A Narrative History
The People of Iowa
SPECIALTREATMENT OF THEIR CHIEF ENTERPRISES IN
EDUCATION, RELIGION, VALOR,INDUSTRY,
EDGAR RUBEY HARLAN, LL. B., A.M.
Curator of the
Historical, Memorial and Art Department ofIowa
THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Inc.
Chicago and NewYork
WILLIAM McNETT, whose death occurred January 23, 1928, initiated the
practice of law in Iowa in the year 1868, and here his professional activities
continued until a short time prior to his death - a period of virtuallysixty
years.In intrinsic nobility of character, in ripe scholarship andin high
professional attainments he stood forth as a man well qualified for
leadership in popular sentiment and action, and he long held precedence as one
foremost members of the Iowa bar.His professional activities werecentered
in the city of Ottumwa, judicial center of Wapello County, from 1871until
the close of his long and worthy life, and no citizen commanded a fuller
measure of popular confidence and esteem than did this veteran lawyer, whose
influence was ever cast in the advocacy and support of those things that
the higher ideals in communal life.
William McNett was born at Mount Morris, Ogle County, Illinois, March10,
1845, and died in Ottumwa, Iowa, on January 23, 1928, and thus he was nearly
eighty-three years of age at the time of his death.He was a son of Walterand
Susan (Knodle) McNett, who were sterling pioneers of Ogle County, where the
father was an early wagonmaker at Mount Morris and likewise became a
substantialfarmer of that locality.The subject of this memoir was reared to
sturdy discipline of the farm, and he supplemented the discipline of the common
schools of his native county by attending, in 1862-64, the old Rock River
Seminary, an institution that is now known as Mount Morris Seminary.As a
youth he diversified his activities by continuing farm work during summer months
and teaching school during the fall and winter terms until he was able to
followthe course of his ambition and take up the study of law.He received
early legal training under theeffective preceptorship of Judge Turner of
Freeport, Illinois, and early in 1868 he was admitted to the bar of his native
state.In June of the same year he opened a law office at Marshaltown,
Iowa, and since his financial resources were very limited, he borrowed money to
tide him over during the trying novitiate that was the portion of the average
young lawyer of the period.In this connection, with characteristicloyalty,
he took out his first insurance policy as a means of protecting his
creditor.In April, 1869, in company with Eugene Fawcett, another young
Mr. McNett transferred his residence toOttumwa, but he soonremoved to
Eddyville, a town that gave at that time promise of becoming themetropolis of
Wapelo County.He remained at Eddyville until September,1871, when he
to Ottumwa and formed a law partnership with his friendEugene Fawcett, and
firm of Fawcett & McNett having here developed aprosperous general law
practice and the partnership alliance continued until theimpaired health of
Fawcett led him to remove to California, where heattained to prominence and
wealth.This firm's first case before the IowaSupreme Court was presented at
the December term in 1871.In continuinghis law practice at Ottumwa Mr.
McNett was associated professionally with JudgeWilliam D. Tisdale, John W.
Lewis, and finally with his son Walter, under thesuccessive firm names of
McNett & Tisdale, NcNett & Lewis and McNett& McNett, and here his son Walter
still controls the large and important lawbusiness in which the tow were
associated at the time of the death of thehonored subject of this memoir.
Tisdale, who is still engaged inpractice at Ottumwa and who is represented in
a personal sketch in thispublication, has stated that in Southern Iowa Mr.
NcNett has no superior as alawyer.The broad and fine intellectual ken of
Mr. McNett came to himthrough his close and appreciative study and reading
throughout the entirecourse of his life.He was familiar with the best in
classical andcontemporary literature, was a deep Bible student, and was well
fortified in hisreligious faith and practice, which showed no trace of bigotry
or intolerance.He was for many year an earnest member of the Congregational
Church in hishome city, and his wife likewise was a devoted member.Mr.
McNett lovedgood books and their thought-promotive area, and his private
library was one ofthe largest and most select in this part of Iowa.As a man
broad viewsand mature judgment he was frequently called upon to make
addresses of publicorder, especially in connection with matters touching civic
interests and thecommunal welfare.He was an earnest supporter of the work of
the local Y.M. C. A., and his unbounded civic loyalty found divers avenues for
The intrinsic independence of Mr. McNett touched all phases of life,and
thus he was not constrained by strict partisanship, though a staunchadvocate
the principles and policies of the Republican party.He oftenheld men and
measures above mere partisan dictates.He was eminentlyqualified for public
office, and could undoubtedly have had a seat on the benchof the Iowa
Supreme Court, but he preferred the work of his profession in adirect way to
service in any public office.He had to the fullest extentthat which is so
frequently expressed as "the courage of his convictions."He loved his home,
friends and his books, and they filled a large partin his gallant and
earnest life.He was the friend of all classes andconditions of men, and was
ready to respond to the call of suffering anddistress.
As a lawyer Mr. McNett was retained as attorney for large and important
corporate interests.In 1886 he became legal representative for JohnMorrell &
Company, controlling the largest industrial enterprise at Ottumwa,and he
served as attorney also for the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific andthe Chicago,
Burlington & Quincy Railroads, as well as teh Wabash Railroad.He served as
attorney for J. C. Osgood, one of the leading coal mineowners and operators of
Iowa, and while much of his time was given to theaffairs of the important
corporations of which he was legal representative, Mr.Mcnett appeared also in
other than corporate cases, including a number of willcases.His final
court appearance was in August, 1927, when heparticipated in a fourteen day
trial in the Wapello District Court.Hegave a long period of service as
president of the Wapello County BarAssociation, and was president of the Iowa
State Bar Association in1917.
After the death of Mr. McNett an appreciative estimate of his life and
service was prepared by Judge M. A. Robers, of Ottumwa, and from the same the
following paragraph is taken with but slight paraphrase:"William McNettwas a
most congenial man, personally known by practically all of the people ofhis
home community and loved by all who knew him.He met everybody with asmile
and sought in his daily contact to scatter sunshine and dispel gloom.he was
considerate of the wants and needs and misfortunes of others andready to
extend relief at all times, so far as lay within his power.hisencouragement
and friendly assistance to young lawyers entering the local barand his
courteous demeanor to both bench and bar were a matter of generalcomment among
On July 24, 1872, occurred the marriage of Mr. McNett to Miss Mary B.
Stoddard, of Eddyville, Wapello County, to whom were born five children.Three
living:Walter, who continues in the practice of law inottumwa, as the
virtual successor, even as he was the professional associate, ofhis father;
James W., who is a resident of Seattle, Washington; and Miss MaryS., who
remains at the old family homestead in Ottumwa.
Walter McNett, who is well upholding the civic and professionalprestige of
the family name in his native state, was born at Ottumwa on the 12thof
November, 1877, and here his public-school discipline terminated when he was
graduated in the high school.Thereafter he continued his studies atGrinnell
College, this state, and later he was a student in the law departmentof the
University of Iowa, graduating with the degree of LL. B. in 1905.His earlier
study of law was under the able preceptorship of his father,with whom he was
actively associated in practice from 1905 until the death ofthe latter, since
which time the father's name has been retained in the title ofthe law firm
of McNett, McNett & Kuhns, of which the son is now seniorprincipal.
June 15, 1909, marked the marriage of Walter McNett to MissBlanche V.
Garner, and they have two children, William and WesleyGarner.
Iowa History Project
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