Bankhead, William Brockman, 1874-1940

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William Bankhead (1874-1940) was a member of one of Alabama's most important political families and served as Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives. He took an active role in passing Depression-era and New Deal legislation and sided with Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt in opposing isolationists in Congress as World War II loomed on the horizon. He was also the father of controversial actress Tallulah Bankhead and uncle to politician and businessman Walter William Bankhead.

William Brockman Bankhead was born on April 12, 1874, in Moscow, Lamar County, to John Hollis Bankhead and Tallulah Brockman. John Bankhead was a lawyer and member of the Alabama House of Representatives who later served in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The couple's other son, John H. Bankhead II, also served in the Alabama legislature and the U.S. Senate. Growing up in rural Alabama not far from the Mississippi state line, Bankhead attended local country schools.

Bankhead graduated from the University of Alabama in 1892 and earned a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1895. Returning to Alabama, Bankhead practiced law in Huntsville, where he was appointed city attorney in 1898. In 1900, Bankhead married Adelaide Eugenia Sledge, with whom he had two daughters, Eugenia and Tallulah. Bankhead was elected to the Alabama legislature in 1900 and 1902 and moved to Jasper, Walker County, in 1905 to practice law with his older brother John. From 1910 to 1914, he served as a prosecutor and in 1916 was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, where he would serve until his death in 1940.

A loyal Democrat, Bankhead strongly supported Pres. Woodrow Wilson, and in 1928 he endorsed New York governor Alfred E. Smith for president despite opposition from many of his fellow southerners because Smith was a Catholic and anti-prohibitionist. Republican Herbert Hoover won the 1928 presidential election, but less than a year after his inauguration, the nation was plunged into the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in American history. For Bankhead and his fellow Democrats, the economic calamity provided an excellent opportunity to re-capture the White House in 1932. Bankhead supported New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination and, after FDR's election, was an effective champion of the president's New Deal legislative program.

By the mid-1930s, political observers, including Roosevelt, recognized Bankhead as one of the South's leading politicians. In 1935, he was elected House majority leader and the following year was elected Speaker of the House after the death of Tennessean Joseph W. Byrns. As Speaker, Bankhead loyally guided Roosevelt's legislative program through the House, including the president's controversial and unsuccessful plan to expand the size of the Supreme Court. Perhaps the most important piece of domestic legislation passed under Bankhead's House leadership was the Fair Labor Standards Act, introduced by fellow Alabamian senator Hugo Black. The legislation established a federal minimum wage and a 40-hour work week, eliminated child labor, and required overtime pay for workers.

Given his national prominence, Bankhead sought the 1940 Democratic presidential nomination but loyally stepped aside when Roosevelt sought an unprecedented third term. His commitment to the president was not, however, reciprocated. Bankhead expressed an interest in the vice-presidential nomination, but Roosevelt coolly hinted that he was too old and infirm to serve. Despite the president's rebuff, Bankhead was invited to deliver the keynote address on behalf of Roosevelt's candidacy at the Democratic National Convention. On September 10th, Bankhead visited Chicago to open the president's reelection campaign. Just before he was to speak, however, Bankhead fainted and was rushed back to a Washington, D.C., hospital. His health continued to deteriorate, and on September 15 he suffered an abdominal hemorrhage and died.

An adroit legislator who strongly supported Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Bankhead was arguably Alabama's most influential political leader in the first half of the twentieth century. He was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Jasper. In 1942, the 198,000-acre Alabama National Forest was renamed the William B. Bankhead National Forest in his honor. His home now operates as Bankhead House and Heritage Center.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Owen, Marie Bankhead, 1869-1958. Family photographs, [18--]-[19--]. Alabama Department of Archives and History
referencedIn Newfield, Morris, b. 1869. Papers, 1868-1940. The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
creatorOf William B. Bankhead autograph, undated New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Abbott, Lyman, 1835-1922,. Papers of the Baker and Wheeler families, 1763-1954. University of Virginia. Library
contributorOf Bankhead, Tallulah, 1902-1968. Papers, 1902-1968. Alabama Department of Archives and History
creatorOf Alabama. Governor (1935-1939 : Graves). Public relations files, 1934-1939. Alabama Department of Archives and History
referencedIn Cartwright, Wilburn, 1892-1979. Congressional papers, 1898-1951. University of Oklahoma, Bizzell Memorial Library
referencedIn Warren, Lindsay C. (Lindsay Carter), 1889-1976. Lindsay C. Warren papers, 1916-1968 (bulk 1924-1954). University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn Owen, Thomas McAdory, 1866-1920. Papers, 1853-1920. Alabama Department of Archives and History
referencedIn Harry Weinberger papers, 1915-1944 Yale University Library
referencedIn Ludlow mss., 1898-1948 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
referencedIn Rayburn, Sam, 1882-1961, Papers, 1822, 1831, 1845, 1903-2007 Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
referencedIn Alabama political figures collection MSS. 0045., unknown W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library, The University of Alabama
referencedIn Bankhead family. Bankhead family photographs, 1930-1942. Alabama Department of Archives and History
creatorOf Alabama. Governor (1939-1943 : Dixon). Legislative tracking files, 1939-1943. Alabama Department of Archives and History
referencedIn Alabama. Governor (1939-1943 : Dixon). Appointment files, 1939-1942. Alabama Department of Archives and History
referencedIn Adair, Roman. Diplomas and certificates collection, 1801-1954. Alabama Department of Archives and History
referencedIn Abercrombie, John W. (John William), 1866-1940. Correspondence, 1902. Alabama Department of Archives and History
referencedIn Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972. Papers of Ezra Pound h[manuscript], 1933-1937. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Manasco, Carter, b.1902. Letters, 1940. Alabama Department of Archives and History
creatorOf Bankhead, William Brockman, 1874-1940. Papers, 1875-1952 and n.d. Alabama Department of Archives and History
referencedIn Bankhead, John H. (John Hollis), 1842-1920. Papers, 1865-1923, and n.d. Alabama Department of Archives and History
referencedIn McNutt, Paul V. (Paul Vories), 1891-1955. Mss., 1899-1955 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
creatorOf Buckler, Richard Thompson, 1865-1950. Richard T. Buckler and family papers, 1886-1957. Minnesota Historical Society Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Abercrombie, John W. (John William), 1866-1940. person
associatedWith Alabama. Dept. of Education. corporateBody
associatedWith Alabama. Governor (1935-1939 : Graves). corporateBody
associatedWith Alabama. Governor (1939-1943 : Dixon). corporateBody
associatedWith Alabama. Governor (1939-1943 : Dixon). corporateBody
associatedWith Alabama Mining Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith Alabama Polytechnic Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith Alabama Power Company. corporateBody
associatedWith American Cotton Cooperative Association. corporateBody
associatedWith American Farm Bureau Federation. corporateBody
associatedWith American Federation of Labor. corporateBody
associatedWith American Veterans of the World War. corporateBody
associatedWith Anti-saloon League of America. corporateBody
parentOf Bankhead, Eugenia (Evelyn Eugenia), b.1901. person
memberOf Bankhead family. family
sibling of Bankhead, Henry M. (Henry McAuley), b.1876. person
childOf Bankhead, John H. (John Hollis), 1842-1920. person
sibling of Bankhead, John Hollis, 1872-1946. person
associatedWith Bankhead National Highway Association, Inc. corporateBody
parentOf Bankhead, Tallulah, 1902-1968. person
childOf Bankhead, Tallulah James Brockman, [ca.1840]-[ca.1922]. person
relativeOf Bankhead, Walter Will, 1879-1989. person
associatedWith Baruch, Bernard M. (Bernard Mannes), 1870-1965. person
associatedWith Beasley, Cecil A. (Cecil Acmund), b.1876. person
associatedWith Black, Hugo LaFayette, 1886-1971. person
associatedWith Bloom, Sol, 1870-1949. person
associatedWith Boykin, Frank W. (Frank William), 1885-1969. person
associatedWith Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Buckler, Richard Thompson, 1865-1950. person
associatedWith Byrns, Joseph Wellington, 1869-1936. person
associatedWith Cartwright, Wilburn, 1892-1979. person
associatedWith Chapman, Reuben, Gov. person
associatedWith Christy, Howard Chandler, 1873-1952. person
associatedWith Clay, Clement Comer, 1789-1866 person
associatedWith Collier, H. W. (Henry Watkins), 1801-1855 person
associatedWith Comer, Donald, 1877-1963. person
associatedWith Curtis, James J. person
associatedWith DeBardeleben Coal Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Democratic National Committee (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Democratic National Congressional Committee. corporateBody
associatedWith Democratic National Convention (1940 : Chicago, Ill.) corporateBody
associatedWith Denny, George Hutcheson, 1870-1955. person
associatedWith De Priest, Oscar, 1871-1951. person
associatedWith Dixon, Frank M. (Frank Murray), 1892-1965. person
associatedWith Duncan, L. N. (Luther Noble), 1875-1947. person
associatedWith Farley, James A. (James Aloysius), 1888-1976. person
associatedWith Fies, Milton H. (Milton Henry), b. 1882. person
associatedWith Ford, Henry, 1863-1947. person
associatedWith Garner, John Nance, 1868-1967. person
alumnusOrAlumnaOf Georgetown University. Law Center. corporateBody
associatedWith George VI, King of Great Britain, 1895-1952. person
associatedWith Graves, Bibb, 1873-1942. person
associatedWith Graves, John Temple, 1892-1961. person
associatedWith Green, William A., 1870-1952. person
associatedWith Heflin, Thomas, 1869-1951. person
associatedWith Hill, Lister, 1894-1984. person
associatedWith Hobson, Richmond Pearson, 1870-1937. person
associatedWith Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964. person
associatedWith Hoover, J. Edgar (John Edgar), 1895-1972. person
associatedWith Hopkins, Harry L. (Harry Lloyd), 1890-1946. person
associatedWith Houston, Sam, 1793-1863 person
associatedWith Huddleston, George, 1869-1960. person
associatedWith Hull, Cordell, 1871-1955. person
associatedWith Jarman, Peterson Bryant, 1892-1955. person
associatedWith Jemison, Robert. person
associatedWith Julian, Knox (James Knox). person
associatedWith Kilby, Thomas Erby, 1865-1943. person
associatedWith La Guardia, Fiorello H. (Fiorello Henry), 1882-1947. person
associatedWith Ludlow, Louis, 1873-1950 person
associatedWith Manasco, Carter, b.1902. person
associatedWith McNutt, Paul V. (Paul Vories), 1891-1955 person
associatedWith Morgenthau, Henry, 1856-1946. person
associatedWith Murfee, Hobson Owen, b.1874. person
associatedWith National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. corporateBody
associatedWith National Education Association of the United States. corporateBody
correspondedWith Newfield, Morris, b. 1869. person
associatedWith Oliver, William B. (William Bacon), 1867-1948. person
associatedWith O'Neal, Edward Asbury, 1875-1958. person
associatedWith Owen, Marie Bankhead, 1869-1958. person
associatedWith Owen, Thomas McAdory, 1866-1920. person
associatedWith Owen, Thomas M. (Thomas McAdory), 1894-1948. person
associatedWith Perkins, Frances, 1882-1965. person
associatedWith Pettus, E. W. person
associatedWith Pius XI, Pope, 1857-1939. person
associatedWith Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972. person
associatedWith Prater, Dewey. person
associatedWith Quinn, Yancey M. person
associatedWith Rayburn, Sam, 1882-1961 person
associatedWith Reconstruction Finance Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Romney, Kenneth. person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945. person
associatedWith Rountree, John Asa, b.1867. person
associatedWith Sanders, Sam J. person
associatedWith Smith, Alfred Emanuel, 1873-1944. person
associatedWith State Democratic Executive Committee of Alabama. corporateBody
associatedWith Steagall, Henry Bascom, 1873-1943. person
associatedWith Sunshine, Leon. person
associatedWith Tennessee Valley Authority. corporateBody
associatedWith Tunstall, Alf M. (Alfred Moore), b.1863. person
associatedWith Ucker, Clement C. person
associatedWith United States. Congress. House. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Dept. of Agriculture. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Dept. of Labor. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Dept. of State. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Dept. of the Interior. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Farm Security Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. National Youth Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Works Progress Administration. corporateBody
alumnusOrAlumnaOf University of Alabama corporateBody
associatedWith University of Alabama. corporateBody
associatedWith Warren, Lindsay C. (Lindsay Carter), 1889-1976. person
associatedWith Weinberger, Harry, 1888- person
associatedWith Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
District of Columbia DC US
Huntsville AL US
Jasper AL US
Sulligent AL US
African Americans
Political campaigns
Coal mines and mining
Educational law and legislation
Engineering Experiment Station
Farm tenancy
Government, Law and Politics
Hydroelectric power plants
Liquor laws
Reclamation of land
Vocational education
Representatives, U.S. Congress
Speakers of the House, U.S. Congress
State Representative


Birth 1874-04-12

Death 1940-09-15






Ark ID: w6ph2fzw

SNAC ID: 84256757