Francis Kavanagh - Assistant United States Attorney

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Francis B. Kavanagh
Francis B. Kavanagh

Francis Kavanaugh was the first assistant United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio and also a member of the law form of Gentseh, Rawson, Smith, Kavanagh & Carpenter.

Francis Bernard Kavanagh was born the oldest of seven children on August 14, 1879, to John Francis and Mary Elizabeth Kavanagh in Union City, Pennsylvania. His father. John was a merchant tailor until 1916. An unfortunate combination of circumstances, due to the hard times of the 1890s, he lost his fortune when Francis was about fifteen years old.

Francis graduated from high school in Union City in 1896. Economic necessity forced him to earn his own living. He learned the chair maker trade in Union City but never lost his ambition to become a lawyer. He studied law at every opportunity. For a time, his studies were directed to Union City by the Honorable Milton Shreve, a successful lawyer and member of Congress. Some academic training came from Vincentian Academy in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Francis came to Cleveland in 1902 and worked several years as a newspaperman, principally on the Cleveland Leader and as the general manager of the Universe Publishing Company in Cleveland. He also did editorial and reportorial work on several country papers, including the Warren Daily News in Warren, Ohio, and the Harrison County Herald in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

His newspaper experience opened to him a broad view of life in its various conditions. As a result, he became increasingly interested in sociological conditions. Finally, he gave up his newspaper work to establish the Cleveland City Farm School for Dependent and Delinquent Boys in Hudson, Ohio. Later he was assistant general agent of the Cleveland Humane Society and undertook and accomplished the reorganization of the society.

Meanwhile, Francis continued his law studies at the Baldwin-Wallace Law School and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in 1909. He was admitted to the bar in the same year. Immediately after his admission to the bar, he took up general practice.

From the first, Mr. Kavanagh attracted the attention of his professional associates by his ability and conscientious work. While building a practice, he was gaining a firm hold on the profession's confidence in general. A powerful testimonial of this came in 1915 when 400 members of the Cleveland Bar Association gave him their personal endorsement for appointment as first assistant United States attorney. He received his appointment on July 15, 1915, and assumed his duties on the following day.

He was admitted to the U.S. Appellate Courts in 1914, became first assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio from 1914 to 1918, special U.S. attorney for war prosecutions from 1918 to 1919, and was admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in December 1920. He was recognized for successful prosecution in cases arising out of World War I by his appointment as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio on September 1, 1918. Prominent among his cases was the United States vs. Eugene Debs, a socialist candidate for president, for violation of the espionage act several times.

Kavanagh was active in democratic politics in the Cleveland area for fifteen years, managing the Congressional campaigns for the 20th district from 1910 to 1912.

He was a member of the committee on grievances of the Cleveland Bar Association, having served as chairman in 1924. He was a member of the Academy of Political Science in New York. He was a 32nd degree Mason and Shriner, a member of the Cleveland Alumni Senate, Delta Theta Phi law fraternity, plus the Cleveland and American Bar Associations.

Kavanagh was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Cleveland Real Estate Board, Cleveland Museum of Art, American National Red Cross, and City Civic League. Social memberships included the Cleveland Athletic, Colonial, East Shore Country, and Shrine Luncheon clubs. Books were his hobby, and he was a particular lover of Shakespeare.

Francis married Mildred Sigler on May 30, 1916. They had a daughter Helen (Mathison), born in 1920.

Francis divorced in or about 1925, and he later married Cathryn "Jean" Woodford Wible on January 21, 1928. She was born on April 29, 1896, and had previously been married to Rollin Dwight Wible, who died at age 36 due to an accident. Francis was the stepfather of Lawrence Wible and the father of Helen (Mathison).

Francis died on February 8, 1956, and Jean died in 1981. Both are buried in Lakewood Park Cemetery.