Behind the Name: Peter J. Shields
A Founder of the UC Davis Campus
Peter J. Shields has been acknowledged as the moving force behind advancing the Act of California Legislature and securing the funds needed to establish the University Farm, which later would become the UC Davis campus. The Peter J. Shields Collection, available upon request from the library’s Archives and Special Collections, contains both personal papers and materials related to the creation of the UC Davis campus.
Born on his family’s homestead at Hangtown Crossing (located within current day Rancho Cordova), Shields’ boyhood on the farm kindled a life-long interest in agriculture. At the age of 17, he graduated from Christian Brothers College in Sacramento and studied law, reading in the office of Judge Amos Catlin. He was successively private secretary to Governor James H. Budd, secretary of the State Agricultural Society, and a law partner to Hiram W. Johnson. At 38 years old, he was elected to the superior bench in Sacramento and served longer in that capacity than any other superior judge in California.
Judge Shields developed a fine and well-known herd of Jersey cattle, which were widely exhibited and won many prizes. Up until several years before his death and well into his 90s, he could be found at the State Fair judging ring on Jersey Day.
As one of the founders of the UC Davis campus, he maintained a lifelong interest in the university community and its students. In 1939 a Peter J. Shields scholarship fund was established and in 1955 he received an LLD degree from the university.
In honor of his commitment to UC Davis, an oak grove in the arboretum was dedicated to him on April 5, 1962 at the annual Charter Day Celebration. Then on September 28, 1962, Judge Peter J. Shields passed away at the age of 100 years old.
In 1972 the campus honored Shields by naming the main library building in his memory. The main library is known as Peter J. Shields Library and the street running along its north side is Peter J. Shields Avenue.