Bio: O'Neill, James
Contact: Stan

----Source: 1918 History of Clark Co., WI, by Franklyn, Curtiss-Wedge, pg. 162

Surnames: Armstrong, Holiston, O'Neill, Sewel

James O'Neill


Posted by Susie on Sat, 17 Feb 2001





James O'Neill, judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit of Wisconsin, was born in Lisbon, St. Lawrence Co., N.Y., Sept. 3, 1847, son of Andrew and Mary (Holiston) O'Neill, and grandson of Andrew and Janet (Armstrong) O'Neill. His preliminary education was received in the district schools and his career as educator started when at the age of 15, he started teaching district school, at $15 a month. In 1863 he entered St. Lawrence University, at Canton, N.Y., and there remained for three years. Then he taught school again for awhile until 1868, when, upon being awarded the district scholarship in a competitive examination, he entered Cornell University as a sophomore at its original opening. During his entire career there he was master of the chimes.


Both as a debater and a scholar he distinguished himself, and indeed such excellent work did he do, that having to leaves school in the spring of 1870 by reason of an attack of typhoid fever, he became principal of the Ogdensburg High school in the fall of 1870, and closed the school in the spring to graduate two weeks later with his original class of 1871. He was a charter member at Cornell of the Delta Upsilon Fraternity. Andrew D. White, the first president of Cornell, is still his close friend. Among the many distinguished men under whom he took lectures may be mentioned James Russell Lowell, Goldwin Smith, George A . Benton of Rochester, P. C. J. DeAngelis of Utica, Albert H. Sewel of Walton, and John M. Kellogg of Ogdensburg. Judge O'Neill has been active in Alumni matters, and has served as president of the Northwester Alumni Association of his Alma Mater. Upon receiving his B. A. from Cornell, he entered the law office of Joseph McNaughton, at Ogdensburg, a distinguished lawyer, who has recently left that place $100,000 for a hospital. With this preparation, Judge O'Neill entered the Albany Law School and graduated in 1873, with the degree of LL. B. Soon after graduation, he came to Neillsville to visit his uncle, arriving here Sept. 18, 1873. Being persuaded to stay, he cast his lot here, and has since become one of the county's leading men.


During his years as a lawyer, he handled some of the county's most important litigation. For a time he practiced alone. Then H. W. Sheldon was a partner for awhile. After Mr. Sheldon's death in 1878, he was alone for awhile, and then for a short time had Joseph Morley as a partner.. Mr. Morley retired to enter the banking business and then after another period alone, Judge O'Neill formed a partnership with Spencer M. Marsh, now a judge of the Supreme Court of California and living at San Diego. In July 1887 he was appointed district attorney of Clark County, and re-elected in the fall of 1888 by the largest vote on the ticket. In 1890 and 1892 he was nominated by the Republican party as a candidate for attorney general, but this was the time of the Bennett Law agitation, and the whole ticket was defeated each time. Jan. 1, 1898 he went on the bench of the Seventeenth Circuit, and five years ago assumed in addition to the work of this circuit, the duties of holding court at Baraboo. In local affairs, Judge O'Neill has been a member of the county board and of the school board. Prominent at all times in the Republican Party, he was an especially active figure, before his elevation to the bench, in county, district and state conventions. In 1885 he served in the legislature, and in 1888 was a delegate to the Republican National Convention. Of recent years, he has been an ardent worker in the cause of abstinence, and it is a matter of pride with him that all four of the county seats of his judicial circuit are now dry.


One of the pleasant memories of Judge O'Neill is his trip to Europe in 1901, when in addition to touring various points of interest he visited Shane's Castle, on the O'Neill Estate, County Antrim, Ireland, the family seat of his ancestors, and the birthplace of a long line of his forebears. He has been a lifelong member of the Episcopal Church. Judge O'Neill was married June 6, 1876, to Marian Robinson, daughter of David H. and Emma F. (Brown) Robinson, pioneers of Wisconsin. This union has been blessed with two children, Ernest A. and Marian. Ernest A. was born March 10, 1877, graduated from the Neillsville High School in 1895, from the academic department of the University of Wis. with the degree of B. A., in 1899, and from the law department of the same university with the degree of LL. B. in 1902. At college he was a member of the Delta Upsilon Fraternity. He died Oct. 5, 1905. This young man was the embodiment of manly character, a deep student, and possessed of an engaging personality. The world is the better for his having lived in it, even for so short a time. Marian was born Jan. 22, 1883, received her higher education in Grafton Hall, Fond du Lac; Downer College, Milwaukee; and the University of Wis., Madison, and spent several years studying music in Milwaukee. She was married June 6, 1912, to Forest D. Calway, who is court reporter of the Circuit Court, residing at Neillsville, Wis. Judge O'Neill is a gentleman of the old school, a typical judge of the old type. A student of men and events and books, he is a close observer, and is of an ideal judicial temperament.. Desiring ever the best of his fellow men, he is striving in every way to do his share toward the cause of righteousness and justice, and few men in this region are held in such high regard and universal veneration. His influence in Clark County life will continue to be felt for many generations to come.



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