Happy Birthday, Judge John Forrest Dillon

John Forrest Dillon was born in Washington County, New York on December 25, 1831. His family moved to Davenport in 1838 when he was 7 years old. He attended Father Pelamourgues’ school at St. Anthony’s Church until the age of 16. At the age of 17, he studied medicine under Egbert S. Barrows, MD and graduated from Keokuk Medical College at the age of 21. After a few months in the practice, he figured out that medicine was not his calling and began to read law books.

In 1852 he was licensed as an attorney in Scott County and was quickly elected to be a prosecuting attorney for Scott County. In 1858 at the age of 27, he was elected judge of the 7th Judicial District of Iowa and published “A Digest of the Decisions of the Supreme Court of Iowa.” At that time he was the only judge for Scott, Clinton, Muscatine, and Jackson counties. In 1863 he was elected judge of the Iowa Supreme Court. He was re-elected in 1869 as chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court but that same year he was appointed circuit judge of the United States for the 8th Judicial Circuit. In 1872 he published “Municipal Corporations and started the “Central Law Journal.”

In 1879 he resigned as U.S. circuit judge and moved to New York City to become the professor of equity jurisprudence of the law department of Columbia College. In 1891 and 1892 he lectured on municipal law at Yale. He was named president of the American Bar Association in 1892. He worked as general counsel for the Missouri Pacific Railway and Western Union Telegraph Co. and earned a fortune reviewing corporation matters.

Judge Dillon came back to Davenport on May 11, 1904, to deliver the address at the dedication of our Free Public Library.

… In this strenuous age, in this age of materialism, in this age of commercialism in which the pursuit of wealth is the most dominant feature, in this day of unprecendeted colossal combinations of capital in corporate form and of combinations of employers and of counter-combinations of labor, each monopolistc, each manifesting distrust or fear of the other, but with a possibility of a union of theses great forces – then what? – in this new era of territorial and consequent commercial expansion and world-wide international relations, and when as a result men become so absorbed in business that they forget or neglect their duties as citizens – when we have, moreover, the pressing and unsoved problem of educating millions of people formerly in bondage who are and must remain in our midst – in these situations so novel and so grave there is more need than ever before for the exercise of the best intelligence and of the highest sense and truest measure of justice. For at the last in our public policies everything good, everything true, everything beneficent, everything permanent rests upon the people’s collective sense of justice and right…

Address delivered at the dedication of the Free Public Library by John F. Dillon. Davenport, Iowa: May 11, 1904
Left: Portrait of Mrs Dillon, from a photograph taken at Saratoga, 1889. Right: Portrait of her husband, John F. Dillon, from a photograph taken by Prince, New York, 1899.

John Forrest Dillon married Anna Price, daughter of Iowa congressman the Hon. Hiram Price, on November 10, 1853 in Davenport. Their home called “Leafland” was located in what is now Fejervary Park. Mrs. Dillon and their daughter, Anna Dillon Oliver, died tragically in the sinking of the French steamer La Touraine on July 4, 1898. Judge Dillon erected a monument for his wife at Oakdale Cemetery and was buried beside her after his death at the age of 83 on May 5, 1914.

Portrait of Anna Price Dillon, from a photograph taken at Paris by Emile Tourtin, 1876. Restored by Audrey Brown Art Studio.

In 2012 a descendant of Judge & Mrs. Dillon donated these beautiful portraits to us. This year we were able to pay for restoration and reframing of the portrait of Mrs. Anna Price Dillon. In 2020 we hope to raise enough money to restore and reframe the portrait of Judge Dillon. Subscribe to our eNewsletter for more information on our fundraising efforts.

Portrait of Judge John F. Dillon in need of restoration. Donated by Elizabeth Dillon Wheeler in 2012.

(Posted by Cristina)


  • “Judge John Forrest Dillon, one-time supreme court justice of Iowa, is dead in New York City.” The Daily Times, Tuesday, May 5, 1914.
  • History of Scott County, Iowa. (Chicago: Inter-State Publishing Co., 1882): 344-346.
  • Address delivered at the dedication of the Free Public Library by John F. Dillon. Davenport, Iowa: May 11, 1904.
  • Dillon, John F. Anna Price Dillon: Memoir and Memorials. New York: 1900.

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