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Oscar R. Knutson, Associate Justice 1948-1962, Chief Justice 1962-1973

Oscar R. Knutson

Portrait of Oscar R. Knutson

Associate Justice, 1948 - 1962  

Chief Justice, 1962 - 1973  

Initiated the public defender system in Minnesota


Oscar Rudolf Knutson was born on a farm in Superior, Wisconsin on October 9, 1899.  His parents were Norwegian immigrants and he learned English in school.  The family moved to a farm near Warren, Minnesota in 1916.  Knutson graduated in 1919 from the Northwest School of Agriculture in Crookston.  The following year, he graduated from Warren High School.  In 1920, he enrolled at St. Olaf College in Northfield.  His dishwashing job wasn't enough to pay his college tuition, and he dropped out for a year. Knutson saved money and entered the University of Minnesota law school.  He graduated with his law degree in 1927. Knutson returned to Warren and practiced law with Julius Olson, who later was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Oscar Knutson married Louise M. Halvorson on June 20, 1934 and they had twin sons and a daughter.  Louise died on January 28, 1955.  Knutson married Katherine Anderson on July 9, 1968. 

Knutson had his law firm in Warren for 14 years. During that time, he served as mayor of Warren for three terms.  He was also the city attorney, secretary, and treasurer.  Oscar Knutson was manager of the Warren Telephone Company and chairman of the county chapter of the American Red Cross.  He also served as director of the Marshall County Agricultural Association, the board of the Council of State Governments, and director of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association and law school alumni association.

In 1941, Oscar Knutson was appointed to the district court bench by Governor Harold Stassen. Knutson was elected the following year.  He served as president of the Minnesota District Judges Association. 

In 1948, Governor Luther Youngdahl appointed Knutson to the Minnesota Supreme Court.  In 1962, Oscar Knutson was appointed chief justice by Governor Elmer Andersen. Knutson served as chief justice for ten years.  He was president of the national Conference of Chief Justices.  Knutson retired in 1973, but continued to work as a retired judge for five more years.

Oscar Knutson's greatest accomplishment is his role in initiating the state public defender system.  He suggested the state bar association set up a formal system covering public defenders.  In 1965, the Minnesota Legislature established the Office of the State Public Defender and authorized public defender systems in the ten judicial districts. 

Oscar Knutson had a stroke and lost his eyesight. His wife, Katherine, became his caretaker.  He died on June 15, 1981. 

Oscar R. Knutson signature

Oscar R. Knutson's signature from the Minnesota Supreme Court's Roll of Attorneys,1858-1970, p 232 (September 24, 1927), available online at: 

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