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1979 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Abraham Lincoln Marovitz*

Senior Judge
U.S. District Court

"I never met a self-made man or woman. The only thing you can do by yourself is fail."

The fourth son of Lithuanian immigrants, Abraham Marovitz was born in 1906 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. His mother chose his name, Abraham Lincoln, after attending a lecture about her adopted land. She heard about President Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves and was "shot in the temple." Marovitz said, "She thought 'temple' meant synagogue. I don't think she ever was convinced that Lincoln wasn't a Jew."

When Marovitz was five, the family moved to Chicago, where his father opened a small tailor shop and his mother ran a candy store. The family of seven lived in three rooms behind the store. The values his parents taught him-integrity, hard work, self-respect, and respect for others- shaped his life and career. His father never learned to read or write English, except for his name. His mother did not learn to read until her son joined the Marine Corps during World War II. "She wanted to be able to write me letters," he said.

At 17, while working as an office boy for one of Chicago's largest law firms, Marovitz became interested in making law his profession. His boss, Alfred S. Austrian, became his mentor. He gave Marovitz a check for $120, the yearly tuition for law school, as well as a $2-a-week raise. He told Marovitz to repay the loan at the rate of $2 per week, which he did. By the time he was 19, he had completed law school but was too young to take the bar exam. When he passed it as 21, he was appointed an assistant state's attorney.

He soon became a well-respected trial lawyer. In 1932, he formed a partnership with his brothers, specializing in labor, entertainment, and criminal law. Active in the Democratic Party, Marovitz was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1939, the first Jew to serve there. During his 12 years in office, he introduced America's first Fair Employment Act, barring discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or sex.

In 1950, Marovitz was elected a superior court judge. President Kennedy appointed him a United States district court judge for the Northern District of Illinois in 1963. He served in that capacity for more than 35 years. Honored by his Horatio Alger Award, Marovitz said that if he had one ambition, it would be "to be held in high esteem by my fellow man and make myself worthy of that esteem." In talking about his success, he said, "All I want to do is look back and see if I've done something that can make someone else's life just a little bit happier. If I've done that, it was a good day. I don't have the capacity to do big things, so I try to do as many little things for others as I can."

* Deceased