Charles E. Cox

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Charles Elbridge Cox
Charles Elbridge Cox.jpg
Indiana Supreme Court portrait, circa 1911
Indiana Supreme Court Justice
In office
January 2, 1911 – January 1, 1917
Preceded by John V. Hadley
Succeeded by Lawson M. Harvey
Personal details
Born (1860-02-21)February 21, 1860
Hamilton County, Indiana
Died February 3, 1936(1936-02-03) (aged 75)
Indianapolis, Indiana
Resting place Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Emma M. Cooley
Children 1 daughter, 2 sons
Relatives Hon. Millard F. Cox (brother)
Hon. Jabez T. Cox (brother)
Edward E. Cox (nephew)
Occupation Lawyer
Religion Christian

Charles E. Cox (February 21, 1860 – February 3, 1936) was an American lawyer and judge who became the 55th justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, serving from 1911 to 1917. Elected as a Democrat in the Fall of 1910, he was Chief Justice by the end of his six-year term. The "Marshall Constitution" case and the "Technical Institute" case were among the important decisions made by the court during his tenure. As a judge in the Indiana Supreme Court and in lower courts, he never had a decision reversed.[1][2]

Cox began studying law in 1877 while a law clerk for judge William E. Niblack, 27th justice of the Indiana Supreme Court. Cox came from a family of lawyers and judges, as brothers Jabez T. Cox and Millard F. Cox also practiced law and spent time as judges in Indiana.[3]

In private practice, Cox gained national attention assisting the prosecutor in the 1925 trial of D. C. Stephenson for the death of Madge Oberholtzer. In addition to private practice and his tenure on the Indiana Supreme Court, Cox's legal career also included librarian of the Indiana State Law Library, Marion County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, and city judge of Indianapolis.[1]

Identity and origins[edit]

Cox's ancestors came to America when the land was still a British colony. Cox was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution,[4] having documented family members who fought against the British in the American Revolutionary War.[5] This particular branch of the Cox family was originally Quaker, and operated a mill on the Deep River in North Carolina, near the area that eventually became the city of Greensboro.

A distaste for slavery eventually caused many Quakers to move north. Members of the Cox family moved to Ohio and Tennessee. Cox's father, Aaron Cox, was an Ohio farmer who moved to Hamilton County, Indiana, in 1850.[6] In addition to his farm, Aaron Cox had an interest in politics and served as Noblesville's postmaster.[7]

Charles E. Cox was the youngest of the three sons of Aaron and Mary (Skaggs) Cox that would become judges in Indiana. He was born on February 21, 1860, at the family farm in Hamilton County. Six years later, the family moved within the county to Noblesville, Indiana. Charles first attended school in Noblesville. Another six years later, the family moved approximately eighteen miles north to Tipton, Indiana. By the age of fifteen years, Cox was had completed the Tipton High School curriculum. He began his working career as deputy auditor for Tipton County, and he worked there for one year before spending two years working on the family farm.[8]

Legal career[edit]

In 1879, Charles E. Cox began the study of law as he clerked for Indiana Supreme Court Judge William E. Niblack in Indianapolis, Indiana. Because of Niblack's impaired eyesight, Cox was employed by the judge to read records, briefs, and law books. Cox also became assistant librarian of the Indiana State Law Library at that time. In September 1883, the judges of the Indiana Supreme Court appointed Cox librarian, and he held that position until September 1889. During his time as librarian, he completed his legal education and was admitted to the bar.[9][10][11]

Charles Cox began practicing law in Indianapolis in November 1889, joining the law firm (Cox & Beck) of his brother Millard F. Cox and Henry A. Beck.[12][13] He formed a partnership with John J. Rochford in 1891, which continued until 1895.[14] Cox was also appointed deputy prosecuting attorney of Marion County in 1891, and he served in that position until he became city judge of Indianapolis. Having been elected in the Fall of 1894, Cox was city judge from 1895 through 1899. He served for two terms, but refused a third nomination. Afterwards, he opened an office where he practiced law.[1][15]

Indiana Supreme Court[edit]


Cox was seated on the Indiana Supreme Court on January 2, 1911, after winning the election in 1910 as a Democrat.[16][17] Many important cases were decided during Cox’s term, and he wrote the opinions for two Indiana Supreme Court cases that merit attention.[18] First, the court agreed (in a split decision) with an injunction in the "Marshall Constitution" case (Ellingham vs. Dye) that the state legislature (working with Democratic Governor Thomas R. Marshall) did not have the power to propose both a state constitution and the method to adopt it. Cox wrote the majority opinion in this case, and it was over 100 pages long. The decision was split, with Cox siding with the two Republican members of the Indiana Supreme Court while the other two Democrats dissented.[19]

The "Technical Institute" (Richards v. Wilson) case is the other trial typically mentioned as significant during Cox's tenure. This complicated case concerned charities, trusts, and the intent of donors. Both the majority (written by Cox) and dissenting opinions (written by associate justice John W. Spencer) in this case were lengthy.[20] By the end of Cox’s term, he was Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.[21] He was described as “one of the ablest of the many able jurists of the State.”[22]

Post court[edit]

A 1920 Blue Book Advertisement

Although Cox voted against the Democrats in the "Marshall Constitution" case, he was respected enough to still be selected to be a Democratic candidate for re-election in 1916. However, Cox did not win re-election, as the entire ticket of Democrats lost in the state election.[23] He practiced law in Indianapolis, and a city directory for 1918 shows that he maintained an office in the City Trust Building. He eventually joined the law firm of Woollen, Woollen & Welliver, and the firm was renamed Wollen, Cox & Welliver.[24] Cox lived in downtown Indianapolis (Center Township) with his wife and two sons.[25] In 1924, he was elected President of the Indianapolis Bar Association.[26]

During 1925, Cox was involved in a trial that received national attention. The Noblesville, Indiana, trial is known as the “D. C. Stephenson” case, and involved wealthy and influential Ku Klux Klan leader D. C. Stephenson and the brutal rape and death of Madge Oberholtzer. Stephenson was well connected politically, and was famous for claiming “I am the law in Indiana”.[27] Cox was one of the chief prosecutors in the trial, and was quoted in the New York Times denouncing Stephenson as one who “holds himself above the law” and as a “destroyer of the virtue of women”.[28] The details of the rape outraged many members of the Klan, causing them to leave that organization. Stephenson was found guilty of second degree murder. Unable to get the pardon he expected, a vengeful Stephenson began naming politicians that helped him gain power. His revenge caused jail time for the Indianapolis mayor and the resignation of other government officials.[29]

By 1930, Cox had moved to a country estate and farm on the northeast side of Indianapolis (Lawrence Township). A grandfather by that time, his household included himself, his wife, one of his sons and wife, a grandson, and a domestic assistant.[30] Cox was still practicing law with Charles B. Welliver as late as 1932.[31]


By the time he was 75 years old, Cox had been married over 50 years. He had three grown children and four grandchildren. He was a member of the First Congregation Church, Sons of the American Revolution, and the Indiana Democratic Club. Cox still maintained an office in the Insurance Building in Indianapolis despite his advanced age.[1] A book described him “as an attorney one of the ablest, as a judge recognized by the people of all parties as one of the best jurists who ever sat as a member of the supreme court of the state of Indiana.”[32]

On February 3, 1936, Cox became ill while at his office, and died that evening at St. Vincent Hospital. The news of his death spread quickly throughout the state, and on the next day his picture was on the front page of the local newspaper in Indianapolis.[1][33][34][35] Cox is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Charles E. Cox Sr., Former Judge, Dies", page 1 of the February 4, 1936 Indianapolis Star.
  2. ^ He is listed as a Democrat on page 287 of Monks, Esarey, and Shockley's Courts and Lawyers of Indiana, Volume 1 of the 3 volumes.
  3. ^ Pages 225-226 of Trissal's Public Men of Indiana (Vol. 1).
  4. ^ Indianapolis Star, page 10, 4 February 1936.
  5. ^ Stoll’s History of the Indiana Democracy, page 134 of e-book.
  6. ^ Bodurtha’s History of Miami County, Indiana…. page 814
  7. ^ Trissal, Vol. 1, p. 225.
  8. ^ John B. Stoll’s Pictorial and biographical memoirs of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana., p. 319.
  9. ^ Monks, Esarey, and Shockley, p. 288.
  10. ^ Trissal (Vol. 2), p. 198-199.
  11. ^ Stoll, page 319 of his 1893 Pictorial and biographical memoirs of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana., mentions that Cox began as assistant librarian.
  12. ^ Stoll’s Pictorial and biographical…. p. 320.
  13. ^ A search of the Indianapolis City Directories compiled by R. L. Polk & Company (using’s digital versions) shows Charles E. Cox as the librarian at the State Law Library in 1889. The 1890 directory lists Millard F. Cox, Henry A. Beck, and Charles E. Cox as lawyers for Cox & Beck located at 92½ E. Washington in Indianapolis.
  14. ^ Leander Monk's Courts and Lawyers of Indiana (Vol. 3). p 1317
  15. ^ Monks, Esarey, and Shockley’s Courts and Lawyers of Indiana. p 288
  16. ^ Monks, Esarey, and Shockley, pp. 287-288. Monks uses January 1 as the first day of Cox's term on page 288, but he uses January 2 on page 304.
  17. ^ Year book of the State of Indiana for the year 1917, on page 862, confirms January 2 as the beginning of Cox's term.
  18. ^ The "many important cases" is mentioned on page 199 of Trissal’s Public Men of Indiana. Vol. 2. The same source mentions the Marshall Constitution and Technical Institute cases as does the Indianapolis Star (“Charles E. Cox Sr. Former Judge, Dies”) on page 10 of the February 4, 1936 edition.
  19. ^ Monks, Esarey and Shockley, p. 296
  20. ^ Page 335 of “Reports of cases decided in the Supreme Court of the State of Indiana ..., Volume 185” Cox’s majority opinion is mistakenly listed in this source on page 341 as being from a “C. J. Cox”, but Charles E. Cox was the only Cox that was a member of the Indiana Supreme Court.
  21. ^ Page (V), Volume 113, of the Northeastern Reporter, which was for the period of July 18 through November 21, 1916.
  22. ^ Trissal (Vol II), p. 199.
  23. ^ Page 135 of e-book versions of Stoll’s History of the Indiana Democracy, 1816 – 1916.
  24. ^ Page 511 of the R. L. Polk City Directory for Indianapolis for 1920. The 1918 version of this directory lists “Cox, Chas E.” on page 401, and the law firm Woollen, Woollen & Welliver is listed on page 1885.
  25. ^ 1920 U.S. Census, Marion County, Indianapolis.
  26. ^ American Bar Association Journal, Volume 10 (1924) page 209.
  27. ^ “Indiana History, Part 7” web page (scroll toward bottom of page) by the Northern Indiana Center for History. Archived April 11, 2008, on Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ “Prosecutor Scores Stephenson At Trial” on page 3 of the November 13, 1925 edition of the New York Times.
  29. ^ “Indiana History, Part 7” web page (scroll toward bottom of page) by the Northern Indiana Center for History. Archived April 11, 2008, on Wayback Machine. See also page 101 of Nelson Price’s “Indiana Legends”.
  30. ^ 1930 U.S. Census, Marion County, Indianapolis.
  31. ^ "McNamara vs. State of Indiana”, filed June 24, 1932.
  32. ^ Stoll’s “History of the Indiana Democracy”, p. 134 of e-book version. (scroll down)
  33. ^ “Judge Charles Cox Dies At Indianapolis” on page 5 of the February 4, 1936, Logansport Pharos-Tribune.
  34. ^ "Death of Chas. E. Cox", page 12 of the Hammond Times, on February 5, 1936.
  35. ^ Obituary section of the February 4, 1936 edition of the Indianapolis News, see "Death Ends Notable Career as Judge and Lawyer in Indiana".
  36. ^ Crown Hill burial date is 2-05-1936.


External links[edit]