Olcott, Ben W. (Ben Wilson), 1872-1952

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Ben Wilson Olcott (1872-1952) was born on Keithsburg, Illinois on October 15, 1872. He came west to Salem, Oregon in 1892 to work with William Brown and Company. While in Salem he became acquainted with Oswald West, who was elected Oregon's Governor in 1910, and who exerted major influence on Olcott's future career. After a stint as a gold dust teller and buyer with the Fairbanks Banking Company, Olcott rejoined his friend West in 1907. West headed Oregon's State Land Office and he hired Olcott as an agent. When West decided to run for the governorship of Oregon in 1910, Olcott headed his successful campaign. West appointed Olcott as Secretary of State in 1911 when the incumbent died in office, even though West was a Democrat and Olcott a Republican. Noted for his "business efficiency" and integrity, Olcott was elected to the position in 1912 and again in 1916.

During Olcott's last term as Secretary of State, Governor Withycombe died in office and Olcott succeeded to the governorship, as provided by the state constitution. With the assistance of the U.S. Army, he pioneered aerial navigation and forest patrol work in the interest of forest fire prevention. He also secured protective legislation for forests bordering scenic highways, pushed development of hard-surface roads, and personally lobbied the state legislature for funds to construct a new boys' State Training School.

Olcott was defeated in his 1922 election campaign by Walter M. Pierce, the Democrat candidate. The election centered on the notorious "School bill," an effort by anti-Catholic groups (especially the Ku Klux Klan) to prohibit the use of public tax monies in funding private, i.e. Catholic parochial, schools. Although a Protestant, Olcott refused to support the proposed measure and reportedly saw that Klan members were vigorously prosecuted whenever they engaged in activities of terror. Pierce, on the other hand, supported the anti-Catholic measure and tacitly accepted the Klan's endorsement of his campaign.

Olcott returned to banking after the 1922 campaign, serving as manager of the Bank of Italy's branch in Long Beach, California, from 1923-1924. He then accepted the position of director with Oregon Mutual Savings Bank in Portland, where he completed his career. Olcott died in 1952.

From the guide to the Ben Wilson Olcott papers, 1911-1933, (Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Markham, Edwin, 1852-1940. Letter 1923 April 17, Staten Island, N.Y. [to] Governor Ben W. Olcott, Salem, Oregon / Edwin Markham. Wagner College, Horrmann Library
referencedIn Oregon State Horticultural Society Records, 1890-1964, 1890-1944 Oregon State University University Archives
referencedIn Ku Klux Klan (1915- ). Realm of Oregon. Records, 1922-1971. Oregon Historical Society Research Library
referencedIn Correspondence and compositions collected by The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library, 1878-1923. Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
creatorOf Ben Wilson Olcott papers, 1911-1933 Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries
referencedIn Oregon State Horticultural Society. Oregon State Horticultural Society records, 1890-1964 (bulk 1890-1944) Oregon State University Libraries
referencedIn Scenic Preservation Association of Oregon. Scenic Preservation Association of Oregon records [manuscripts], 1920-1923. Oregon Historical Society Research Library
creatorOf Olcott, Ben W. (Ben Wilson), 1872-1952. Ben W. Olcott papers concerning the Ku Klux Klan, [ca. 1920-1930]. Oregon Historical Society Research Library
creatorOf Olcott, Ben Wilson. Letter 1923 May 19, Salem, Oregon [to] Mr. [Edwin] Markham, [Staten Island] / Ben Wilson Olcott. Wagner College, Horrmann Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Ku Klux Klan (1915- ) corporateBody
associatedWith Ku Klux Klan (1915- ). Realm of Oregon. corporateBody
associatedWith Markham, Edwin, 1852-1940. person
associatedWith Oregon. Governor (1919-1923 : Olcott) corporateBody
associatedWith Oregon State Horticultural Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919 person
correspondedWith Scenic Preservation Association of Oregon. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Oregon
Subject
Political campaigns--Oregon
Oregon
Politicians--Oregon
Ku Klux Klan (1915- )--Oregon
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1872-10-15

Death 1952-07-21

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