My Twin Sister, Mercy Warren Wheeler and husband, Bancroft R. Wheeler, Esquire, at the grand opening of the Charles Warren Center at Harvard University. (1965).Mark deWolfe Howe, first head of the center, to the left background).
UNCLE CHARLES & THE SUPREME COURT
The news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death prompted me to write about our family’s association with the U. S. Supreme Court. My Great Uncle Charles Warren wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning three-volume History of the Supreme Court of the United States (1922). Charles and his wife, Nancy, bequeathed millions to his alma mater, Harvard University, which established the Charles Warren Center in his honor of him.
Who was Charles Warren?
In 1931, ‘Uncle Carl’ (as mother referred to him), put together a series of voluminous books about his family, The Warrens - which I have. He wrote the following “Prefatory Note”:
When I was a young man, had I wished to know anything about my ancestors, it would have been difficult to gather the facts from my scattered sources. In order that the descendants of my Father, Winslow Warren, and of my mother, Mary Lincoln Warren, may not have a similar difficulty, I have gathered together and caused to be bound in this volume the more important family facts which they ought to know; and it is my hope that this volume may be carefully read by each and preserved and handed down to his or her descendants or heirs at law. (The autobiographical Sketch of my Father, contained herein, though undated, was probably written by him about five years before his death.)
Washington, D.C. December, 1931
[And written by hand, in ink, Revised March 1940.]
Charles Warren was my maternal grandmother’s brother. Grandma Hussey had one sister, my Great Aunt Margaret, and two brothers, Charles and Winslow. In 1988, just before my mother died, Harvard University printed a booklet she wrote entitled “A Short Biography of the Honorable Charles Warren by his Niece.” I helped Mother write this booklet and communicated on her behalf with Harvard, convincing them to publish it. Mother wrote:
Uncle Charles was no one very special to me when I was young. He was simply my mother’s oldest brother, an uncle among a group of other uncles and aunts, who would appear at odd moments, particularly on Christmas or at other family gatherings ...
When I was a teenager, my mother took my first cousin Penelope Warren and me to Washington for our spring vacation. Being related to Uncle Charles opened many doors for us. We listened to Senator Robert Lafollette orate in the Senate and later met him. The next day we shook the hand of President Calvin Coolidge. He stood on the left-hand side of the doorway of one of the White House rooms. As an aide introduced us, he said, “how-de-do” to mother, “how are you?” to Penelope, and “pleased to meet you” to me. His handshake was flabby. I wasn’t too impressed.
But Uncle Charles often impressed us. He was devoted to his family yet seldom relaxed with his seven nieces and nephews. There was a barrier….We were too much in awe of him.
Mother wrote, “According to John Lord O’Brian, an old friend of Uncle Charles and later, Aunt Nancy’s legal advisor, mother wrote:
‘It is my impression that he [Charles Warren] did not envisage the Warren Center at Harvard because neither his will nor that of Mrs. Warren, makes any mention of the subject. I think this idea came into existence when the Harvard authorities were surprised at the amount of the legacy left by Mrs. Warren. The money, which she bequeathed to Harvard, was mainly his property.’”
I knew Uncle Charles and my Twin sister, Mercy Warren Wheeler and I visited the Warrens a couple of times in their Washington, D.C. home. I was particularly taken with Uncle Charles’ automobiles. Again, mother wrote:
I remember him driving up to our house [in Plymouth, Massachusetts] in a fire-engine red, custom-built Pierce Arrow phaeton with a center windshield, …sitting in regal splendor behind his chauffeur Brown, who was decked out in full chauffeur’s regalia.
I am doing more research on Charles Warren, working on adding to my mother’s booklet with special emphasis on our family. I have been in touch with Harvard’s C.W. Center director, Dr. Johnson, to resurrect Mother’s memoir, so their website will tell more about who Charles Warren was.