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Guide to the William Denman Papers, [ca. 1900-1959]
BANC MSS C-B 817  
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Scope and Content
  • Biography

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: William Denman Papers,
    Date (inclusive): [ca. 1900-1959]
    Collection Number: BANC MSS C-B 817
    Creator: Denman, William, 1872-1959
    Extent: Number of containers: 42 boxes, 32 cartons, 21 v., 1 oversize folder
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: Correspondence; reports; speeches and publications; legal and financial papers; briefs, arguments and other legal documents; copies of judicial opinions; scrapbooks; clippings.

    Mainly concerning his legal and judicial career, his interest in politics and judicial and electoral reforms, his chairmanship of the U.S. Shipping Board and his association with the Coos Bay Lumber Co.

    A few papers of his wife, Leslie Van Ness Denman, concerning the world's fair at San Francisco, 1939-40, included.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research except cartons 15, 17, 27, 28, 29, 30, which are unarranged and unavailable for use. Inquiries concerning these materials should be directed, in writing, to the Head of the Head of Public Services of The Bancroft Library.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], William Denman papers, BANC MSS C-B 817, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Scope and Content

    The Denman papers came to the Bancroft Library in October 1959 as a gift of the estate of William Denman and his wife, presented on behalf of the family by John F. Forbes, executor of their estates. The collection, covering the period from 1900 to 1959, consists mainly of correspondence: reports; speeches and publications; legal and financial papers; briefs, arguments and other printed legal documents; copies of judicial opinions; scrapbooks; and clippings. Most of the papers date from 1906 (much was destroyed in the fire) and relate mainly to his legal and judicial career, his interests in politics and in judicial and electoral reforms, his chairmanship of the United States Shipping Board and his association with the Coos Bay Lumber Company.
    Some material was removed from the collection. Printed items which have been retained in Bancroft Library and catalogued separately have cards in the manuscripts shelf list. Two photographs have been placed in the portrait collection with the call numbers 4818-4819. A list of the material given to the University of California Law School Library is available. Issues of magazines such as the New Republic, The Liberator, The Masses, Harper's Current Opinion, The Consensus, National Geographic, etc., have been distributed elsewhere.


    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.