Charles Whittaker was born Feb. 22, 1901, near Troy, Kansas, to Charles Whittaker and his wife, Ida.
His formal education began in a one-room school nearby. He attended Troy High School until he dropped out in ninth grade after his mother died on his 16th birthday. The next three years were spent farming, hunting and trapping. His interest in law came from reading about criminal trials in newspapers.
In 1920, he applied to the part-time evening program at the Kansas City School of Law, (now the MU-Kansas City School of Law), even though he hadn't finished high school. After personally pleading with Oliver Dean, the school's president, he was granted admission on the condition he finish high school as well. The next four years were spent working days and attending school in the evenings. One of his classmates in law school was Harry S Truman. Whittaker graduated in 1924 and was admitted to the Missouri bar his senior year.
Joining the law firm of Watson, Ess, Marshall & Enggas, where he had previously worked as an office boy, he built up a practice in corporate law. His clients included the Union Pacific Railroad, Montgomery Ward, and the City National Bank and Trust.
In July 1928, Charles E. Whittaker and Winifred R. Pugh were married. Their union was blessed with three sons: Charles, Kent and Gary.
Whittaker was appointed as a federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on July 8, 1954, and nominated to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 5, 1956. The following year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court. Whittaker was sworn in March 25, 1957.
Whittaker stressed out over many of his decisions and finally, in 1962, had a nervous breakdown regarding an upcoming case. At the suggestion of Chief Justice Earl Warren, Whittaker recused himself, and then retired from the court on March 31, 1962, claiming exhaustion and stress.
Three years later, on Sept. 30, 1965, Whittaker accepted a position as chief counsel for General Motors.
Charles Evans Whittaker died on Nov. 26, 1973, at the age of 72. He was laid to rest in Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1996, a new federal courthouse for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri was started at 400 E. Ninth Street in Kansas City, Missouri. It was completed in 2000 and named the Charles Evans Whittaker Federal Courthouse.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County and has written Historically Yours for the Boonville Daily News for more than 10 years. In celebration of Missouri's Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show-Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.firstname.lastname@example.org.