Washington State Bar Association unveils portraits by Ella Shepard Bush honoring pioneering state supreme court justices on February 26, 1915.

  • By Sheila Farr
  • Posted 8/25/2022
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22541
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On February 26, 1915, at a signal before a joint session of the legislature, flags drop to reveal portraits of three pioneering supreme court justices, which are formally presented to the state. Commissioned by the Washington State Bar Association, the paintings honor former Chief Justices Thomas J. Anders (1838-1909), James B. Reavis (1848-1912), and Ralph O. Dunbar (1845-1912). Painted by Seattle artist Ella Shepard Bush (1863-1948), the pictures create "a most favorable impression" (Town Crier) on all who see them, and much praise is given the artist. Chief Justice George E. Morris accepts the paintings, which will be displayed at the new Temple of Justice in Olympia. Another portrait, of former territorial chief justice and U.S. Congressman Obadiah McFadden (1815-1875), is gifted by McFadden’s daughter, Mrs. Mary M. Miller of Olympia. All the portraits commemorate men who helped establish the state’s judicial system.

Captured on Canvas

Ralph Oregon Dunbar was considered "the grand old man" of the court, where he served for more than 20 years ("Chief Justice"). Born April 26, 1845, in Schuyler County, Illinois, he was just a year old when his family moved to Willamette Valley, Oregon, by ox-drawn wagon. Educated at Willamette University, he studied law in Olympia and was admitted to the state bar in 1869. Dunbar served as clerk of the territorial supreme court until 1871 and was elected to the supreme court in 1889. In 1909 he became chief justice and remained on the court until his death in 1912. According to one of his contemporaries, Dunbar was not considered "a great or profound" legal scholar, but was a good man who made commonsense decisions ("Chief Justice").

His colleague Thomas B. Anders served with him on the court from 1889-1905 and was its first chief justice. Born in Bloomfield, Ohio, on April 4, 1938, Anders practiced law in Montana before moving to Walla Walla to establish an office. Elected to the supreme court when Washington became a state, he retired after 15 years and remained in Olympia until his death in 1909.

James Bradley Reavis served on the court from 1897-1903. Born May 27, 1848, in Boone County, Missouri, he was educated at the University of Kentucky and came to Washington Territory in 1880, where he became a law partner of Dunbar in Goldendale. He was a member of the Territorial Council and a University of Washington regent. During his last two years at the supreme court, he served as chief justice. After Reavis lost his bid for re-election in 1902, his mental health began to decline. In 1909, not long after moving to Seattle with his wife and children, he was found wandering the streets of Capitol Hill in the middle of the night, talking incoherently. Police took him to the hospital, where a doctor declared him insane. He was later moved to the Western Washington Hospital for the Insane (now Western State Hospital) at Steilacoom, where he died in 1912.

For the three justices’ portraits, the Bar Association paid Bush $1,400, with money contributed from attorneys and judges around the state. Bush — trained at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., and at the Art Students League in New York — was considered Seattle’s preeminent portrait artist. Her paintings of the justices were said to be "representative of her most splendid work" and "to exceed the optimistic expectations of her many friends and admirers" ("Fine Portraits").

In addition to the supreme court justices, Bush had been commissioned to paint six early King County Superior Court judges — Thomas Humes (1847-1904), Robert Prigmore (1865-1911), Richard Osborne (1845-1905), Isaac Lichtenberg (1845-1905), Orange Jacobs (1827-1914), and George Emory (1869-1906) — and former University of Washington president Alexander Anderson (1832-1903).

The portrait of Anderson remains in the collection of the Henry Art Gallery at UW. For more than a century the judges portraits hung at the King County Courthouse in Seattle. But between 2014-2016, the six portraits — unidentified and with the artist long forgotten — were removed from display. Three were lost or destroyed and three remain in storage, badly damaged. The portraits of the three supreme court justices remain on display at the Temple of Justice in Olympia, as does the portrait of McFadden. The artist who painted McFadden’s portrait is not documented, but was referenced once by the name "Todd," and may have been Henry Stanley Todd (1872-1941).


"Portraits of Three Justices Presented," The Seattle Times, February 27, 1915, p. 3; "Fine Portraits of Three Justices Completed," Ibid., February 18, 1915, p. 22; Town Crier, March 6, 1915, p. 14; "Chief Justice Dunbar Dies at State Capital," The Seattle Times, September 19, 1912, p. 12; "Former Supreme Court Justice Insane," Ibid., June 9, 1909, p. 13; "Death Claims Well Known State Jurist," Ibid., April 29, 1912, p. 5; "Judge Anders Dead," Aberdeen Herald, Volume 23, Number 82, June 21, 1909, p. 1; Sheila Farr, "After a Hundred Years at the King County Courthouse, Ella Shepard Bush’s Portraits of Judges Are Now Lost and/or Damaged," The Seattle Times, Pacific NW Magazine, June 17, 2022 (www.seattletimes.com); Sheila Farr, "The Enigmatic Influence of Pioneering Seattle Artist Ella Shepard Bush," The Seattle Times, Pacific NW Magazine, June 17, 2022 (www.seattletimes.com).

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