GEORGE EDWARD CROTHERS
Judge George E. Crothers, of San Francisco, has been an outstanding figure in legal, judicial, financial and educational
circles of California for the past quarter of a century. "Like most men of achievement," said a contemporary
biographer, "he was a son of the soil, born and reared on a farm in Iowa, and comes of a line of sturdy Scotch
One of his father's ancestors of the same name was given five "town lands" by Cromwell for distinguished
services as an officer in his army of "covenantors," upon which the family lived until the last of them
was sold by his grandfather. His mother was descended from the Fairs and Grahams, who were prosperous farmers and
for generations owned quarries and were master builders in both wood and stone, employing a number of journeymen
and apprentices in their plant. His father and his family were baptized and confirmed by the Lord Primate of Armagh,
in whose diocese they lived, while his mother's people received the same services from the Bishop of Claugher,
these being two of the three bishoprics established by St. Patrick. His mother was a sister of the late James G.
Fair, famous as one of the developers of the Comstock lode and one of the early financiers of San Francisco.
George Edward Crothers, son of John and Margaret Jane (Fair) Crothers, was born at Wapello, Iowa, May 27, 1870.
Soon afterward the family removed to a farm near Manchester, in Delaware county, where George Crothers spent his
boyhood until the age of nine, when the family removed to a new home on a tract of prairie land north of Arthur,
Iowa. Four years later his parents rented the farms in Iowa and brought their family to California to secure better
educational advantages for their ten children, and in October, 1883, located at San Jose. Of the ten children one
died at six years of age, and eight of the others enjoyed a college education.
Young Crothers attended the San Jose high school, graduating in 1891, having been president of his class throughout
his high school course. Entering Leland Stanford Junior University, he received the degree of A. B. in 1895 and
A. M. in the law department in 1896. Throughout his high school and college courses he worked during every vacation
and earned a considerable part of the necessary funds to provide his education. Once in a newspaper interview Judge
Crothers said: "I've worked since I was about twelve years old. I mean by that I had some definite job during
all of my vacations. It seems to me that the habit of industry is the greatest asset a boy can acquire." He
was admitted to the California bar in 1896 and subsequently to practice in all of the federal courts. In 1897 he
formed a partnership with his brother, Thomas G. Crothers, distinguished in legal and insurance annals of California,
and was soon retained as one of three attorneys of record for the executors and trustees in the famous litigation
in defense of the $18,000,000 Fair trust and estate. He had personal charge of the forgery branch of the litigation,
and won a notable victory in the proof of a forgery by original mathematical lines of deduction based upon consecutively
numbered checks. After protracted litigation, extending from 1899 to 1902, he made the closing argument in both
the Craven and the Fair trust cases. The fact that he was permitted by his associates to argue these important
cases when he had been in practice but five years speaks well for his standing as a pleader at that age.
In the meantime, in 1898, Mr. Crothers was retained by Mrs. Leland Stanford as sole active trustee of Stanford
University, to write a constitutional amendment to reduce the tax burden upon the University and permit her to
convey to the University a quarter interest in the Southern Pacific Company and other taxable securities which,
if taxed, as the law required, would absorb more than the entire University income and force a sacrifice sale.
Owing to defects discovered by him in the enabling act, founding and supplementary grants and attempted amendments
to the University trusts, made without or against proper legal advice, he found it necessary to broaden the scope
of the proposed constitutional amendment, to prepare and cause to be passed not only the amendment but several
acts of the legislature, and to revise the University trusts and confirm or eliminate illegal provisions in the
founding and endowment grants, and prepare new endowment grants upon trusts so validated, to grant corporate and
other essential powers to the trustees, and to provide for and permit the resignation of all powers of Mrs. Stanford
as surviving founder and the immediate succession of the trustees to power as such. He drafted and caused the legislature
to adopt an act creating a special proceeding under which all of his work and the competency of the Stanfords,
and the validity and legal effect of all the grants, trusts, corporate powers, amendments, confirmatory conveyances,
and Mrs. Stanford's resignation and surrender of all powers over and legal interest in the University and its endowment,
were determined by judicial decree. Finally, he drafted the will under which Stanford University was made residuary
beneficiary of Mrs. Stanford's estate (which remained unchanged except for the purpose of replacing the name of
an executor omitted on account of ill health), thereby permitting the subsequent preparation by him as attorney
for the trustees of the residuary clause in the decree of distribution under which the University can claim title
to the entire Stanford estate not specifically disposed of to others, regardless of the legality of other Stanford
grants or gifts to the University. Subsequently he acted as sole trustee during Mrs. Stanford's lifetime, and conveyed
to the University upon her death, several million dollars in securities.
Mrs. Stanford's transfer of a quarter interest in the Southern Pacific Railroad Company stock, together with millions
of other securities, was made possible by the passage of his constitutional amendment through the legislature and
by his assurance to her that it would be adopted by the people, and that the securities so transferred would be
rendered non-taxable by legislative enactment pursuant thereto. He advised Mrs. Stanford to retain the Southern
Pacific stock, believing that Senator Stanford was right in his prediction that the stock would soon be selling
for par or better, but she was induced to sell the stock pursuant to a conference with her advisers in New York,
at a small fraction of its subsequent value, thereby preventing Stanford University from becoming by far the most
richly endowed university in the world.
He and his brother directed and financed, without any promise of subsequent reimbursement or remuneration, all
of the campaigns for the adoption of the constitutional amendment and acts above referred to. For all his legal
and other work for Mrs. Stanford and the University, covering a period of six vital years of legal and financial
worries, Judge Crothers refused to accept any remuneration until, after her resignation, Mrs. Stanford demanded
in writing that he must thereafter accept the usual compensation for such services. After her death he waived the
statutory fees as sole trustee of the special trust to the amount of more than sixty thousand dollars, accepting
for his services both as special trustee and attorney for the trustees even less than the amount paid to each of
the other attorneys merely having to do with the closing of Mrs. Stanford's estate, in which he acted pursuant
to resolution of the board, as attorney for the board of trustees of the University.
His services to Stanford University were not confined to the long chain of measures formulated and carried through
by him in association with his brother, Thomas G. Crothers, relating to the validity and revision of the trusts
governing the University and the granting of corporate powers to the trustees, but as a member and subsequently
chairman of the organization committee of the trustees he formulated the by laws and rules of order of the board
of trustees, and he and his fellow trustee, Horace Davis, in cooperation with a committee of the faculty, formulated
the articles of organization of the faculty of the University, which was adopted by the board of trustees March
31, 1904, and was designed to make the faculty a living, working organism with responsible functions in the management
of the University. He caused the board of trustees to adopt a resolution approving the principle of military training
in the University. He cooperated with Professor Lange in securing necessary state legislation providing for public
junior colleges, and after the University of California had adopted the plan of the upper and lower divisions in
the colleges of the University, he caused the board of trustees to approve this plan of college organization in
principle for Stanford University. He also caused the trustees to adopt the policy of giving the president of the
University the untrammeled initiative without affirmative suggestions from the trustees, either as individuals
or otherwise, but with full power of veto of such appointments in the board of trustees. He formulated a standing
resolution of the board of trustees under which no member of the faculty can be removed by the president for cause
without the right to a statement of the cause and a hearing thereon, and at his suggestion Mrs. Stanford withdrew
her proposal to empower the trustees to eliminate women students from the University immediately prior to her resignation
of all powers over the University, including the power of amendment of the trusts. He suggested, and his brother
formulated, Mrs. Stanford's communication to the board of trustees of February 13, 1905, establishing the Jewel
Fund, which assures to the University an adequate fund for the purchase of books for the library. As chairman of
the committee on medical education he brought about the consolidation of Cooper Medical College with Stanford University,
and formulated the terms and conditions effecting the transfer of the properties and the government of the medical
department. In this connection he made a thorough study of hospital methods, equipment, and accounting, both in
England and America, and inaugurated the English system of accounting at the University hospital. As a committee
of one he allocated the area upon the Stanford grounds to be used for athletic purposes by the board of athletic
control and prescribed their powers and duties with reference thereto, and, pursuant to resolution of the trustees,
he designed the University seal and selected and placed thereon the motto "Semper virens." He formulated
the provisions of Thomas Welton Stanford's gifts and bequests to the University, including one for the investigation
of the occult. Shortly before Mrs. Stanford's death she complained to President Jordan that Judge Crothers had
refused to accept compensation for legal services to her or the University, and the latter wrote stating that next
to the founders themselves he was the most unselfish person ever connected with that institution.
Shortly before her death Mrs. Stanford wrote that she could not have gone on without the assistance of Mr. Crothers,
and that she held him closer than she had any other person since the death of Senator Stanford. However, while
always loyal to her, he never hesitated when occasion required to exert his influence in behalf of others connected
with the University with whom she had differences of conflicting opinions.
For ten years Judge Crothers served as chairman of the board of trustees of the San Francisco State Normal School,
until 1921, when all such boards were abolished. In this connection he cooperated with Frederic Burk in the most
extensive and successful experiments ever made in the publication and use of pamphlets covering elementary school
subjects. These required the personal initiative of each pupil to solve the problems given and called for the aid
of the teacher only when the pupil could not understand or apply the instructions contained in the pamphlets. The
purpose of this system was to develop personal interest in the problems and self-reliance in their solution.
He is also a life trustee of the Stanford Kindergarten Trust, which contributes to the support of five kindergartens
in San Francisco, and resulted in the establishment of the first kindergarten in America in the early eighties.
Desiring to have the vast wealth of historical and scientific material in the California State Library at Sacramento
available to the students of Stanford and University of California for reference at a point convenient for both,
Judge Crothers drafted a bill to permit the state librarian to establish a branch in the Ferry building at San
Francisco, and to transfer such material as he considered suitable to it. Librarian Ellis assented to the proposition,
but said that he had a vision of branch libraries or library agencies throughout the state. Upon his suggestion
the bill was modified to authorize the present system of branches and agencies of the state library at scores of
points throughout the state, making the California State Library one of the outstanding institutions of its kind
in the entire country, if not the leader in the service of students and readers in the most inaccessible portions
of the state.
Early in life Judge Crothers began to assume an active interest in local and general political affairs. From 1909
to 1912 he was chairman of the independent republican movement, and chairman of the republican county committee
in 1912 and 1913. In 1909 he represented President Roosevelt in urging the governor and leaders of the California
legislature to prevent provocative land legislation directed against Orientals. In 1924 he outlined the progressive
record of Calvin Coolidge and predicted the course he would pursue in eliminating "every odor of oil"
from his administration. On receiving a copy of it President Coolidge wrote that he had "not only given me
a great deal of pleasure but has heartened and encouraged me more than I can say. I want you to know of nay sincerest
appreciation and grateful thanks." This outline was subsequently printed on the back cover of a pamphlet upon
Coolidge's "Labor Record," of which millions were distributed among the workers of America.
It is generally believed that the loss of harmony between the progressive and "regular" wings of the
republican party in San Francisco, which resulted from his resignation as chairman of the local county committee
to go on the bench, caused the defeat of Hughes for the presidency in 1916 by a narrow vote.
A native of the same state and a classmate of Herbert Hoover throughout his college days, he has always been a
warm friend and supporter. During the last presidential campaign he delivered an address on the life and work of
Hoover to the Engineers' Hoover Club at St. Louis, of which James W. Good, western manager of the republican national
committee, said: "I am genuinely sorry that I did not have before me a copy of this address early in the campaign.
I should have had printed a very large number of them for general distribution."
On November 10, 1928, a few days after his election as president, Herbert Hoover wrote to George E. Crothers: "Your
many years of friendship have been a fine contribution to this success."
As chairman of the independent republicans of San Francisco, and afterwards chairman of the republican county committee,
he was probably the first person in responsible political position to be quoted in the press as advocating in political
campaign speeches laws providing for old age pensions, employers' liability for accidents to workmen, workmen's
health insurance, and abandoned mothers' pensions, and on his recommendation as chairman of the San Francisco organization,
made to an informal committee of local leaders under his chairmanship held the previous day, the equal suffrage
plank was put in the California republican platform of 1910.
He was appointed judge of the superior court in San Francisco on August 12, 1913, and on November 3, 1915, was
elected to succeed himself for the term 1915-21, having been endorsed for reelection by the highest vote of the
San Francisco Bar Association ever given to a candidate for election to the position. In 1919 he served as presiding
judge of the superior courts and reentered active practice of law in January, 1921. While on the bench he introduced
improved procedure in the assignment of cases and appointed the Harrelson grand jury, which rectified long standing
Other activities of Judge Crothers have taken a wide scope, ranging from cooperation with others in the organization
and maintenance of the San Francisco Boys' Club, which operates nine boys' clubs in the less advantaged parts of
the city of San Francisco, to aiding in the founding of the San Francisco Opera Association, and disseminating
his own addresses and other publications against communism among the leaders of the nationalist movement in China,
for which he received the thanks of China's representative in America, and the reorganization of Western States
Life Insurance Company as one of the soundest and strongest institutions of the kind in the west. He was elected
one of the directors of the San Francisco Chapter of the American Red Cross, to fill a vacancy after he had served
three times as chairman of its nominating committee, and has been otherwise identified with various civic and philanthropic
While Judge Crothers' work has been principally along legal and educational lines, his leisure has been devoted
largely to study and the practical application of his conclusions. Aside from being a close student of law and
international relations, he has gone far in the study of physics and other sciences, augmented by experimental
work along various lines.
Together with his brothers, William H. and Thomas G., he studied and conducted electrical experiments even before
he entered high school, where he was asked by Professor L. B. Wilson to conduct the class in physics upon the subjects
of telephony, light and photography. He denied sufficiency of the still prevailing theory of light and ether and
held that light, electricity and matter were closely related, if not derived from an identical source. He made
many forms of telephones and microphones and coils to cut out induction interference in high potential telephone
circuits, and was made president of the Peoples Telephone Company of San Jose, California, where his experiments
were put to practical application in the use of very small and inexpensive cable wires and high potential toll
line circuits with highly sensitive receiving sets. He was granted the privilege of proving the perfect practicability
of using his high power experimental telephone sets upon the long distance iron wires of the Western Union Telegraph
Company about 1897, when the long distance sets then in use in the Bell Telephone System still used the low potential
toll line circuits which called for expensive heavy copper wires.
Subsequently he experimented with the curative properties of electric and other heat rays and applied them, first
in the case of friends and then with the assent of physicians and hospital authorities in the reduction of local
and general infections with what one physician of national reputation designated as unbelievably favorable results.
There is reason to believe that the knowledge of success of the experiments in California resulted in the world-wide
notoriety of their successful use since the latter part of 1928.
In 1926-28, Judge Crothers was treasurer of the Legal Aid Society of San Francisco. He is a life member of the
American Law Institute and of local, state and national bar associations. He has been for over a quarter of a century
a member of the American Historical Association, the American Political Science Association, the National Municipal
League, the Seismological Society of America, and a member of the National Council of the National Economic League.
He was temporary chairman and second president of the pioneer class (1895) of Stanford University, president of
the Stanford alumni 1899-1900 and 1913-14, being the first alumnus to be reelected to the position, and Was the
first graduate of Stanford University to serve a ten-year term as a university trustee (1902-1912). He is a member
of the Masonic fraternity (thirty-two degrees) and of the following clubs: University, Pacific Union, Stanford
Faculty, Press, Masonic, Commonwealth, Menlo Country, Monterey Peninsula Country, and Schoolmasters of California.
He is affiliated with the Protestant Episcopal Church and a member of the cathedral committee and completion committee
of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.
On March 23, 1911, Judge Crothers married Miss Elizabeth Mills, the gifted daughter of the late W. H. Mills of
San Francisco, who died August 18, 1920. He resides at 1010 California street and has offices in the de Young building,
Endowed by nature with a fine physique and a genial personality, Judge Crothers has preserved the appearance of
youth throughout his many years of unusual activity, and considers that his life's work has just begun. If the
future holds in store as much as the past has achieved, he will have indeed been a benefactor of mankind, stamped
his name indelibly upon the history of this commonwealth and "left footprints on the sands of time."
The History of San Francisco, California
Lewis Francis Byington, Supervising Editor
Oscar Lewis, Associate Editor
The S. J. Clark Publishing Company
Chicago-San Francisco 1931
San Francisco, CA
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