Charles Evans Hughes, the man for whom Hughes Hall is named, joined the Cornell Law School faculty in 1891, when the school was just five years old, and Hughes was twenty-nine. He graduated from Brown University and went to law school at Columbia before coming to teach at Cornell. One of his first students, Myron C. Taylor, would later look back on Hughes as an early mentor.
Hughes was forced after just two years to return to private law practice in New York City in order to better support his young family – and perhaps because his father-in-law, an eminent lawyer, thought serving on the Cornell faculty was “a grave mistake.” He worried about his grandchildren being raised in a “one-horse town like Ithaca.”
In 1906, with backing from fellow Republican Theodore Roosevelt, Hughes defeated famed publisher William Randolph Hearst for the office of governor of New York, an office he held for two terms. He resigned as governor in 1910 to accept a position as associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, then stepped down from the court in 1916 to make a bid for the presidency. He was narrowly defeated by incumbent Woodrow Wilson.
After serving as Secretary of State from 1921 to 1925, he was nominated in 1930 by President Herbert Hoover to serve as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president, Chief Justice Hughes led a fractious and controversial court in numerous confrontations between the judicial and executive branches involving much of the president’s New Deal legislation.
Known as a master of consensus-building, Hughes was a prolific and talented writer, penning twice as many opinions as any of his contemporaries on the Supreme Court. Retiring from the Court in 1941, he died in 1948. When it came time to name the Law School’s new residence center in 1963, Myron Taylor expressed his wish to honor the life and career of his former teacher.