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Greenleaf Clark, Associate Justice, 1881-1882

Greenleaf Clark

Portrait of Greenleaf Clark


Greenleaf Clark was appointed Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in March 1881 to one of two positions created by the Laws of 1881. His time on the Court was brief, ending on January 13, 1882, after his party did not endorse him.


Born in Plaistow, New Hampshire, on August 23, 1835, Greenleaf Clark attended Atkinson Academy, New Hampshire for preparatory school before enrolling in Dartmouth College in 1851. Clark graduated from Dartmouth in 1855, and read the law at the firm of Hatch & Webster in Portsmouth, New Hampshire before entering Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1857.

Clark was admitted to practice in New Hampshire, but relocated to Saint Paul, Minnesota soon after. He practiced law for several years in Minnesota in the law firm Bigelow & Clark until he was appointed by Governor Pillsbury as Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in March 1881. His seat on the Court was one of two created by the Laws of 1881, which increased the number of Associate Justices from two to four. Justice Clark’s time on the Court was brief, ending on January 13, 1882, after his party did not endorse him.

Justice Clark’s service to the State of Minnesota was not, however, limited to his time on the bench. Justice Clark served as a regent of the University of Minnesota, from 1879, until his death in 1904, and was president during his later years, 1901-1904. In his position of regent, Justice Clark was active in the formation of the law school, chairing the committee tasked with overseeing it. He drafted legislation in 1888 that would supply the law library with state materials and was instrumental in gaining funds from the legislature for the law school’s first building in 1889. In addition to the law, he had business interests and was director of the First National bank as well as the Pioneer Press company and on other boards. Justice Clark also held a keen interest in preserving the history of Minnesota and served on the council of the Minnesota Historical Society, including as its president in 1904. Earlier that same year, his alma mater, Dartmouth College, conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. in recognition of his many achievements.

He travelled frequently and often for long periods. He often went south in the winter. 

He died at his home in California, on December 7, 1904. He left an estate worth over $800,000.00. Having never married, he left money to his sister and other family, but other beneficiaries were the Minnesota Historical Society and the Saint Paul Public Library. He is remembered at George Latimer Central Library, where the third floor magazine room is named for him in recognition of his generous contribution to the library's initial construction.

You may read more about the life and work of Greenleaf Clark in the memorial and articles, linked below, and in the book Testimony: Remembering Minnesota’s Supreme Court Justices, which is a source of the brief biography.

Image Credits: Portrait of Greenleaf Clark from Hiram F. Steven's History of the Bench and Bar of Minnesota (Minneapolis and St. Paul: Legal Publishing & Engraving Co., 1904); Greenleaf Clark's signature in the Roll of Attorneys, Supreme Court, State of Minnesota, 1858-1970, p. 6. Available online at:

Additional Resources