In the largest and best sense of the term, William Henry Shinn is distinctively one of the representative men of his day in Williams County, and as such his life record is entitled to a distinctive place in the annals of his county. As a citizen he is public-spirited and enterprising to an unwonted degree; as a friend and neighbor, he combines the qualities of head and heart that win confidence and command respect; as a legislator, he exhibited elements of statesmanship which won for him not only the esteem of his colleagues, but also the commendation of his constituents, while as an attorney, possessing a comprehensive grasp of the philosophy of jurisprudence, he occupies an enviable position at the bar of his county. He realized early that there is a purpose in life and that there is no honor not founded on worth and no respect not founded on accomplishment. Because of this he has won for himself a place of prominence and honor as one of the world’s honored army of workers, his life and labors being worthy because they have contributed to a proper understanding of life and its problems.
William Henry Shinn was born in Northwest Township, Williams County, Ohio, on March 19, 1867, son of Aaron and Henrietta C. (Speaker) Shinn. He is descended from sterling old Colonial stock, the Shinn family dating its beginning in America back to a time prior to the coming of William Penn, when John Shinn, a Quaker and a native of England, left his native land in order that he might enjoy freedom of religious belief and practice. It is an essential truth that the final causes which shape the fortunes of individual men and the destinies of states are often the same, and when they inspire men to the exercise of courage, self-denial, enterprise, and call into play the higher moral elements; lead men to risk all upon conviction, faith — such causes lead to the planting of great nations and great peoples. Thus it was with those hardy people who, for the sake of their consciences, courageously came to a new and practically unknown world, braving all for the sake of posterity, and we today are enjoying the fruits of their sacrifices and courage. John Shinn settled in Burlington County, New Jersey, where he established a home and reared a family, and there the family has been continuously represented to the present day. All of the name in America are said to be direct descendants of the brave pioneer, John Shinn. In Burlington County, Aaron Shinn, father of the subject of this sketch, was born in 1803. In early manhood he came to Ohio, eventually locating in Williams County, where he followed his trade, that of blacksmith, establishing the first shop of that kind in Northwest Township. Here he met and married Henrietta C. Speaker, a native of Columbiana County, Ohio, and here his death occurred on January 16, 1867, at the age of sixty-four years, about two months before the birth of his son, the subject of this review.
William H. Shinn received his early educational training in the district schools, where his attendance was necessarily more or less irregular. During the summer months he hired out for work on neighboring farms, while during the winter he did chores for his board in the neighborhood of the school which he attended. In January, 1883, when not quite sixteen years old, he went to Montpelier and became an apprentice at the printing trade in the office of the Montpelier Enterprise. He was ambitious and while working at his trade he applied himself assiduously to his books, so that at the end of two years he was able to pass an examination and secured a certificate to teach school. He taught in Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan, and at the age of twenty years he became the editor of the Montpelier Democrat, occupying that position about eighteen months. From 1890 until November, 1893. he was the publisher of the Democrat at Newaygo, Michigan, and during his brief residence there he quickly gained public appreciation, filling several local offices, among them being school inspector, deputy county clerk, village clerk, justice of the peace and township clerk. In June, 1894, Mr. Shinn removed to La Grange, Indiana, and purchased the La Grange Democrat, which he published until February, 1896. In the spring of the following year he entered the employ of a publishing house as a writer, maintaining this relation until 1912, during which period he resided in Indiana. While residing there, in 1900, he became the democratic nominee for state senator, but was defeated at the ensuing election.
In August, 1912, Mr. Shinn returned to Williams County and purchased the Montpelier Enterprise, the office in which he had originally learned the printing trade, and he conducted this paper with marked success until September, 1916. In November, 1913, he was elected mayor of Montpelier, and two years later was re-elected to succeed himself, holding the office until January 1, 1917, when he resigned that office in order to take his seat in the Legislature, to which he had been chosen. At the primary election of 1914 the democrats of Williams County chose him as their candidate for representative from this county, but he was defeated at the November election. In 1916 he was again nominated, without opposition, and at the election he was successful, receiving a plurality of 102 votes over his opponent, the Hon. Frank M. Money, who had been the successful candidate two years before.
As a member of the Legislature, Mr. Shinn took a prominent and leading part in securing the passage of a number of important bills. Upon the organization of the House, he was made chairman of the committee on Constitutional Amendments and the Initiative and Referendum, and was given membership on the following committees: Cities, Fees and Salaries, Liquor Traffic and Temperance, Privileges and Elections and Taxation and Revenues. He introduced the Anti-Spotters railroad bill and the Injunction and Abatement (anti-vice) bills, both of which were enacted into laws. He was also the author and secured the adoption of the resolution submitting to the people an amendment to the State Constitution whereby the double taxation of real estate may be prevented. This amendment was subsequently ratified by the voters by a majority of more than 108,000 and is now a part of the organic law of the state. Upon his retirement from the Legislature, Mr. Shinn opened a law office in Montpelier and has since been engaged in the practice of that profession, in which he is meeting with splendid success.
On Christmas Day, 1891, Mr. Shinn was married to Zoe Thomas, at Montpelier, and they have a son, William Thomas, who was graduated from the Montpelier High School with the class of 1919, and is now a student in the Ohio State University at Columbus, preparing for the practice of law. The beginning of Mr. Shinn’s career was characterized by hard work and conscientious endeavor, and he owes his rise to no train of fortunate incidents or fortuitous circumstances. It has been the reward of the application of mental qualifications of a high order to the affairs of business, combined with keen perceptions and mental activity that enabled him to grasp the opportunities that have presented themselves. This he has done with success and, what is more important, with honor. Because of his success and his sterling qualities of character, he enjoys to a marked degree the confidence and good will of all who know him.
Further Reading: The history of the Shinn family in Europe and America, by Josiah Hazen Shinn. How Aaron, father of William Henry fits into the genealogy of John Shinn is not explained in the book.
Source: Bowersox, Charles A. ed. A standard history of Williams County, Ohio: an authentic narrative of the past, with particular attention to the modern era in the commercial, industrial, educational, civic and social development , 2 vols. Publisher Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co. 1920.