John E. Semmes (1851-1925)
John E. Semmes was born on a farm near Cumberland, July 1, 1851. He was descended from a family identified with Maryland almost from its first colonization. His father, Samual Middleton Semmes was at one time judge of the Court of Appeals in Maryland. One of his uncles was the great Confederate naval commander, Admiral Raphael Semmes and another uncle was Commodore Guest who distinguished himself on the Northern side.
Mr. Semmes' early training and education were unusually diversified. Before graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1874, he spent a year as a medical student at the University of Virginia. In 1874-76 he served as secretary and clerk for his uncle, Commodore John Guest, U.S.N. on the wooden frigate Brooklyn.
He then came to Baltimore and entered the law office of John H. B. Latrobe, father of Gen. Ferdinand C. Latrobe. Mr. Semmes regarded Mr. Latrobe as one of the strongest factors in his career. Mr. Semmes wrote and published the biography of his legal preceptor and devoted friend Mr. Latrobe.
Although a Democrat himself, Mr. Semmes held his first public office as City Solicitor of Baltimore, from 1897-1899, on appointment by a Republican Mayor, William T. Malster. Mr. Semmes also served as head of the School Board and head of the Water Board of Baltimore City and was twice president of the Reform League. He was a member of the Maryland and University Clubs and was one of the organizers of the Baltimore Athletic Club.
Mr. Semmes' characteristic, both mentally and physically, was strength and directness. He had a strong personality and sense of obligation. His standard of ethics was high and was rigidly enforced in his office. He was a lawyer by profession, but his interest in public affairs and municipal welfare was characterized by the same zeal which he displayed in his legal profession. In the 16 years preceding his death in 1925, at the age of 74, Mr. Semmes became increasingly disabled by severe rheumatism, which ultimately affected his heart and caused his death. Yet his malady never abated the keenness of his mind, and his deep interest and involvement in all matters of public concern was active and unabated up to the time of his death.