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150 Years of West Virginia’s governors

June 6, 2013

-- Arthur Ingram Boreman, 1863-69, Republican, Wood County

Boreman was born in Waynesburg, Pa., the son of a town merchant. At the age of four, he and his family moved to Middlebourne, Tyler County. In 1845, Boreman was admitted to the bar and established a law practice at Parkersburg the following year. He represented Wood County as a Whig delegate in the Virginia General Assembly from 1855 to 1861, then served as a circuit judge under the Reorganized Government of Virginia. A member of the Constitutional Union party, Boreman was elected West Virginia's first governor in 1863.

-- Daniel Duane Tompkins Farnsworth, 1869, Republican, Upshur County

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Farnsworth was born on Staten Island, N.Y., and moved to Buckhannon, Upshur County, at the age of two. He was raised on a farm and later worked as a tailor, merchant, banker, railroad director, and as one of the first Upshur County justices of the peace. In 1861, Farnsworth became a member of the first Wheeling Convention, proposing the first statehood resolution. When Boreman resigned as governor to join the United States Senate, Farnsworth, as state senate president, assumed the duties of governor to complete Boreman's unexpired term. He served only a matter of days until March 4, 1869, when William Stevenson, victor in the gubernatorial election the previous year, was inaugurated.

-- William Erskine Stevenson, 1869-71, Republican, Wood County

Stevenson was born in Warren, Pa. He was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature in 1856, but moved to Valley Mills, Wood County, before his term expired. Stevenson served in the first state constitutional convention in November 1861, and was elected to the first West Virginia Senate in 1863. As governor, Stevenson successfully advocated for the right of Confederate veterans to vote. Ironically, most Confederates were Democrats, leading to Stevenson's defeat for re-election in 1870. He supported equal education rights for blacks, increased immigration, improved transportation, and the development of industry. During his term, in 1870, the entire state government moved from Wheeling to Charleston, the first of three relocations.

-- John Jeremiah Jacob, 1871-77, Democrat, Hampshire County

Jacob was born near Romney, Hampshire County, the first of West Virginia's governors born within the present-day borders of the state. In 1868, he was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates. As the first of six consecutive Democratic governors, Jacob supported the elimination of all remaining legislation that discriminated against former Confederates. He presided over the establishment of new facilities to care for the mentally handicapped and the creation of statewide schools, known as normal schools, to train teachers. The most significant development of Jacob's term was the drafting of a new state constitution.

-- Henry Mason Mathews, 1877-81, Democrat, Greenbrier County

During the Civil War, Mathews served as a major in the Confederate Army. He was elected to the legislature in 1865, but was not allowed to serve due to the law prohibiting former Confederates from holding public office. Mathews served as attorney general under Governor Jacob. In July 1877, four months into his term, Mathews sent the state militia to Martinsburg where Baltimore and Ohio Railroad workers had been stopping trains to protest wage cuts. In 1880, Mathews once again sent militia to Hawks Nest, Fayette County, to stop the state's first major coal strike.

-- Jacob Beeson Jackson, 1881-85, Democrat, Wood County

A cousin of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, he was elected mayor of Parkersburg in 1879. As governor, Jackson advocated improved education, re-writing the West Virginia Code, and tax reform. Taxes had been reduced during the depression of the 1870s. Under Jackson, the legislature increased taxes to support public institutions. Like his predecessors, Jackson encouraged increased immigration and the development of industry. In 1885, the capital was moved for the last time back to Charleston. In an 1877 public referendum, Charleston had been chosen over Clarksburg and Martinsburg.

-- Emanuel Willis Wilson 1885-1890, Democrat, Kanawha County

A self-educated lawyer, Wilson was elected to the House of Delegates in 1870. As governor, Wilson dealt with the issue of political corruption. He failed to secure legislation forbidding the pollution of streams. Wilson gained national attention by refusing to extradite members of the Hatfield family to Kentucky during the Hatfield-McCoy feud. He was the only governor to serve a five-year term, 1885-1890, because of the controversial election to succeed him. The 1888 election for governor between Democrat Aretas Brooks Fleming and Republican Nathan Goff, Jr. was decided by about 100 votes.

-- Aretas Brooks Fleming 1890-1893, Democrat, Marion County

Served in the House of Delegates from 1872-75 and as a circuit judge from 1878-88. Fleming served only a three-year term, 1890-1893, due to a dispute over the results of the 1888 election. The legislature finally selected Fleming in January 1890. Bitter over the results, Republicans blocked most of Fleming's initiatives. One exception was the approval of the Australian ballot, which provided for uniformly printed ballots and was intended to discourage election fraud. Fleming actively supported the growth of industry, particularly coal, and was a founding incorporator of many businesses while in office.

-- William Alexander MacCorkle, 1893-97, Democrat, Kanawha County

From 1880 to 1889, he served as the Kanawha County prosecuting attorney. As governor, MacCorkle advocated increased funding for state institutions and improved transportation. Through an advertising program, he actively promoted the state's natural resources to attract industry. MacCorkle opposed the growing labor movement among coal miners and dispatched the state militia to break a strike.

-- George Wesley Atkinson, 1897-1901, Republican, Ohio County

Atkinson was editor of the Wheeling Evening Standard in the late 1870s. From 1881-85, Atkinson was the United States marshal for West Virginia. He established a law practice in Wheeling and was elected to Congress in 1888. Despite the fact Atkinson was the first Republican governor in twenty-six years, his policies were similar to those of his Democratic predecessors. He was also the first governor to promote legislation to improve child welfare and labor conditions.

-- Albert Blakeslee White, 1901-05, Republican, Wood County

He was owner and editor of a newspaper in Lafayette, Ind., before publishing the Parkersburg State Journal from 1882-99. As governor, White focused on revising the constitution and the tax code. He favored placing more of the burden of taxes on corporations. Despite opposition from industry, the legislature enacted a series of tax reforms during a special session in July 1904. Most notably, the position of state tax commissioner was established to ensure that county officials assessed all property at its actual value.

-- William Mercer Owens Dawson, 1905-09, Republican, Wood County

From 1873-91, he was owner and editor of the Preston County Journal. During Dawson's term as governor, the legislature increased the powers and duties of the state tax commissioner and gave the governor the right to remove tax assessors for refusal to comply with new tax laws. In 1909, state educational, charitable, penal, and correctional institutions were reorganized under a board of control. Although the legislature approved Dawson's election reform bill, it rejected his proposals for the environment.

-- William Ellsworth Glasscock 1909-13, Republican, Monongalia County

After graduating from West Virginia University, he served as superintendent of Monongalia County Schools, clerk of the circuit court, collector of internal revenue, and as chair of the state Republican committee. As governor, Glasscock advocated taxing natural gas, funding for education, mine safety laws, creation of a public service commission, anti-lobby legislation, an anti-trust law, and environmental legislation. The last year of his term was marred by a violent coal strike in the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek area of Kanawha County.

-- Henry Drury Hatfield, 1913-17, Republican, McDowell County

He was the son of a Confederate soldier and nephew of Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield. As governor, Hatfield's first act was to dictate a settlement to the coal miners on strike in the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek area of Kanawha County. As a medical doctor, his term in office was marked by progressive legislation regulating health conditions. A state department of health was created to enforce the existing public health laws. He proposed one of the first workers' compensation laws in the nation and regarded the passage of this law as one of his foremost achievements.

-- John Jacob Cornwell, 1917-21, Democrat, Hampshire County

One month after Cornwell took office, the United States entered World War I. Due in part to his efforts, West Virginia had one of the highest percentages of volunteers of any state. During his term, the state reached an agreement on a public debt owed to Virginia since the time of West Virginia's statehood. Cornwell advocated strengthening the mining code, the creation of a state board of education, and the establishment of a department of public safety and the state police. Two months before the expiration of his term, the state capitol was destroyed by fire.

-- Ephraim Franklin Morgan, 1921-25, Republican, Marion County

At the time Morgan became governor, a virtual state of war existed between union coal miners and coal operators. The United Mine Workers union was protesting for the right to organize miners in the southwestern part of the state. In summer 1921, the governor called upon President Warren G. Harding to dispatch federal troops to end an armed miners' march in Boone and Logan counties. After the conflict ended, Morgan used National Guard troops to discourage miners from again taking up arms. Under Morgan, the legislature created a sinking fund to provide financial assistance to new programs, namely a new road system.

-- Howard Mason Gore, 1925-29, Republican, Harrison County

As governor, Gore improved the state's agricultural programs and acted on requests from rural areas for reforms in handling state funds. Through a bipartisan commission, he was able to send more tax money to counties and municipalities. In addition, his support of road construction earned Gore the nickname, "road building governor." During Gore's administration, disaster again struck West Virginia's statehouse. In 1927, fire destroyed the temporary "pasteboard capitol," built after the old capitol burned in 1921.

-- William Gustavus Conley, 1929-33, Repubican, Kanawha County

During the Conley administration, the legislature established a public unemployment bureau, library commission, bridge commission, water commission, athletic commission, and raised taxes to pay for the main building of the new state capitol. Also, a new West Virginia Code was approved. Conley's time in office was clouded by the beginning of the Great Depression and a devastating drought.

-- Herman Guy Kump, 1933-37, Democrat, Randolph County

Kump became governor at the height of the Great Depression, inheriting a state treasury deficit of $4 million. The legislature spent a record 240 days in session in 1933, developing a new tax program. In 1933, the State Road Commission was reorganized and added 31,000 miles of secondary roads previously maintained by the counties. In 1936, the legislature passed an important unemployment compensation bill. With the assistance of federal New Deal legislation, by 1937, the state was on a comparable financial level with most other states.

-- Homer Adams Holt 1937-41, Democrat, Fayette County

As governor, Holt instituted a program to improve the facilities of state institutions. He drew criticism for his attacks on school lobbyists and the labor movement, resulting in a split within the Democratic party. A significant innovation was the establishment of an interim committee to study proposed legislation and draft bills when the legislature was not in session.

-- Matthew Mansfield Neely, 1941-45, Democrat, Marion County

Neely's candidacy was the result of a split within the Democratic party. With the support of labor, he backed improvements in unemployment compensation and the establishment of a human rights commission. The major accomplishments of Neely's administration included a new law requiring higher appropriations to the State Health Department for cancer treatment, an increase in welfare grants, reforms at state institutions, an increase in the teachers' retirement pension, stricter enforcement of the child labor law, and better mine inspections, which reduced the number of coal mine accidents.

-- Clarence Watson Meadows, 1945-49, Democrat, Raleigh County

As governor, Meadows helped mediate a number of labor disputes. He reorganized the state's Board of Education, Conservation Commission, Industrial Publicity Commission, and West Virginia University's Board of Governors. Following World War II, he used a state treasury surplus from the war effort to fund education, construction, and relief programs.

-- Okey Leonidas Patteson, 1949-53, Democrat, Fayette County

As governor, one of Patteson's most important and controversial decisions was to locate the state School of Medicine, Dentistry, and Nursing in Morgantown. During his term, the legislature created the position of state Tax Commissioner and authorized cities to levy sales taxes. In 1952, Patteson organized the state Turnpike Commission to oversee the construction of the West Virginia Turnpike. In 1969, Governor Arch Moore Jr. named Patteson to the newly created Board of Regents.

-- William Casey Marland, 1953-57, Democrat, Wyoming County

Three days after becoming governor, Marland proposed a severance tax on extractive industries, most notably coal. The legislature, heavily backed by the coal industry, blocked this tax and others that would have benefitted schools and roads. Marland advocated the desegregation of schools, expansion of the state parks and other recreational facilities, improved unemployment and workers' compensation laws, and an industrial development program.

-- Cecil Harland Underwood, 1957-61, 1997-2001, Republican, Tyler County

Underwood first ventured into politics in 1944 at age 22 with his election to the House of Delegates. In 1957, he became the youngest governor in the history of the state and the first Republican governor in 24 years. In his first term as governor, Underwood worked to improve roads and assist those impoverished by rapid technological changes, particularly the mechanization of the coal industry. His administration developed a temporary employment program to provide relief to poor families. In Underwood's first year in office, the legislature created the Mental Health Department. He also promoted a sweeping revision of the mining laws and the need for local support of public schools. He was named president of Bethany College in 1972 and later became involved with the Software Valley Corp. in Morgantown and taught political science at Marshall University. In 1996, Underwood defeated Democrat Charlotte Pritt to become the state's oldest governor, 40 years after being the state's youngest executive.

-- William Wallace Barron 1961-65 Democrat, Randolph County

Barron chaired the state Liquor Control Commission under Marland from 1953-57 and served as Attorney General under Underwood from 1957-61. In Barron's first year as governor, the legislature created the Public Employees Retirement System, the Department of Natural Resources, the Air Pollution Control Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Industrial Development Authority, and the Department of Commerce. Barron established a unique work and training program by combining the state's own emergency employment plan with a federal grant program. He addressed economic development by appointing an economic advisory council.

-- Hulett Carlson Smith, 1965-69, Democrat, Raleigh County

During Smith's term, the legislature enacted measures to control air and stream pollution and protect human rights, as well as passing some of the state's first strip mining legislation. In his first year as governor, Smith signed into law a bill repealing the death penalty. He instigated a "government- to-the-people" program that enabled citizens to interact with public officials. The most significant change in state government was the passage of the Modern Budget Amendment, making the governor responsible for developing the state budget.

-- Arch Alfred Moore Jr, 1969-77, 1985-89, Republican, Marshall County

With the passage of the Governor's Succession Amendment in 1970, Moore became the first governor to succeed himself since 1872. The 1968 Modern Budget Amendment also gave him more budgetary powers than any previous governor. Moore presided over the establishment of the Department of Highways and the construction of modern interstate systems, begun during the Underwood administration. The Board of Regents was created to manage all state colleges and universities. Other accomplishments of his first term included designation of "black lung" as a coal mining disease and the development of public kindergartens. Moore interceded in labor activities, firing striking road maintenance workers and Charleston transit workers, and helped negotiate an end to a national coal strike.

During Moore's second term, new state medical schools were established in Lewisburg and at Marshall University in Huntington. One of his projects was the West Virginia Science and Culture Center on the State Capitol Complex. In 1975, Moore and his campaign manager were indicted for extortion, the first seated governor to be officially charged with a crime. Both were found not guilty.

At the beginning of Moore's third term, West Virginia had the highest unemployment rate in the nation due to a recession in the coal industry. Moore expanded corporate tax credits to attract businesses to the state. In addition, the legislature reduced the amount coal companies were required to pay into workers' compensation.

-- John Davison Rockefeller IV, 1977-85, Democrat, Kanawha County

As governor, Rockefeller promoted the state's energy resources and chaired the President's Commission on Coal. He cut the size of state government and dealt with the issues of inflation, fuel shortages, a lengthy coal strike, floods, and the effects of two severe winters. The legislature established the Department of Corrections, Department of Health, Department of Culture and History, and the Office of Economic and Community Development. The Rockefeller administration constructed a record number of secondary roads.

-- William Gaston Caperton III, 1989-97, Democrat, Kanawha County

As governor, Caperton reorganized state government to reduce a large debt incurred during the 1980s. To combat this public debt, he secured legislation to raise taxes and supported a constitutional amendment to adopt a state lottery. Caperton advocated placing computers in all schools and creation of the School Building Authority to facilitate funding for modern schools. He chaired the Southern Regional Education Board, the Southern Governors' Association's Corporate Coalition to Improve Maternal and Child Health, the Southern Growth Policies Board, the National Governors' Association Work Force Development Task Force, the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, and the Democratic Governors' Association.

-- Robert Ellsworth Wise Jr., 2001-05, Democrat, Kanawha County

As governor, Wise focused on education and economic development. Through his efforts, the PROMISE Scholarship program was funded with lottery revenue, and video poker machines were outlawed. Among his other accomplishments were an increase in enrollment in the Children's Health Insurance Program and creation of a sales tax holiday for back-to-school purchases. Faced with a nationwide economic recession, Wise imposed several state government spending cuts to balance the budget. During his gubernatorial term, Bob Wise chaired the Southern Governors Association, National Governors Association Committee on Natural Resources and the Southern States Energy Board.

-- Joseph Manchin III, 2005-10, Democrat, Marion County

A fiscal conservative, during his six years in office Manchin oversaw the privatization of the workers' compensation fund, reduction of the state's tax rates on groceries and business, and reduction of the state's unfunded liability in pensions. At a time when other states were in serious financial trouble, West Virginia continued to fulfill its constitutional mandate of a balanced budget. Some of the most memorable moments of his administration involved the coal tragedies at the Sago, Aracoma and Upper Big Branch mines in 2006 and 2010 that killed more than 40 miners. In the aftermath of the Sago disaster, Manchin appointed a committee to investigate and proposed a bill on emergency response and supplies that immediately passed the state legislature.

Following the death of longtime U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Manchin ran for Byrd's unexpired term and won a special election.

-- Earl Ray Tomblin, 2010-, Democrat, Logan County

Tomblin served in the state Senate for nearly 40 years before winning a special election in 2010 to succeed Manchin. He won re-election in 2012 and currently is serving his first full term as governor. The state has continued its cautious, conservative approach to government under his watch, with Tomblin enacting 7.5 percent cuts to all state agencies this year to help balance the budget.

Source: West Virginia Division of Culture and History

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