Ralph Waldo Emerson Donges, born on May 5, 1868, in Donaldson, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, to Dr. John Washington Donges and Rose Marguerite Renaud Donges, was a distinguished legal and political figure in Camden, NJ. His father, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a practicing physician, and his French-born mother, provided a nurturing environment for Ralph and his siblings Clarence, Miriam, Raymond, and Evelyn.
In 1875, the Donges family moved to Camden, residing at 1801 Broadway and later at 525 Broadway. By 1920, they were living at 805 Cooper Street. Inspired by observing John W. Wescott, a future judge, Ralph pursued a career in law, studying under Wescott before practicing alongside his brother Raymond R. Donges.
Ralph’s career was multifaceted. He actively engaged in politics and community affairs, serving as the secretary of the First Congressional District branch of the Democrats in 1904 and as a legal aide to Woodrow Wilson. His involvement with fraternal organizations was notable, particularly with the Camden Lodge 111, Loyal Order of Moose, where he served as Supreme Dictator.
His role in Moose International led to a significant interaction with Vice-President Thomas Marshall in 1913, convincing him to support the establishment of Mooseheart Child City and School, a novel concept in child care and education, far removed from the traditional orphanage model.
During World War I, Ralph served on the Camden City Draft Board and the Public Safety Committee, later joining the U.S. Army and rising to Lieutenant Colonel. Post-war, he held several judicial positions, serving as a circuit judge (1920-1930), an associate justice of the New Jersey State Supreme Court (1930-1948), and a superior court judge (1948-1951). He also ventured into banking, becoming the first president of the South Camden Trust in 1921.
Ralph was a member of several professional and fraternal organizations, including the American Bar Association, Freemasons, Elks, and Moose. He spent his later years in Oaklyn, NJ, and passed away in September 1974, leaving a substantial legacy in law and community service.
Posthumously, the Honorable Ralph W.E. Donges Memorial Scholarship Award was established, offering an annual $1,000 scholarship to evening law students with an intention to practice in Camden County, emphasizing financial need and academic achievement. This scholarship reflects Donges’ lifelong commitment to the legal profession and his community.
In Camden the Loyal Order of Moose sponsored a variety of civic and social activities, including amateur boxing tournaments during the Depression years.
The South Camden Trust Company was opened for business on April 2, 1921.
The Farmers and Mechanics Bank was organized with a capital of $300,000 on March 31, 1855. The banking house at the southeast corner of Front and Market Streets was built at the cost of $18,000. This institution was conducted as a State Bank until September 1, 1864 when it became a National Bank and its…
Camden Courier-Post – February 5, 1938 Legal Profession Pleased at Designation to Preside Over Lloyd’s District Supreme Court Justice Ralph W. E. Donges yesterday was assigned to preside over the Camden-Gloucester county Second judicial district of the Supreme Court. A copy of the order of assignment was received by County Clerk Leslie H. Ewing. Justice…
Dr. Donges, Mills, Schepperkittes, Covely and Other Men Wrought Through Years to Bring Needed Improvements to District
Camden Courier-Post – June 12, 1933 By BEN COURTER When a larger community annexes an adjoining district the newer area is generally regarded, for a time at least, as a step-child. Older residents of East Camden will bear out that truism when they recall how difficult it was to obtain improvements. Years before, Newton Township…