit, and on August 12, 1948 become chief Judge. He retired from the bench in 1957 and died March 9, 1959.

Judge Denman's wife, Leslie Van Ness Denman, member of a pioneer San Francisco family, whom he married in April 1905, preceded him in death by one month.

From the guide to the William Denman Papers, [ca. 1900-1959], (The Bancroft Library)


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Ark ID:


  • World War, 1914-1918
  • Judges
  • Shipping
  • Shipbuilding
  • Lawyers
  • Lumber trade


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  • California--San Francisco (as recorded)
  • Pacific Coast (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • California (as recorded)