Warren Olney (1891) 1

Warren Olney (March 11, 1841 – June 2, 1921) was a trustee of Mills College for 34 years, and the mayor of Oakland from 1903 to 1905. He was also a founding member of the Sierra Club and had several notable descendants also named Warren Olney.

Olney was born on March 11, 1841 in Davis County, (per History of the Bar) Iowa (or Albia, Monroe County, per Rootsweb) to William and Eliza Ann (Green) Olney. He was the eldest of eight children. The family lived in a one-room log cabin. 7

He attended the University of Iowa, and the University of Michigan for his law degree.

Olney enlisted in the Third Iowa Infantry in 1861. He served until 1865, leaving with the rank of captain.

Olney married Mary Jane Craven Olney (1842 - 1928) in 1865 and they moved to San Francisco. The Olneys had at least six children: Martha Olney, Warren Olney, Jr., Mary Olney, Thomas More Olney, Ethel ("Effa") Olney, and William Olney. By 1880, the family had moved to Oakland, where they lived at 481 - 29th Street.

Several of Olney's descendants have become well known. Son Warren Olney, Jr. was a lawyer who went on to serve on the served on the Supreme Court of California from 1919 to 1921. His grandson, Warren Olney III was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as an Assistant Attorney General to oversee the Criminal Division of the DOJ, but not chosen. Warren Olney IV is a broadcast journalist in Los Angeles. 4

Olney was a member of the Loyal Legion (military order), Grand Army of the Republic, San Francisco Bar Association (was president at one time), Claremont Country Club, Unitarian Club (was president at one time), Berkeley Club, University Club of San Francisco. 3 There is a Hall named after him at Mills College.

Olney is buried with Mary, daughter Martha, and son Thomas in the Olney lot in plot 13 in Mountain View Cemetery. Warren Jr. and Warren III are also buried in Mountain View, but in different plots with their spouses.

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He had a partnership in San Francisco with William P. Daingerfield until Daingerfield was appointed to be a judge in 1876. Olney practiced alone until 1877 when he joined Robinson, Olney and Byrne until 1884. In 1884, the firm changed to Olney & Byrne and was called that until 1886. From 1886 until 1892 he worked for Olney, Chickering & Thomas. He practiced alone until 1895 and then took on his son, Olney, Jr. At some point J. R. Mannon and J. M. Pringle became members of the firm. 2

Sierra Club

Olney met John Muir sometime by 1889 through a mutual friend, landscape and portrait painter William Keith. Olney was a hiker and fisherman, and when Muir visited San Francisco, Keith, Olney and Muir would get together. Eventually this became a sort of salon gathering at Olney's law offices at the First National Bank Building at 101 Sansome Street in San Francisco, including many professors from Stanford and Berkeley.

On May 28, 1892, the group held a formal meeting in Olney's office and established the Sierra Club. A week later, twenty-seven charter members signed Olney's articles of incorportation. Muir was the president and Olney was the vice-president.

Olney was with the Sierra Club during the Hetch Hetchy conflict (perhaps as a result of his involvement in the water wars? See Mayor section below.) He wanted the water supply out of private hands and into the city of San Francisco by damming Tuolumne River where it passed through Hetch Hetchy. This would cost taxpayers less money, especially in the wake of the 1906 earthquake. No one currently had rights to the Tuolumne, and San Francisco voters liked the plan. Other members of the Club didn't, however, and Olney resigned after a 589-161 vote against his plan. 8

Mills College

Olney was a trustee of Mills College from 1886 until his death in 1921. One of the residence halls at Mills is named Warren Olney Hall in his honor.


One of the issues in Olney's election in 1903 appears to have been the ubiquitous water wars. The Contra Costa Water Company and the Oakland Examiner were against Olney in the campaign. He said that if he were elected, he would raise a bond to help with municipal improvements and charged that his opponents would do no such thing. 6 See his full address on "The Water Question."

In 1903, after elected, Olney gave a speech recommending the consolidation of Alameda, Berkeley and Oakland as one mega-city. (See also: Albert H. Elliot). 5

Links and References

  1. Mills College

  2. History of the Bench and Bar of California, edited by Joseph Clement Bates

  3. History of the Bench and Bar of California, edited by Joseph Clement Bates
  4. Warren Olney on Wikipedia
  6. WARREN OLNEY'S ADDRESS San Francisco Call: Feb 16, 1903
  7. The Olney Connection on Rootsweb
  8. Keough, James. "Advise and Dissent: Warren Olney and the Club." Sierra: 1978.