Brewer, David J.


1906 TLS as Associate Justice, regrets he cannot attend a dinner honoring a DC medical doctor- social worker, likely not his “crowd”



Type: Letter
Description: (1837-1910) Conservative Associate Justice 1889-1910. Born in Turkey, he was a nephew of Stephen J. Field, a future Court colleague. Attended Wesleyan University and Yale, graduating Phi Beta Kappa 1856. He was a Yale classmate of Henry B. Brown, another future Court colleague. After graduation, Brewer read law in the office of his uncle, David Dudley Field, then enrolled at Albany Law School, graduating in 1858. Brewer went to Colorado in search of gold, returning 1859 to Leavenworth, Kansas. He was named Commissioner of the Federal Circuit Court in Leavenworth in 1861. He became a municipal and state jurist, elected to the state Supreme Court 1870, serving 14 years.

In 1884, Brewer was nominated by President Arthur to the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, then nominated by President Harrison to the US Supreme Court in 1889 to the seat vacated by Stanley Matthews. He served on the Court for 20 years until his 1910 death. A conservative, he was a major contributor to the doctrine of substantive due process, arguing that certain activities are entirely outside government control. He frequently sided with Court majorities that struck down property rights restrictions. Brewer took temporary leave (1895-98) from the Court to be President of the US Commission on the Boundary Between Venezuela and British Guiana, estab. by Congress to arbitrate the Venezuela Crisis of 1895. He authored the unanimous opinion of the Court in Muller v. Oregon (1908) in support of a law restricting working hours for women. He was also the author of In re Debs, upholding federal injunctions to suppress labor strikes. Due to the unexpected death of his daughter, Brewer did not participate in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

TLS on 10 x 8 ½ Court letterhead,Washington, April 16 1906, to C. F. Weller, Associated Charities. Justice Brewer regrets that he cannot attend a dinner to Dr. Emily O’Brien on April 24th as he lectures at the Law School (Yale?). With portrait for matting & framing.

Charles F. Weller (1870-1957) Washington DC social worker and founder of Neighborhood House, a settlement in Washington. He and his wife founded the 1st public playground in Washington, leading to the Playground and Recreation Association of America. The Wellers authored books on social work, and Charles was a Presidential appointee to a housing commission.

An executive of various Chicago charities 1901-21, he was an Edwardian-era do-gooder who believed urban families locked in poverty would benefit from some time in the great outdoors. Squalid apartments, cramped houses and ramshackle alley dwellings were injurious to one’s physical health and mental health. In spring 1904, he began going to Washington area church Sunday school classes. With a stereopticon viewer, he showed images of poverty in the District and images of playgrounds, picnic areas and campsites. He proposed DC’s poor children trade dingy, disease-filled alleys for airy, healthy woods, if only for a brief time, with “fresh-air excursions.” He then took a collection for Associated Charities. The longest continually operating summer camp program in the DC area began in summer 1904. District commissioners lent a farm in Rock Creek Park to Associated Charities. Tents were erected and the farm became Camp Good Will, opened June 29, 1904. Fifty children (with their mothers) were in the 1st group of campers. Camp Good Will was Whites only, not mentioned in promotional materials or newspaper articles,  but in 1907, Black citizens and the Summer Outings Committee of Associated Charities decided a summer camp for Black children was needed. The local Black community began Camp Pleasant in Prince George’s County (the camps were integrated in 1954). A camp nurse cared for sick and needy children, and taught mothers about hygiene and family care. In 1915, hot and cold water baths were available, for many this was the 1st time they were in a bath tub. Though Camp Good Will was run by churches, it was nonreligious, and no religious activities were required or recommended. The camp also provided kindergarten classes and nightly entertainment. Camp Good Will farm became Rock Creek Golf Course in 1909.

Dr. Emily Y. O’Brien (1866-1945) 1893 Boston University MD degree. Not allowed same privileges as male doctors, she involved herself in conferences, meetings, and organizations to gain experience and recognition. In 1900 she presented a paper, “The Inception of Formal Education with Reference to the Development of the Child’s Brain” at the 3rd annual meeting of the Washington Homeopathic Medical Society. In 1895, she married Robert Lincoln O’Brien, a clerk for President Cleveland. After moving to Washington, Dr. O’Brien worked to raise awareness for child labor and education, her most important work was as secretary of the Council of the Civil Center in 1906. She studied laws affecting women and children, taxation and other subjects of public interest. She and 2 other women helped push a petition to establish a Juvenile Court for the protection of neglected and delinquent children, compulsory education, restriction of child labor, and higher salaries for public school teachers. On Jan. 29, 1906, they petitioned Congress which established a Juvenile Court on March 19. During WW I, she worked at Camp Devens and led Disabled Veterans’ Hospital Services. In 1922, she started work at Westborough (Mass.) State Hospital.

Condition: Very good, small stains at lower left

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