Pages from the past

By Carol Collins and M. Loretta Price

What do a log house in Cades Cove, an assembly line in Michigan, UT’s Tennessee Hall, World War II, and a Fifth Circuit Court judgeship have in common? That would be Judge William Wayne Oliver (’38), a Tennessee judge who came to our attention when we investigated a collection of handwritten class notes that had long resided in a storage area of the Law Library.

Oliver's notebooks
The class notes of Judge William Wayne Oliver (’38). Photo by Patrick Morrison (’16)

Manuscript Discovery

It is our best guess that the class notes were given to the Law Library sometime before 1950, when the school moved from Tennessee Hall to the college’s current home at 1505 Cumberland Avenue. The new building’s attic was lined in shelving to hold gift materials that were not currently needed in the library collection but considered too valuable to discard. When the library moved to the 1997 addition to the College of Law, much of this material was placed in compact storage for later sorting—except for several special groups of hand-written diaries and notebooks. One group, the work logs kept by the law librarians between 1921 and 1945, was described in the fall 2013 issue of Tennessee Law, pages 13-15. Another group was identified as class notes written by William Wayne Oliver during his study at the college from 1935 to 1938.

Early Years

William Wayne Oliver was born August 11, 1907, in Cades Cove, Tennessee, to John Walter Oliver and Nancy Ann Whitehead Oliver. He was the great-great grandson of John Oliver and Lucretia Frazier Oliver, the first permanent white settlers in the cove. Living in the cove required hard work and resilience.

“We all worked hard on the farm,” Oliver wrote in his book, Cades Cove: A Personal History.

While attending school in the cove, his day began at 4 a.m. and consisted of completing house and farm chores before walking two miles to attend class. After returning home, he repeated the morning ritual. During the winter, trapping was added to the chores.

“The first money I ever made was from sale of muskrat pelts,” Oliver wrote.

When Oliver was nine, his father enrolled him at Maryville Polytechnic School (MPS), a private boarding school in Maryville, Tennessee.  While there, Wayne continued to earn his way through school.

Motivated Student

Oliver on the day he graduated from UT Law in 1938

The Tennessee Bluebook 2013-2014, in a short history of the state, reports that Tennessee’s economy plummeted well before the stock market crash of October 1929. A determined young Oliver set out for Detroit to earn enough money to attend UT, where he attended intermittently between 1927 and 1930. When he wasn’t enrolled at UT, he returned to Michigan, working at Chevrolet, DuPont, Fisher Body Company, and Sears to save enough money to return to his studies. Meanwhile, in 1929, he married Thelma Goodson of Royston, Georgia.

Oliver entered UT Law in the fall of 1935. He prepared a bound notebook for each class he took. He briefed cases assigned on “interleaving paper containing mucilage on one edge” and “pasted this sheet into the notebook where the classroom notes are entered.” In addition to the twenty notebooks that Oliver donated to the library, he included eleven handwritten or typed summaries that he probably used to study for the bar exam.


Judge Oliver
Judge Oliver

Following his graduation from UT Law in 1938, Oliver was admitted to the Tennessee Bar and opened an office in Maryville, Tennessee. In 1939, Romulus L. Meares joined him as a partner, but within three years, World War II called them both to service. Oliver climbed the ranks of the military’s judicial system, ultimately being assigned to the Board of Review of the Supreme Court of the Military Justice System. He was awarded the Army Commendation Ribbon and the Army Service Forces Certificate of Commendation.

In 1947, Oliver resumed his Maryville law practice and received an appointment as city attorney for Maryville. By 1949, he had been appointed by Governor Browning to serve as circuit judge of the Forth Judicial Circuit of Tennessee. In 1967 he was appointed to the newly established Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, where he served until his retirement in 1975. He remained active working as a special judge on the Criminal Appeals Court and writing his memoirs, which serve as the primary source of information for this article.

Carol M. Collins is head of technical services and associate professor of the UT Law Library. M. Loretta Price is collection management librarian and associate professor of the UT Law Library. The authors wish to thank Mrs. Julia Webb, Judge Oliver’s daughter, for her assistance in making this article possible.