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John Charles Townes (1852-1923) was born on January 30, 1852 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. As a boy, Townes and his family moved to Texas and became one of the first families to settle the town of Manor in 1856. Townes studied at Waco University from 1867 until 1869. He received an honorary LL.D. from that institution in 1898.
Townes began studying law in 1869 under Judge George F. Moore in the Austin law firm of Moore and Shelley and was admitted to the bar in 1873. Townes practiced in Austin until 1877 when he moved to San Saba, Texas. He was elected judge of the Thirty-Third Judicial District in 1882 and resigned after three years to practice with A. S. Fisher in Georgetown, Texas. In 1888, he was appointed judge of the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District to fill a vacant position. Townes accepted on the condition that he be relieved as soon as the judicial convention nominated a successor. Six months later, Townes formed a partnership with Samuel R. Fisher in Austin. Townes left the practice in 1896 when he replaced Thomas Scott Miller as a professor of law at the University of Texas. He was one of four faculty members, along with Judge Gould, Judge Batts, and Victor Brooks. In 1901, Townes was named Dean of the Law Department, but resigned after a year to devote his time to teaching, which included Private Corporations, Partnership, Agency, Torts, Pleading, Evidence, Sales, and Commercial Papers. He was reappointed to the position of dean in 1907 and remained until 1923. During his tenure, the size of the student body increased from 150 to nearly 400, the faculty size doubled from five to ten, entrance requirements were tightened to require two years of prior college coursework, the law program was expanded from two to three years, a minimum age of nineteen was required for admission into the Law Department, and the library increased from 3,500 volumes to more than 26,000 volumes. In 1923, Townes's final year as dean, the School of Law appeared on the first American Bar Association list of approved schools.
Dean Townes was president of the American Association of Law Schools and a member of the American Bar Association. Additionally, he was active in the founding of the University Baptist Church where he was superintendent of its Sunday school and taught a Bible class for university students.
Townes's publications include Pleading in the District and County Courts of Texas in 1901, second edition 1913; Studies in American Elementary Law in 1903, second edition, 1911; General Principles of the Law of Torts in 1907; Civil Government in the United States and in Texas in 1908; and Law Books and How to Use Them in 1909.