Ben Lindsey (jurist)

Last updated on 24 October 2017

Benjamin Barr Lindsey (November 25, 1869 – March 26, 1943) was an American judge and social reformer based in Denver, Colorado, during the Progressive Era.

Benjamin Barr Lindsey
Benjamin Barr Lindsey in 1913.jpg
Lindsey in 1913
Born November 25, 1869
Jackson, Tennessee
Died March 26, 1943 (aged 73)
Los Angeles, California
Cause of death heart attack
Occupation Judge, social reformist, actor
Benjamin Barr Lindsey (November 25, 1869 - March 26, 1943) and wife in 1915.jpg
Lindsey and wife in 1915

Early life

Benjamin Barr Lindsey was born in Jackson, Tennessee, on November 25, 1869, to a former confederate captain. He was educated in the public schools and attended Southwest Baptist University. His father, Landy Tunstall Lindsey, committed suicide when Ben was 18, leaving him the sole support of his mother and her three younger children. He obtained employment in a real-estate office in Denver, Colorado, where he studied law in his spare time. In despair over his slow progress in his law studies, he attempted suicide, but his gun misfired. In 1894, he entered the practice of law in Denver. In his work, he was often assisted by his wife, Henrietta, whom he had married in 1914. He was appointed to a vacancy in the county court in 1900.

Juvenile court

Lindsey was a pioneer in the establishment of the juvenile court system. Through his efforts, an act was passed creating a juvenile court in Denver which represented an important advance in relation of the law to children and would go on to serve as a model for future juvenile courts across America. Lindsey was made judge of the juvenile court in 1901 (which became a juvenile and family relations court in 1907). He held the position continuously, but he was not endorsed by either political party in 1908. Under his administration, the juvenile court of Denver became noted throughout the civilized world.

Among other measures to which Judge Lindsey contributed his influence were a reform of the registration law, greatly reducing election frauds; a reform of the ballot; state provisions for the support of the dependents of people serving in prison; extension of the probation system for prisoners; organization of public baths and playgrounds in Denver; the institution of the fresh-air movement in Denver; and enactment of statewide Mother's Pension Law.

He was a leader in the movement to abolish child labor. He carried on an active propaganda for the general adoption of the juvenile court plan, and for political and social reform, through lectures delivered in many American and foreign cities and through the publication of books and pamphlets, of which The Beast (with Harvey J. O'Higgins, 1910) was widely circulated. In 1906, Judge Lindsey was a candidate for Governor of Colorado, and in 1912 became a member of the Progressive National Committee.

Companionate marriage

In early 1927, Judge Lindsey co-wrote a controversial book about what he called "companionate marriage," in which he suggested that young men and women should be able to live together in a trial marriage, where the couple could have a year to evaluate whether or not they were suitable with each other. The only caveat was they had to agree not to have children. If after a year, the couple decided to stay together, they could do so, but if the relationship didn't work out, they would be able to dissolve the relationship easily. Also, if they decided they were compatible and did want children, they could change the status of their relationship to a traditionally understood marriage ("Lindsey Urges Marriage For Companionship." Chicago Tribune, 12 January 1927, p. 3).

Since one of the most common discourses in the popular culture was about women having children, and many clergy believed that sexual intercourse within marriage should only be for purposes of procreation, Judge Lindsey’s essay aroused strong emotions; a number of priests and ministers, as well as civic leaders accused him of promoting immorality, promiscuity and free love, charges that he denied ("Judge Lindsey Denies Advocating Free Love." New York Times, 31 January 1927, p. 11). At one point, even the Pope spoke out against him ("Pope Excoriates Birth Control And Companionate Marriage." Atlanta Constitution, 9 January 1931, p. 1). In Denver, he was ousted from the bench, after 28 years of service. Time expressed the view that his views on companionate marriage had destroyed his reputation.[1] Judge Lindsey continued to defend his views on radio and in a series of speaking engagements.[2]

In popular culture

Judge Lindsey appeared as himself in the film The Soul of Youth (1920), directed by William Desmond Taylor, and in Judge Ben Lindsey in the Juvenile Court (1921), the latter film made in the experimental Photokinema sound-on-disc process.

He is referenced by fictional interpretation in the song "Circle Round My Bedside" by Jay Munly.

Later Years

In 1931, he ran for, and won election to a judgeship in the California Superior Court. He also continued his advocacy for children in the juvenile justice system. He died in Los Angeles, California, of a heart attack, at age 73.[3]


  • With Edwin Markham and George Creel, Children in Bondage, (1914)
  • The Rule of Plutocracy in Colorado; The Doughboys' Religion (1919)
  • Pan-Germanism in America (1919)
  • With Wainwright Evans, The Revolt of Modern Youth (1925)
  • With Wainwright Evans. The Companionate Marriage (1927)
  • With Rube Burrough. The Dangerous Life (1931)

Further reading


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Judge Lindsey to Speak Tomorrow at P.B.H., The Harvard Crimson, Apr. 16, 1920.
  3. ^ [2]
  • The Life and Times of Ben B. Lindsey: The Good Fight, a Biography, by Larsen, Charles. ISBN 9780812902372.

External links

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