Pierce, Walter Marcus, 1861-1954

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Walter Marcus Pierce (1861-1954) was a rancher, educator and legislator in Oregon.

From the guide to the Walter Marcus Pierce papers, 1916-1945, (Oregon Historical Society Research Library)

Born on a farm in Grundy County, Illinois on May 20, 1861, Walter M. Pierce was U.S. Congressman for Eastern Oregon's Second District from 1933-1943. He served as Governor of Oregon from 1923-1927. An active member of the Democratic Party, Pierce was essentially a Populist. He was an ardent supporter of Roosevelt and the New Deal programs and a proponent of public-owned and operated power facilities. His papers document the complex issues of the Depression and the pre-World War II era. In 1922, after his third term as State Senator, Pierce campaigned for governor. The Ku Klux Klan, influential in Oregon at the time, endorsed Pierce. Pierce served as Oregon's governor for only one term. He was not particularly successful in obtaining support for his legislation and programs. In 1928 he married Cornelia Marvin, Oregon State Librarian, who was respected for her efforts in developing Oregon's nationally recognized state library system. In 1931 the Pierces successfully campaigned for his election as U.S. Congressman. Pierce became a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, the Special Committee on Forestry, and was involved in the development of public hydroelectric power, particularly the Bonneville Dam and other Columbia River projects. He was an active labor supporter and introduced legislation for the many economic and social welfare progams created after the Depression. Pierce's defeat for the congressional position in 1942 was probably due to his age (81). The Pierces became involved with the anti-Japanese movement during WWII. He died March 27, 1954.

From the description of Walter M. Pierce papers, 1888-1969. (University of Oregon Libraries). WorldCat record id: 51011140

Walter Marcus Pierce (1861-1954) was a rancher, educator and legislator in Oregon.

He served as Umatilla County Superintendent of Schools, then Oregon Senator (1903-07 & 1917-21), Oregon Governor (1923-1927) and as U.S. Representative (1933-43).

From the description of Walter Marcus Pierce papers [manuscripts], 1916-1945. (Oregon Historical Society Research Library). WorldCat record id: 706710816

Walter M. Pierce was U. S. Congressman for Oregon's Second District from 1933 to 1943, during Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration. Previously he served as Governor of Oregon from 1923 to 1927. An active member of the Democratic Party, Pierce was essentially a Populist by inclination. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Roosevelt and the New Deal federal relief and regulatory programs, and an ardent proponent of public-owned and operated power facilities. His involvement with the national legislative process occurred at a crucial point of American history, the Depression and pre-World War II era, and his papers document the complex issues and trends of the times.

Born on a farm in Grundy County, Illinois on May 30, 1861, to Charles and Charlotte Clapp Pierce, Walter Pierce experienced what was at that time considered a typical rural boyhood. He attended local country schools, enjoyed public gatherings where politics, religion and philosophy were debated, and participated in such fraternal organizations as the Grange and the Masonic Ledge. His nativist outlook and Anglo-Saxon oriented goals and values, engendered by these early associations, remained with him throughout his life, occasionally conflicting with his usually progressive and individual-rights oriented policies.

Pierce began his career as a school teacher at age 17. Upon the advice of a physician who informed him that he had tuberculosis, Pierce moved west three years later in search of a drier climate. He eventually settled near Walla Walla, Washington. The townspeople of Milton, Oregon, spotted him at work at a nearby ranch and selected him to be their school teacher on the basis of his size; they had some "big boys" who needed to be "licked into shape." His desire to keep these "big boys" sober and receptive to education involved Pierce in his first political fight, driving saloons out of Milton. He was successful; hence the creation of the neighboring town of Freewater, where saloons could operate. Perhaps this success inspired Pierce to enter politics. At the age of 25, he was elected Superintendent of Schools for Umatilla County, a position he held from 1886 to 1890. He was less successful in his next attempt to influence public policy and practice. During his term as Umatilla County Clerk, 1890 to 1894, he joined forces with East Oregonian editor Sam Jackson to end the tyranny of the machine age by driving telephones out of Pendleton. The crusade failed.

Pierce entered state politics in 1903, when he was elected to his first two-year term as State Senator. He served for two additional terms between 1917 and 1921. During his years in office, he made the acquaintance of Jonathan Bourne, William S. U'Ren and other Progressive leaders, and thus became involved in the movement to establish direct election of Senators, and the initiative, referendum and recall options. These measures were designed to give the citizenry a far more direct voice in the operation of what was at that time one of the more notably corrupt state governments. The successful implementation of these options was widely acclaimed as the "Oregon system."

When he was not holding political office (although he always maintained political connections), Pierce practiced law and involved himself in a number of business ventures. He bought several farms, raised cattle and sheep, established a sanatorium at Hot Lake in Union County, acquired some mining interests and owned and operated a private power company in the La Grande area, among other things. He had married Clara Rudio, a former pupil, in June 1887; she died after giving birth to their first child, also Clara, in 1890. Pierce married his first wife's sister, Laura, in 1893 and they had a son, Loyd, and four daughters, Lucille, Helen, Edith and Lorraine.

In 1922, after completing his third term as State Senator, Pierce campaigned for the governorship against the incumbent, Ben Olcott. The election centered on the issue of public tax support for private schools (i.e. Catholic parochial schools), and Pierce won the election by opposing such support. He strongly believed in creating American citizens through the "melting pot" effect of public schools. The Ku Klux Klan, a major force in the anti-Catholic movement and influential in Oregon at the time, endorsed Pierce for the governorship. He tacitly accepted and used the connection. With Pierce's support, the 1923 Oregon legislature did indeed pass the "School Bill," denying public tax monies to parochial schools, but the legislation was overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court.

Pierce served as Oregon's governor for only one term. He was not particularly successful in obtaining support for his legislation and programs, and he was plagued with animosity from groups displeased with his unresponsiveness to their requests for patronage favors. The Ku Klux Klan, to whom he nay have owed his election, instituted recall proceedings against him on this basis. In addition, he antagonized big business owners and managers (predominantly lumber, liquor and private utility interests) by attempting to curb their free-wheeling activities and substantial profits. Something of a visionary, Pierce proposed a number of programs which were enacted at a later date, but were not acceptable or popular at the time. One of these proposals was a graduated income tax to supplement property tax revenues and remove some of the tax burden from the farms to industry.

Defeated in his bid for re-election in 1926, and suffering from the death of his second wife following a lingering illness in 1925, Pierce retired to his Grande Ronde farm. In 1928, he married for the third time, to Cornelia Marvin, Oregon State Librarian. She was highly respected in her own right for her efforts in organizing and developing Oregon's nationally recognized state library system, and she was to prove a valuable partner and ally in Pierce's legislative career as well. Pierce had lost most of his money by this time; his business ventures had ended unsuccessfully and his farms were heavily mortgaged. Cornelia Pierce bought one farm from him, and later bought hack much of the Grande Ronde farm after it had been foreclosed. But at the age of 71, Pierce's most productive years were still ahead of him.

In 1931, the Pierces campaigned for his election as U. S. Congressman from Oregon's Second District (eastern Oregon). This was a last-ditch attempt to provide a steady source of income and to continue Pierce's political involvement. The campaign was successful, providing the Pierces with the opportunity to participate in the development and implementation of Roosevelt's New Deal programs. Pierce became a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, the Special Committee on Forestry, and he was deeply involved in the development of public hydroelectric power, particularly the Bonneville Dam and other Columbia River projects. He was an active supporter of labor and the many economic and social welfare programs created during the post-Depression period, and energetically introduced and supported legislation in these areas. Cornelia Pierce served as his office manager, secretary and frontline defense; much of the correspondence from her explains or defends her husband's actions and views. It was a busy and productive ten years.

Pierce's final defeat for the congressional position in 1942 was a bitter blow, and was probably due to his age (81). He and Cornelia retired to her farm in Eola, Oregon. He then wrote his memoirs and gave occasional speeches. Both Walter and Cornelia became involved with the anti-Japanese movement during World War II, which received impetus from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but existed long before. Japanese truck farmers had proven amazingly successful in many areas of Oregon (notably Hood River and Malheur Counties) and the economic competition they provided, along with their increasing numbers, threatened local residents. The Pierces were sympathetic to the fear of Japanese "takeover" and apparently remained undisturbed by the contradiction between their usual strung individual-rights orientation and their desire to deport even U. S.-born Japanese. They firmly believed the Japanese culture was antipathetic to true "Americanism."

An unfortunate family dispute over property occurred during the Pierces' last years together. In 1943, Pierce's daughters had him sign a will bequeathing his interest in the Grande Ronde and Sand Ridge farms to them, even though Cornelia had purchased both farms and owned them in her name only. In 1948, Cornelia discovered the will and confronted her husband, who burned it and agreed that he had no title to the property and no right to bequeath it. The relationship between Walter and Cornelia remained warm, but estrangement developed between Cornelia and the Pierce daughters. They sued Cornelia for a portion of her farm holdings after Pierce's death. The case remained in litigation for several years, and was finally decided in Cornelia's favor the day after her death.

Pierce was faithfully nursed by Cornelia in her Eola farm home through his last years of illness and incapacity, even though he frequently lapsed into comas. He died March 27, 1954, to be followed by Cornelia three years later (February 12, 1957). As he so frequently stated, he had thoroughly enjoyed his career and opportunities, and his contributions spanned a time of vast change.

Source: Bone, Arthur H., editor, Oregon Cattleman/Governor/Congressman: Memoirs and Times of Walter M. Pierce, Oregon Historical Society, 1981 (Oregon Collection F 881 .P524)

From the guide to the Walter M. Pierce papers, 1888-1969, (Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Idaho Orchards Company. Papers, 1910-1915 Idaho State Archives, Idaho State Historical Society
referencedIn Wick, Grace, 1888-1958. Grace Wick papers, 1888-1962 (bulk, 1928-1951). Oregon Historical Society Research Library
referencedIn Ludlow mss., 1898-1948 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly
referencedIn Walter M. Pierce papers, 1888-1969 Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries
referencedIn Delzell, William. William Delzell papers [manuscript], 1925-1940. Oregon Historical Society Research Library
creatorOf Pierce, Walter Marcus, 1861-1954. Walter Marcus Pierce papers [manuscripts], 1916-1945. Oregon Historical Society Research Library
referencedIn Grace Wick Papers, 1888-1962, 1928-1951 Oregon Historical Society Research Library
creatorOf Pierce, Walter Marcus, 1861-1954. Walter M. Pierce papers, 1888-1969. University of Oregon Libraries, UO Libraries
referencedIn William H. Benjamin Letters, 1935-1936 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
creatorOf Walter Marcus Pierce papers, 1916-1945 Oregon Historical Society Research Library
referencedIn Pierce, Walter Marcus, 1861-1954. Walter Marcus Pierce papers [manuscripts], 1916-1945. Oregon Historical Society Research Library
referencedIn Robinson, Elmer E., 1894-1982,. Americana, 1765-1969. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Oswald Garrison Villard papers, 1872-1949 Houghton Library
referencedIn Dodd, Elmer Perry, b. 1869. Elmer Perry Dodd papers [manuscript], 1900-1957. Oregon Historical Society Research Library
creatorOf Oregon Agricultural College. Board of Regents. Board of Regents records, 1886-1929. Oregon State University Libraries
creatorOf Walter M. Pierce papers, 1888-1969 Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries
referencedIn Johansen, Dorothy O., 1904-. Dorothy Johansen papers [manuscript], 1827-1967. Oregon Historical Society Research Library
creatorOf Pierce, Walter Catlin, 1861-1948. Walter Catlin Pierce. Scrapbook, undated. Harvard University, Divinity School Library
creatorOf W.E. Pierce & Co. Records, 1871-1926. Idaho State Archives, Idaho State Historical Society
creatorOf Wright, Dunham, 1842-. Papers, 1942. Idaho State Archives, Idaho State Historical Society
referencedIn Ku Klux Klan (1915- ). La Grande Klan No. 14 (La Grande, Or.). Ku Klux Klan La Grande, Oregon Chapter records [manuscript], 1922-1923. Oregon Historical Society Research Library
referencedIn Board of Regents Records, 1886-1929 Oregon State University University Archives
referencedIn The Nation, records, 1879-1974 (inclusive), 1920-1955 (bulk). Houghton Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Benjamin, William H. person
associatedWith Bone, Arthur H., family
associatedWith Bone, Arthur H., 1900- person
associatedWith Civilian Conservation Corps (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Delzell, William. person
correspondedWith Dodd, Elmer Perry, b. 1869. person
associatedWith Idaho Orchards Company. corporateBody
correspondedWith Johansen, Dorothy O., 1904- person
associatedWith Ku Klux Klan (1915- ) corporateBody
associatedWith Ku Klux Klan (1915- ). La Grande Klan No. 14 (La Grande, Or.) corporateBody
associatedWith Ludlow, Louis, 1873-1950 person
associatedWith Modell person
associatedWith Nation (New York, N.Y. : 1865). corporateBody
associatedWith Oregon Agricultural College. Board of Regents. corporateBody
correspondedWith Pierce, Clara, family
correspondedWith Pierce, Clara, d. 1937 person
correspondedWith Pierce, Cornelia Marvin family
correspondedWith Pierce, Cornelia Marvin person
associatedWith Pierce, Walter Marcus, person
associatedWith Pierce, Walter Marcus, family
associatedWith Prentiss, Arthur M. of Portland, OR person
associatedWith Ritter of LaGrand, OR person
associatedWith Robinson, Elmer E., 1894-1982, person
associatedWith United States. Public Works Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Works Progress Administration. corporateBody
correspondedWith Villard, Oswald Garrison, 1872-1949 person
associatedWith W.E. Pierce & Co. corporateBody
correspondedWith Wick, Grace, 1888-1958. person
associatedWith Wright, Dunham, 1842- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Oregon
Northwest, Pacific
United States
United States
Oregon
Oregon
Subject
New Deal, 1933-1939
Oregon
Agriculture
Photographs
Water-power
Japanese Americans
Governors--Oregon
Politics and government
Civic Activism
Legislators--United States
Water-power--Northwest, Pacific
Japanese Americans--Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945
Political Campaigns
Forestry and Forestry Products
Governor
Legislators
Politics and government--Oregon
Agriculture--Oregon
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1861-05-30

Death 1954-03-27

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