Peter Joseph Shields

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Peter Joseph Shields (April 4, 1862 – September 28, 1962)[1] helped found the University of California at Davis, and was a superior court judge for the State of California.

Early life[edit]

He was born April 4, 1862, at the Shields Ranch, which was located near Rancho Cordova, California on the American River, to John Shields who emigrated in 1850 from Donegal, Ireland and Elizabeth Shields, née Bowe, who emigrated from Waterford, Ireland in 1855. Both parents had survived the Great Hunger or Potato Famine which occurred beginning in 1845, and both had walked the Panama Isthmus on foot to arrive in San Francisco, and later, Sacramento. His father, John, had participated in the Gold Rush in California and dug up 80 nuggets to purchase the undeveloped property, which became the Shields Ranch. He was the third child, and named Peter after his mother's first husband, who died of Cholera on the ship taking them from the Isthmus of Panama to San Francisco, where she buried him in the sandy cliffs of the new city.

Personal life[edit]

He married Carolee Wiltsie of Sacramento in 1901, and they celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 1951. The couple had one child that died in infancy.

Carolee was an accomplished pianist, but made a career of supporting her husband's career, acting as chauffeur, taking care of his somewhat fragile health, and always his devoted companion.


He earned his first dollar trucking watermelons from the ranch to Sacramento. At 17 he graduated from Christian Brothers College in Sacramento, then studied law reading in the office of the distinguished Jurist Amos Catlin. Illness forced him to quit law during his twenties, but in his thirties, he was the private secretary to Governor James Budd, Secretary of the State Agricultural Society, and a law partner of Hiram W. Johnson who was later elected a governor and a United States senator.

In 1900, at 38, he was elected to the Superior Court in Sacramento. During his years on the bench, he took his mother's passion and philosophy for agriculture and became deeply embedded in the California Agricultural Law, policies and culture.

Of all his accomplishments, he was most proud of being known as the father of UC Davis, which he helped found in 1906. U.C. Davis has grown into a major university and hospital. The main U.C. Davis library and street still bear his name, and on campus there is an oak grove planted in his honor him. After his death, the Shields White Flower Garden was established when his wife of 60 years, Carolee died. It contains many of her favorite flowers. He is acknowledged as the man who did most to push through the California State Legislature a bill establishing the UC Davis Agricultural College, fought for the funds and even helped select the site. A Peter J. Shields Scholarship fund of $7500 was established in 1939.

He raised a prize-winning herd of Jersey Cattle and won so many prizes at the California State Fair, he finally withdrew to give others a chance to win.

During his career, many friends and peers urged him to run for Congress or a higher court, or even another higher political office, but Judge Shields refused, saying his "life and service belonged to the people of Sacramento". In keeping with this pledge, he wrote an annual birth message in the Sacramento Bee imparting his generous and intelligent philosophy and personal wisdom, applied to the problems of the time and looking into the future. He also was active in promoting and establishing the Boy Scout movement in these region, and was an early president of the Golden Empire Council. Other accomplishments include being instrumental in the founding of the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

At age 95, there was an article in the Bee citing a huge ovation of over 1000 students at UC Davis in Davis, Yolo County, and the college he established just west of Sacramento. In his annual birthday article, he called "The advanced years time to perfect life's work." He died at 100, and left his entire estate to Carolee, and simple rites were held, but his death was a time for the Bee to recall and record much about this very beloved citizen, Judge and advocate, whose legacy lives on to the many thousands of students who have gone to UC Davis, joined the Boy Scout's in Sacramento, faced the well-thought out opinions of his Judgments, enjoy the fruits of the land growing in California, and to those who simply looked forward to his April 4 Birthday philosophy article in the Bee.


He was a dedicated Jeffersonian Democrat and strong supporter of Congressman John Moss and Governor Edmund Brown of California, serving in the honorary capacities in the campaigns of the later both for attorney general and for governor. He was known to be a confidant of presidents, senators, governors and educators.

Born 36 years after the death of Thomas Jefferson and during Abraham Lincoln's term as president, he had an early interest in politics, society, justice, and agriculture, which his mother Elizabeth had become especially involved with, winning many prizes at the state fairs and participating in agricultural societies. His deeper interest seemed to be in preparing the youth of the country to take hold of the future. "I think it's time the old men should cease to distrust the youth by which they are surrounded," he once said. "The young people I meet fascinate me. I think there never has been a time when the youth of the country have been so well prepared for the duties ahead of them." A philosopher, he talked of the courage of the youth, and felt it had "Not been dimmed" by failure. He also spoke of liking "...Their rebellion against the outgrown condition of the past". He felt "That they are being well prepared for their impend responsibilities" and was proud that youth were coming out of University with the facts of history, but with "Minds that are told to form their own judgments."



  1. ^ Rich Rifkin (2012-11-07). "Peter J. Shields: remembering a long life". The Davis Enterprise. Retrieved 2016-08-31. 
  2. ^ "Shields", compiled by Robert E. Shields
  3. ^ Sacramento Bee
  4. ^ UC Davis, Shields Library