Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: 1854-1855
Born in Leicester, Massachusetts, Emory Washburn's legal knowledge and lifelong interest in education were manifest in his brief governorship, as well as his long career as an educator, lawyer, and author. He received an A.B from Dartmouth College, and an A.M. from Williams College, and then studied law at Harvard.
He practiced law in Worcester and Leicester where he served as Town Clerk for several years. In 1821, Washburn helped found the Williams College Alumni Association, the first such association in the United States. He was a representative in the state legislature (1826-1828), an aide to Governor Levi Lincoln, Jr., and a state Senator (1841-1842) where he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He then served as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas (1844-1847).
While traveling in Europe, Washburn was nominated without knowing it as the Whig Party's gubernatorial candidate. He achieved a plurality, but not a majority. State law required the election to be settled by the Senate, which selected Washburn. Taking an interest in education and social reforms, Governor Washburn supported the creation of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Governor Washburn lost his first and only reelection attempt.
Over the next two decades Emory Washburn was a Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School. The 1936 edition of the Dictionary of American Biography described him as "probably the most loved professor ever to teach at the Harvard Law School." He continued to serve on the Massachusetts State Board of Education. He was also a trustee of Williams College, an overseer of Harvard, a fellow of the American Antiquarian society, a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by Williams College and by Harvard in 1854. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts on March 18, 1877. His text, A Treatise on the American Law of Easements and Servitudes, continues to be used in contemporary law school classrooms.