Memorial Address for Judge Merritt W. Pinckney, June 9, 1920 (excerpts)


The final word concerning Judge Pinckney's [work] was spoken by Jane Addams, without whose wise [and] skillful touch no work of civic betterment has reached completion in Chicago these many years. Among other things, Miss Addams said:

"I saw Judge Pinckney almost daily for five years when the Juvenile Court was held in the Detention Home Building opposite Hull House. Day by day he seemed to gain in wisdom and understanding, not only of the needs of the child but of the needs of the community as well. He came to the Juvenile Court to succeed the brilliant administration of Judge Mack, and at a moment when the work and scope of the court was greatly enlarged and was therefore being challenged by the self-seeking element of the community. The trial Judge Arnold referred to was almost an attack on the Juvenile Court itself and the idea it represented.

"It was through Judge Pinckney's efforts that the Mothers' Pension Bill was finally passed; its administration was attended with many difficulties for it could so very easily be turned to political purposes. That law was also the subject of attack. I remember very well the men who came from New York to challenge the very idea of a pension bill and who held their hearings in the Juvenile Court itself. I also remember how very cool and collected Judge Pinckney was, how grounded he was in the belief that if a child needs the care of his mother and if that alone would save him from future difficulties, he must have that care. It seems a simple doctrine now, but was considered very revolutionary then.

"Then I also remember how pleased he was at the passing of the 'Contributing to Delinquency Act' as it was called which enabled him to hold the parent or guardian responsible for certain evils that had befallen the child. He sought in all directions for helps which would make the future of the child secure. In thus [page 2] administering the Court from the point of view of the child, he was in reality using a new social tool.

"I might tell of his personal relations with many juvenile cases. One day he came to Hull House accompanied by a young lad who had recently arrived from Honolulu and who had wandered more or less steadily from one country to another, possessed by a wanderlust which I imagine is driving him still. The Judge said: 'I want you to take him into a club. He has not promised me that he will not wander off again but he has promised me that he will tell me before he starts.' 'Sure, Judge, I'll promise you that,' said the boy. He did tell the Judge before he left us a few months later, and gave him his confidence for a good many years, and the Judge had a good deal to do with the kind of places he went to and his attitude toward what was decent in those places.

"I could go into a good many such cases, for the incidents which show his inner temper are the things that one holds in memory. He will stand out as a citizen of the best possible type who undertook a difficult piece of work, -- the administration of the first Juvenile Court in the world; if it failed it meant the failure of a new type of judicial procedure and it had great responsibilities on that account. If such a citizen should become self-conscious or self-seeking he was sure to fail. If he approached it as Judge Pinckney did, as a piece of work for the sake of the child, following every clue which the needs of the child seemed to indicate, then he came through not only with safety to himself but with a cargo of valuable experience for those who are building upon those early efforts of his."

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