McFarland, Ernest William, 1894-1984

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1894-10-09
Death 1984-06-08
English

Biographical notes:

The papers of Ernest W. McFarland document the life and career of one of Arizona's most prominent and distinguished public servants. Ernest W. McFarland is the only person in Arizona's history to have served in the top three positions in state government. He was United States Senator (1941-1953), Governor (1955-1959), and Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court (1965-1970).

His pioneer parents, William T. and Keziah Smith McFarland, had migrated westward from Tennessee in the 1890s, first into Texas and then into Oklahoma Territory. Their third child, Ernest, was born in a log cabin on a farm near Earlsboro, Oklahoma, on 9 October 1894. He shared farm chores with his two brothers, Forrest and Sterling Carl, and one sister, Etta Pearl, and attended school in Earlsboro. He taught school and held various jobs to pay his way through East Central State Teachers College in Ada, Oklahoma, where he earned a teaching degree in 1914. Three years later, McFarland graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor's degree.

During World War I, McFarland served in the United States Navy and was discharged in 1919. He was commissioned lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserves in 1944.

McFarland moved to Phoenix, Arizona, after his discharge and was employed briefly by Valley Bank before enrolling in Stanford University Law School in 1920. He received a J. D. Degree in 1921 and a Master's Degree in Political Science in 1922. The University of Arizona bestowed an honorary doctorate on Senator McFarland in 1950.

After being admitted to the Arizona bar in 1921, McFarland practiced law in Casa Grande. He was appointed Assistant Attorney General (1923-1924) and then served two terms as Pinal County Attorney (1924-1931). McFarland moved to Florence, Arizona, in 1924 and at the end of his second term as County Attorney, started his legal practice with partner Tom Fulbright. He also engaged in farming with his family, who had moved to Arizona in 1920.

From 1931 to 1934, he acted as legal counsel for the San Carlos Irrigation and Drainage District. McFarland had studied water law at Stanford and now became known as an authority on irrigation and reclamation. From 1934 to 1940, McFarland was Judge of the Pinal County Superior Court and heard numerous cases which affected water rights in Arizona.

In 1940, McFarland successfully campaigned for the U.S. Senate in the primary against the incumbent Democrat, Henry Fountain Ashurst. He was easily reelected in 1946.

As the junior Senator from Arizona, McFarland's first major assignment was the 1941 Subcommittee of Interstate and Foreign Commerce which was ordered to investigate war propaganda in the motion picture industry. He emerged from the hearings as a well known figure. McFarland also took a stand against isolationist foreign policy and supported the Lend-Lease Act. McFarland was a popular and influential figure in the Senate, and he became friends with future presidents Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson.

McFarland's most important legislation for Arizona related to water and reclamation. While he was a member of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, he and Senator Carl Hayden introduced legislation initiating the Central Arizona Project, and he sponsored the Wellton-Mohawk Reclamation Project near Yuma.

For the benefit of servicemen and veterans, McFarland introduced or co-sponsored more than 40 bills and co-authored the G. I. Bill of Rights. Other major legislation concerned social security, mining and copper subsidies, Indian rights, and agriculture. He sponsored the Navajo-Hopi Rehabilitation Act.

While serving as chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, McFarland's work included amendments of the Communications Act of 1934 and legislation on mergers in the telegraph industry.

From 1951 to 1953, McFarland was the Senate Majority Leader during the 82nd Congress. He supported President Truman in the controversy over the firing of General Douglas MacArthur in 1951.

After Republican Barry Goldwater defeated him in the 1952 Senate race, McFarland established a private law practice in Washington, D. C. He specialized in communications law and represented Western Union, among other clients.

In 1954, the McFarlands returned to Arizona and McFarland was elected to the first of two terms as Governor. He continued to work for such issues as agriculture, social security, Indian rights, education, veterans' affairs, and labor legislation. He was influential in gaining irrigation and reclamation projects for Arizona. In 1955, Governor McFarland appeared before a special Master's Court of the United States Supreme Court in San Francisco and successfully argued Arizona's cause in the controversy with California over water rights.

In 1958, McFarland made an unsuccessful bid to regain the Senate seat from Senator Goldwater. He returned to his private law practice and business interests in Phoenix. McFarland had a strong sense of civic responsibility, however, and in 1964 he was elected to a six year term on the Arizona Supreme Court. In 1968, he became Chief Justice of the court. Justice McFarland was appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1969 to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. In his six years on the State Supreme Court, McFarland wrote over 300 opinions.

Upon retiring from the bench in 1970, McFarland became board chairman of Arizona Television Company, parent company of KTVK-TV in Phoenix. He was one of the original founders of Arizona Television Company in 1953. McFarland was honored with the Copper Mike Award in 1975 for outstanding contributions to broadcasting in Arizona. Two years later, the McFarland family purchased controlling interest of KTVK-TV.

McFarland was active in many fraternal and veterans' organizations from which he received numerous awards and honors. He served on the board of trustees of Phoenix Memorial Hospital, as director of the Federal Home Loan Bank, and as a consultant for the Central Arizona Project Association. He joined Central Methodist Church in Phoenix, in 1919, upon his arrival in the Valley, and remained a life-long member.

On January 1, 1926, McFarland married Clare Collins, a schoolteacher in Florence whom he had met at Stanford. Clare died in December 1930. On 3 June 1939, McFarland married his second wife, Edna Eveland Smith, a teacher at Florence High School. Jewell McFarland, her daughter by a previous marriage, also became a schoolteacher. Jewell married Delbert Lewis, president and general manager of KTVK-TV, and they had five children.

McFarland traveled extensively on Senate committee assignments and as a private citizen. Twice he traveled around the world and visited Alaska, Africa, Australia, Far East, Europe, the Caribbean, Central and South America and much of the United States.

On 8 June 1984, Ernest McFarland died of respiratory failure related to heart disease at the age of 89. He is buried in Greenwood Memorial Park in Phoenix, Arizona.

From the guide to the MG 98, The Public and Personal Papers of Ernest McFarland, 1894/1985, (Arizona State Archives)

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SNAC ID:
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Places:

  • Arizona. (as recorded)