Bone, Homer Truett, 1883-1970

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Homer Truett Bone (1883-1970) was the son of James Milton and Margaret Jane Demaree Bone, and was born near Indianapolis, Indiana. He married Blanche Sly. The Bones moved to Tacoma, Washington, in 1899, and there he had a law practice. In the early 1920s, Bone served as an attorney for Tacoma City Light, the city’s municipally owned utility. He was a Democrat; U.S. Senator, 1932-1944; judge, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, San Francisco, 1945-1954. He was best known for his involvement in the public power movement for electrical utilities, including work as a Senator with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

From the guide to the Homer T. Bone Papers, 1903-1944, (University of Puget Sound Archives)

Homer Truett Bone (1883-1970) was the son of James Milton and Margaret Jane Demaree Bone, and was born near Indianapolis, Indiana. He married Blanche Sly. The Bones moved to Tacoma, Washington, in 1899, and there he had a law practice. In the early 1920s, Bone served as an attorney for Tacoma City Light, the city's municipally owned utility. He was a Democrat; U.S. Senator, 1932-1944; judge, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, San Francisco, 1945-1954. He was best known for his involvement in the public power movement for electrical utilities, including work as a Senator with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

From the description of Homer T. Bone Papers, 1903-1944. (University of Puget Sound Library). WorldCat record id: 746573806

Homer Truett Bone (1883-1970) was a United States senator from Washington from 1933 through 1945 and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, from 1945 through 1954.

“The [U.S.] Senate has lost its mightiest atom,” Time magazine reported in 1944 when Homer T. Bone resigned his seat to serve full time on the federal bench. A man of slight physical stature, Bone became a political giant by freely exercising a talent for invective and scalding sarcasm in support of a passionate commitment to protect the interests of the “common man” against “a class-type society based on wealth” and the “interests” which controlled it. None of the “interests” riled Bone like the private utility companies. “There is nothing lower on earth,” he once groused. He devoted much of his energetic political career battling them on behalf of publicly-owned power utilities, for which he became known, both in Washington State and nationally, as “the father of public power.”

Bone was born near Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1883. By the time Homer reached the eighth grade, his father’s health, weakened by incarceration in a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp, and finances, lacerated by the 1893 depression, prevented him from providing any support for the family other than a meager Civil War pension. Homer had to abandon his formal education in order to provide money for his family. The Bones moved to Tacoma in 1899, where Homer studied diligently on his own, in addition to working full time. In 1907, he enrolled in night classes at the Tacoma Law School and passed the bar in 1911. His law practice specialized in labor cases and he actively pursued socialist causes, although in 1916 the Socialist party purged him from its ranks because his opposition to direct action in favor of organization and the ballot box proved unacceptably moderate.

In the early 1920s, Bone served as an attorney for Tacoma City Light, the city’s municipally owned utility. He won his first political office when elected in 1922 to the Washington House of Representatives as a member of the Farmer Labor party. Convinced that state ownership of the region’s abundant water power was necessary to ensure all citizens access to cheap electricity, he quickly became a prominent leader of the forces supporting public power in their increasingly bruising battles with the private utility companies. “The question now is breeding a battle that will tear the state wide open,” he predicted, accurately. While his campaign for public power would meet with mixed success during the next decade, Bone’s reputation grew and he captured the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 1932. Wesley Jones, his Republican opponent, had held the seat since 1908 but was severely hampered by both ailing health and the extensive unpopularity of his political party. Bone won the election handily.

With enthusiastic support from President Franklin Roosevelt, the freshman senator transferred his concern for public power to the national stage. He believed that society as a whole should benefit from whatever of the nation’s natural resources had not yet been gobbled up by private interests. “Our great public domain, with its timber, coal, and oil lands, has been frittered away,” he lamented. “There is left, inexhaustible and most valuable of our resources, that of water power.” Owning the Columbia River system “would be like owning oil wells that never run dry,” and he fervently believed that the exploitation of such a vast reserve of power should be given “the people,” and not “Eastern power companies.” When bickering between the Interior Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over control threatened to derail the Bonneville Dam project, Bone fashioned the compromise that kept it alive and insured that public and cooperatively-owned utilities were given preference for purchasing the cheap, federally produced electricity.

Bone hated not only the private exploitation of what he believed to be public resources, but also political power purchased by profits gained from private exploitation. In a radio speech, he claimed that “private power companies are notorious for their attempts to control the press, legislatures, other public officials, even judges.” Unless citizens remained constantly vigilant, private power’s extensive and expensive propaganda machine would seduce public opinion and undermine democracy. Even though Bone attacked the supporters of private power for rampantly smearing their opponents with the “Bolshevik” label, he was not immune from using excessively-charged rhetoric himself. Reacting to a private-power plan in 1940 to “invade” public schools with their point of view, Bone declared “the scheme was worthy of the sinister brain of the Nazi Goebbels. Like the Nazi propagandist, the utilities adopted lying as a propaganda weapon.” He declared years later that “if they wanted to be rough, I thought I’d get a little rough, too!”

Even though Bone’s fame rests on his fight for public power, his accomplishments in the Senate exceeded this one issue. He called attention to the profits some American munitions manufacturers -- “merchants of death,” as he called them -- had made from the Italo-Ethopian War and other conflicts. As a member of the Senate Munitions Inquiry Committee, he attacked the weapon-makers’ greed, which, he believed, was pushing the United States closer to the “hell of war.” He only abandoned his pragmatic isolationism after the attack on Pearl Harbor rendered it quixotic. Bone also authored the legislation creating the National Cancer Institute at Bethesda, Maryland. When one senator questioned why the federal government needed to expend money for cancer research when private sources donated $200,000 annually, Bone thundered that “such a trifling amount is like spitting on Vesuvius to put out the fire. We need millions to fight this scourge.” The Senate passed the legislation unanimously.

Bone easily won a second term to the Senate in 1938, despite a campaign budget that allowed for little more than gas and oil for his car. An energetic man, Bone found his physical activity sharply curtailed by a broken hip in 1939, an injury from which he never fully recovered. He waggishly remarked on his treatment that “after all these years of having my leg pulled by amateurs, I’m having it pulled by an expert at last.” Despite this good humor, by 1944 the prospect of running a campaign while on crutches dissuaded him from seeking a third term. In April, 1944, President Roosevelt nominated him to the more sedate position of justice on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The Senate voted without dissent to accept the nomination twelve minutes after officially receiving it. Much to the consternation of many of his colleagues, Bone refused to give up his Senate seat immediately because that would have allowed Washington governor Arthur Langlie to fill it with a Republican. When Warren G. Magnuson won the seat in the November general election, Bone finally resigned and Langlie replaced him with the Senator-elect. Finishing Bone’s term importantly provided Magnuson with a 2 ½ month seniority over Arkansas’ William Fullbright.

Bone remained on the federal bench full time until his retirement in 1954 and still occasionally heard cases afterwards. Even though his commitment to justice never faded, his ardor had cooled by the time he had moved to the judiciary. In 1962, the former crusader reflected that he had become an “anachronism.” He noted with melancholy that “most of the old-timers like Homer Bone are dead, and no voice is raised now to resurrect the tribulations of those trying years.” As he became an old man, different issues inflamed Americans’ political passions -- on the day he died in 1970, Seattle police had to quell a student riot at the University of Washington -- but these new issues were not more important nor fought over with any more intensity, commitment, or principle than those that had engaged Homer T. Bone.

From the guide to the Homer Truett Bone Papers, 1932-1948, 1938-1944, (University of Washington Libraries Special Collections)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Elgin Victor Kuykendall Papers, 1892-1956 Washington State University Libraries: Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
referencedIn Robert E. Burke collection, 1892-1994 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Andrew Winberg papers, 1917-1978 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Lillian S. Spear papers, 1931-1963, 1938-1946 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Rovere, Richard Halworth, 1915-1979. Papers, 1932-1947. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Naomi Achenbach Benson papers, 1895-1961, 1935-1961 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Emery E. Andrews Papers, 1925-1969, 1942-1947 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Mark M. Litchman papers, 1901-1965 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Haas, Saul. Saul Haas papers, 1917-1973. University of Washington Libraries
creatorOf Matthews, Mark A. (Mark Allison), 1867-1940. Papers, 1902-1940. University of Washington Libraries
referencedIn Spear, Lillian Sylten, 1897-1963. Lillian Sylten Spear papers, 1931-1963. University of Washington Libraries
referencedIn Cotterill, George F. (George Fletcher), 1865-. George F. Cotterill papers, 1839-1958 (bulk 1890-1956). University of Washington Libraries
referencedIn George F. Cotterill Papers, 1839-1958 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Andrews, Emery E., 1894-1976. Emery E. Andrews papers, 1925-1969 (bulk 1942-1947). University of Washington Libraries
creatorOf Flynn, John T. (John Thomas), 1882-1964. Papers, 1928-1961. University of Oregon Libraries, UO Libraries
creatorOf Homer Truett Bone Papers, 1932-1948, 1938-1944 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn The Nation, records, 1879-1974 (inclusive), 1920-1955 (bulk). Houghton Library.
creatorOf Homer T. Bone Papers, 1903-1944 University of Puget Sound Archives
creatorOf Bone, Homer Truett, 1883-1970. Homer T. Bone Papers, 1903-1944. University of Puget Sound, Collins Memorial Library
creatorOf Kuykendall, Elgin Victor, 1870-1958. Papers, 1892-1956. Washington State University, Holland and Terrell Libraries
referencedIn Snohomish County Central Labor Council records, 1915-1999 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Merrill & Ring Lumber Company records, 1865-1976, 1890-1944 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Rayburn, Sam, papers 92-172, 92-257, 92-389, 92-415, 94-017, 96-066, 96-177, 97-347, 98-130, 2008-225, 2009-008. 29749116., 1831, 1845, 1903-2007 Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin .
referencedIn Benson, Naomi Achenbach. Naomi Achenbach Benson papers, 1895-1961 (bulk 1935-1961). University of Washington Libraries
referencedIn John T. Flynn papers, 1928-1960 Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries
referencedIn Oswald Garrison Villard papers, 1872-1949. Houghton Library.
referencedIn Ludlow mss., 1898-1948 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Andrews, Emery E., 1894-1976. person
associatedWith Barkley, Allen W. person
associatedWith Benson, Naomi Achenbach person
associatedWith Benson, Naomi Achenbach. person
associatedWith Burke, Robert E. (Robert Eugene), 1921-1998 person
associatedWith Butler, Hugh A. person
associatedWith Capper, Arthur person
associatedWith Clark, Bennet Champ person
associatedWith Cotterill, George F. (George Fletcher), 1865- person
associatedWith Danaher, John A. person
associatedWith Davis, James J. person
associatedWith Flynn, John T. (John Thomas), 1882-1964. person
associatedWith George, Walter F. person
associatedWith Gerry, Peter G. person
associatedWith Guffy, Joseph F. person
associatedWith Haas, Saul. person
associatedWith Herring, Clyde L. person
associatedWith Kuykendall, Elgin Victor, 1870-1958. person
associatedWith LaFollette, Robert M. Jr. person
associatedWith Litchman, Mark,  1925- person
associatedWith Lucas, Scott W. person
associatedWith Ludlow, Louis, 1873-1950 person
associatedWith Massey, C. M. person
associatedWith Matthews, Mark A. (Mark Allison), 1867-1940. person
correspondedWith Merrill & Ring Lumber Company corporateBody
associatedWith Nation (New York, N.Y. : 1865). corporateBody
associatedWith Paris, James N. person
associatedWith Rayburn, Sam, 1882-1961 person
associatedWith Rovere, Richard Halworth, 1915-1979. person
associatedWith Snohomish County Central Labor Council corporateBody
associatedWith Spear, Lillian Sylten, 1897-1963. person
associatedWith United States. Federal Power Commission corporateBody
associatedWith University of Puget Sound. Archives. corporateBody
correspondedWith Villard, Oswald Garrison, 1872-1949 person
associatedWith Walsh, David I. person
associatedWith Washington Public Utility Districts' Association corporateBody
associatedWith Washington Water Power Company corporateBody
associatedWith Winberg, Andrew person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Washington (State)
United States
Washington (State)
United States
Washington (State)
Subject
Public Utilities
Merchant mariners--Legal status, laws, etc.--United States
Government and Politics
Legislators--United States
Insurance, War risk--Law and legislation--United States
Insurance, Marine--United States--War risks
Legislators
Public utilities--Law and legislation
Judges--United States
Judges
Electric utilities--Government ownership--United States
Washington (State)
Occupation
Politicians
Function

Person

Birth 1883-01-25

Death 1970-03-11

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