Robert Young Button was born on November 2, 1899, in Culpeper County, the son of John Young Button, a traveling hardware salesman and farmer, and Margaret Agnes Duncan Button. After graduating in 1917 from Culpeper High School, where he excelled in debating, Button enrolled at the University of Virginia. There he spent five active years and joined the prestigious Raven Society and the Order of the Coif before receiving an LL.B. Button returned to Culpeper to practice law. On August 20, 1931, he married Kathleen Mary Antoinette Cheape, a nurse. They had one son and one daughter.
Following a career path familiar to many other young lawyers, Button took an active role in community affairs, joined a variety of organizations, invested in local businesses, and eventually got involved in politics, beginning with the 1933 election campaign. He sat on the Virginia Parole Board from 1942 to 1945 and on the State Board of Education from 1945 to 1960. Button was a trustee of the Jamestown Corporation during the 1950s and served on the Potomac River Commission in 1958. He was a member of the Virginia Advisory Legislative Council and as chair issued reports on such issues as Virginia's involuntary sterilization laws and the retention, storage, and disposal of state records.
Button's published annual reports document in detail his work and responsibilities during eight years as attorney general. His office defended Virginia's racial segregation laws, legislative reapportionment, voter registration procedures, and the poll tax. Following previous practice, private attorneys were sometimes engaged to handle the difficult litigation of complicated cases. Assistant attorneys general argued two of the most publicized cases that reached the United States Supreme Court during Button's tenure, Griffin et al. v. County School Board of Prince Edward County et al. (1964) and Loving v. Virginia (1967). In both instances the Supreme Court negated the arguments of Button's assistant. In the first case the Court struck down the school board's abolition of the county schools and diversion of tax money to support private segregated academies, and in the second the justices invalidated Virginia's law against interracial marriages.
Although some people regarded Button as dignified, distant, and blunt, others who knew him better or worked with him closely remembered his kindness, humor, integrity, and dedication. He did not seek a third term in 1969, and in 1970 he resumed his law practice in Culpeper. Button had suffered a heart attack in 1967. He recovered sufficiently to return to work, but his heart remained weak for the remainder of his life. Button died on September 1, 1977, after suffering a heart attack in Culpeper and was buried in Culpeper Masonic Cemetery.
November 2, 1899 - Robert Y. Button is born in Culpeper County. He is the son of John Young Button and Margaret Agnes Duncan Button.
1917 - Robert Y. Button graduates from Culpeper High School.
1922 - Robert Y. Button graduates from the University of Virginia with an LLB Afterward he returns to Culpeper to pratice law.
August 20, 1931 - Robert Y. Button and Kathleen Mary Antoinette Cheape marry. They will have one son and one daughter.
1945 - Robert Y. Button is elected to the Senate of Virginia from the district comprising Culpeper, Fauquier, and Loudoun counties.
1961 - Albertis Sydney Harrison, Mills Edwin Godwin Jr., and Robert Y. Button run for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, respectively, on the state Democratic ticket. All three candidates are elected.
1965 - Robert Y. Button is reelected attorney general of Virginia.
1967 - Robert Y. Button suffers a heart attack; he recovers, but his heart remains weak.
1969 - Robert Y. Button does not seek a third term as attorney general of Virginia, and the next year returns to his law practice in Culpeper.
September 1, 1977 - Robert Y. Button dies after suffering a heart attack in Culpeper. He is buried in Culpeper Masonic Cemetery.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Bugg, J. L., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Robert Y. Button (1899–1977). (2015, November 2). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Button_Robert_Young_1899-1977.
- MLA Citation:
Bugg, J. L. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Robert Y. Button (1899–1977)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 2 Nov. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: May 29, 2013 | Last modified: November 2, 2015
Contributed by J. L. Bugg and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.