JUDGE WILLIAM M. FARMER.
A man of more than local fame, known throughout the state for his ability in his profession and whose name stands in Vandalia for honor, uprightness and truth is Judge William M. Farmer, of the supreme court of the state of Illinois. His advent into the legal fraternity was unheralded; he was a green young lawyer together with hundreds of others who were graduated from the law schools and launched in life at the same time. But presently he began to attract attention; soon he was elected state's attorney, and then the steady advance began which culminated in his present high position.
On the 5th of June, 1853, William M. Farmer was born in Fayette county, Illinois, the son of William F. and Margaret (Wright) farmer. His father was a native of the Blue Grass state, where his paternal grandparents had settled on their removal from North Carolina. William Farmer was born in 1808 and came to Illinois in 1829 and located in Fayette county. He turned his attention to farming and throughout his life pursued this occupation, save for the time which he spent in the service of his country during the Black Hawk war of 1832. Mr. Farmer never had the opportunity to acquire much of an education, but his strong common sense and force of character made him a highly respected member of his community. He held a number of public offices in his county, and was a stanch Democrat. Both he and his wife were members of the slave-holding aristocracy of the South, but they took the side
of the Abolitionists and were firm supporters of the Union during the Civil war. Mrs. Farmer died when the Judge was only twelve, but her husband lived to the ripe old age of eighty, dying in 1888. The Judge was the son of the second wife of Mr. Farmer. His first marriage was to a Miss Jackson, and four children were born of this first union, all of whom have died.
Judge Farmer spent his early life on the farm, but his father was ambitious for him, so after his education in the public schools he was sent to McKendree College, where he pursued the classical course, feeling all the while that law was the profession most suited to him. His interest in the law was very likely aroused when as a boy he sat by his father's side and listened to the arguments of the lawyers. His father was a justice of the peace, and in those days important cases were taken before him and the best legal talent in the county-seat would be arrayed in his office. Consequently, after teaching for ten months the boy entered the old Union College of Law, which is now the law department of the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. In 1876 he was graduated with the degree of LL. B., and was admitted to the bar that same year. In July he opened an office in Vandalia, in partnership with an old college chum, named Chapin. He was successful from the very first, for he owned a winning personality and the confidence and enthusiasm of youth. Just four years later, in 1880, he was elected state's attorney, holding this difficult position for four years, during which time he continued his practice, gaining each day in a knowledge of values and of men. In 1888 he had so far won the confidence and trust of the people that they sent him to the lower house of the Legislature. After the expiration of a two-years' term they further honored him by sending him to the Senate. He served in this august body for four years, being one of the famous “101” who in 1891 elected ex-Governor Palmer to the United States Senate. During the session of 1893 he was chairman of the judiciary committee and took an important part in framing the laws, of the state. There was no species of wire-pulling and political trickery that he did not come in contact with during these years, but it was his constant endeavor to keep his skirts out of the muck, and he came from his term of office with the confidence of his constituents unimpaired.
In 1897 he was compelled to give up his active practice by his election to the bench as circuit judge. His ability in this new line of work was soon recognized and in 1903 the supreme court appointed him to the appellate court of the second district. In 1906 came the crowning triumph, in his election to the supreme court of the state of Illinois for a term of nine years. Although he practices no longer, he still clings to his old law office and in spite of his exalted position it is very easy to drop in and have a chat with its genial occupant.
On the 23rd of December, 1875, in Hagerstown, Illinois, Judge Farmer married Illinois Virginia Henninger, a daughter of William and Mary Henninger. Two girls, Virginia and Gwendolyn, comprise their family.
In politics Judge Farmer is a Democrat, and in 1892 he received the honor of being sent to the Democratic national convention as a delegate. He and his household are members and active workers in the Methodist Episcopal church. Fraternally he is affiliated with the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias and the Modern Woodmen of America.
The success of Judge Farmer as a lawyer is due, first, to the fine training which he has had, and, second, to his own keen intellect, his powers of concentration and his remarkable clearness and simplicity of expression. His success as a judge is due to his logical mind and his
knowledge of human nature, gained from a long experience with many different types of men.