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Charles B. Elliott, Associate Justice 1905-1909

Charles B. Elliott

Portrait of Charles B Elliot

In 1887, Charles B. Elliott earned the first Doctor of Philosophy degree ever granted by the University of Minnesota.


Born on a farm in Morgan County, Ohio, on January 6, 1861, Charles Burke Elliott served on the Minnesota Supreme Court 1905 - 1909, following in the tradition of his mother’s family, which included many predominant lawyers.

Elliott’s early education consisted of a country school where, by the age of fifteen, he is alleged to have learned all that the school could teach him. By earning money teaching, he was able to afford the tuition at Marietta Academy and College, where he studied for at least one year before relocating with his family to Iowa, where he entered the University of Iowa Law School in 1879. Graduating in 1881, Elliott was not yet twenty-one and was, therefore, too young for admission to the bar. He was, however, able to secure a position as a law clerk in Muscatine, Iowa, where he waited out the six months until he could apply for admission.  

After being admitted to the bar in Iowa, Elliot moved to South Dakota where he spent a short amount of time in Aberdeen working as legal counsel for a land company before settling in Minnesota in 1884. In Minnesota he returned to the study of law and in 1887, Elliott earned the first degree of Doctor of Philosophy ever granted by the University of Minnesota. His dissertation, "The United States and the Northeastern Fisheries A History of the Fishery Question," brought attention to him as a legal scholar, both in the United States and abroad. In 1890, at age 29, he began teaching Corporations and International Law at the University of Minnesota, which he continued until 1899. That same year, Elliot was appointed to the municipal bench in Minneapolis and four years later, was appointed to the district bench.  

On October 1, 1905, Governor Johnson appointed Elliott Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and he was successful in the election for the seat that same year. On September 1, 1909, Justice Elliott resigned from the Court to accept presidential appointment as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands. He held that position for two years and then was appointed Secretary of Commerce and Police in the Philippine Commission, which he held until 1912 when he returned to Minnesota to practice law.  

Justice Elliott was also an active representative of his profession, serving as president of the American Branch of the International Law Association and speaking on their behalf at such notable venues as The Hague.  

Justice Elliott, noted for his legal scholarship,  also authored a number of articles and books including "The Philippines, to the End of the Commission Government: A Study in Tropical Democracy," and the first published history of the Minnesota Supreme Court, "The Supreme Court of Minnesota Parts 1 and II."

Justice Elliott died in Minneapolis on September 18, 1935.

You may learn more about the life and work of Justice Elliott in his memorial, and the book Testimony: Remembering Minnesota’s Supreme Court Justices, which is the source of this brief biography. 


Image Credit: Portrait of Charles B. Elliott from the History of the Bench and Bar of Minnesota by Hiram F. Stevens, 1904, Charles Elliott's signature in the Roll of Attorneys, Supreme Court, State of Minnesota, 1858-1970, p. 19. Available online at:

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