Those who write the biography of prominent men usually begin with the circumstances attending their youth and their parentage, and much greater credit is commonly awarded to him who has risen from the depths of poverty through stern adversity to a high place of honor among men. It is a matter of daily observation that an experience in menial labor and humble life is an element for popular strength in a candidate for high public office and it is said that sons of prominent men seldom rise to the heights which their fathers attained. As a western editor has expressed it "If any sectionof a house still honored rises to greatness he will have achieved it. He will not be born to it or find it thrust upon him, and he must be very great indeed to overcome the disadvantage of standing in the shadow of a colossal ancestry;" yet in the career of Frank D. Ryan we find one who has become a distinguished lawyer and leader in political circles, notwithstanding the fact that his record must bear comparison with that of the Hon. John Ryan, his father, who was formerly commissioner of streets and second trustee of Sacramento, and who also held other representative positions for many years and was accounted one of the prominent and influential men of the capital city.

Mr. Ryan was born in Sacramento on the 11th of May, 1859, and acquired his academic education in his native city, supplementing it, however, by a course in St. Mary's College in San Francisco, in which he was graduated with the class of 1878. Returning to Sacramento he then took up the study of law in the office and under the direction of Judge R. C. Clark, being admitted to practice in the supreme court November 9, 1880. He then opened an office and at once entered upon the prosecution of his chosen profession. No dreary novitiate awaited him, for almost immediately he secured a good clientage, which has been constantly growing in volume and importance, and thus he has been connected with much of the important litigation tried in the courts of his district. He is at home in all departments of law from the minutiae in practice to the greater topics wherein are involved the consideration of the ethics and philosophy of jurisprudence and the higher concerns of public policy. He is clear in argument, thoroughly in earnest over whatever involved, never abusive of adversaries, imbued with the highest courtesy and yet a foe worthy of the steel of the most able opponent.

Whatever else may be said of the legal fraternity it cannot be denied that members of the bar have been more prominent actors in public affairs than any other class of the community. This is but the natural result of causes which are manifest and required no explanation, for the ability and training which qualify one to practice law also qualify him in many respects for duties which lie outside the strict path of his professiona and which touch the general interests of society. Mr. Ryan has been particularly active in matters political, having firm belief in the principles upon which the Republican party rests its cause. His abilities as a worker and orator have been frequently employed, and he has several times been called upon to accept responsible political positions. In 1882 he was elected to represent his county in the twenty-fifth session of the state legislature, a session of great interest to the city and county of Sacramento. At the subsequent election he was again the choice of his party for the same position, but afterwards resigned the nomination because a change of residence made him ineligible. He was the youngest member of the house at the time, but by no means the least active and efficient worker, in fact his labors and influence were strongly felt and his support was given to many measures which have resulted in benefit to the commonwealth. In 1885 Mr. Ryan was appointed chief clerk of the house of representatives, holding that position until 1889, including two extra sessions. In 1890 he was elected district attorney, was re-elected in 1892 and again in 1894, holding the office continuously for eight years, or until the close of the year 1898, when he retired to become a candidate for Congress. He was appointed commissioner of public works in the fall of 1899 for a term of four years. Soon after this appointment, however, the act under which it was made was repealed, but in March, 1900, Governor Gage again appointed him for a term of four years, so that he is the present incumbent of that office. In public positions his efforts have resulted from careful deliberation and wide consideration of the questions involved and their probable effect upon the general welfare. He is fearless in the advocacy of his convictions, and no one has cause to question the integrity of his course.

Mr. Ryan has, perhaps, occupied an even larger place in the public attention and regard and performed a more important work as a member of the Order of the Native Sons of the Golden West, having assisted in its incorporation in the 1880. He was a member of the Grand Parlor in 1880 when it was incorporated, and during that year was chosen grand vice president. In April, 1889, he was elected grand president of the Native Sons and served for one term in that position--the highest within the gift of the fraternity. He has been a prominent factor in the almost unexampled growth and prosperity of the Native Sons and has had the satisfaction of seeing more than a score of the members occupying seats in the legislature. He served on the board of Sutter Fort trustees, and was one of the originators of the proposition to buy the land and restore the fort as an historical place worthy of preservation. This was done during his service on the board. A committee was appointed to take in charge this matter by the Grand Parlor of Native Sons in 1888, and twenty thousand dollars was raised for the purchase of the land. This committee, to which Mr. Ryan belonged, secured the passage of an act of the legislature creating the board of the Sutter Fort trustees, and the title of the land was conveyed to the state, which then made an appropriation of twenty thousand dollars to restore the old fort. Mr. Ryan, following the completion of his work in this connection, retired from the board in 1902. On the occasion of the unveiling of the handsome monument to General Winn, the founder of the Order of Native Sons in Sacramento Valley, Mr. Ryan took a leading part. He has been one of the trustees of the state library of California for one term, and for three years was a trustee of the Chico State Normal School, but resigned before the expiration of his term. He has likewise been a trustee of the Sacramento lodge of Elks since its organization, is a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and the Young Men's Institute. He has also been active in military affairs of this state. He enlisted as a private in Company G of Sacramento City in the year 1880. He was afterwards elected one of the line officers of Company B of the same city. After four years' service as a private and a lieutenant of his company, he was appointed major and inspector of the Fourth Brigade, and also served in the same capacity in another brigade, and voluntarily retired with the the rank of major in the year 1895.

Mr. Ryan was married on the 25th of November, 1883, in Sacramento, to Miss Ella Boutwell, who was born in Placer county, California, and is a daughter of S. A. Boutwell, a pioneer farmer and stock-raiser of that county. The children born of this marriage are Frank D., who is now a student in Santa Clara College; Estelle, Ruth and Irene, who are attending school in Sacramento. The family is prominent in the social circles of this city and Mr. Ryan has a wide acquaintance throughout the state, the circle of his friendship being greatly extended through his political and fraternal connections. He has in professional life won success, yet he is not learned in the law alone, for he has studies long and carefully the subjects that are to the statesman and the man of affairs of the greatest import--the questions of finance, political economy and sociology,--and has kept abreast with the best thinking men of the age.

Source: History of the New California Its Resources and People, Volume II

The Lewis Publishing Company - 1905
Edited by Leigh H. Irvine

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