A Legacy of Leadership: Governors and American History

By Clayton McClure Brooks | Go to book overview

Governing the 1920s
and 1930s

In the 1920s and 1930s, governors embraced interstate cooperation and became confident this practice would empower governors and states. They began to enjoy the expanded scope of their office while warily noting similar expansion in the national government. In these years, governors led the nation through prosperity and pitfalls. They drew on the strength of the Governors’ Conference to voice their concerns and affect national events. In the midst of this sea change, governors became even more convinced of the benefits of cooperation, assured of their association, and willing to consider new national and international perspectives. They overcame their hesitancy to confront the federal government on points of conflict and began to take formal positions, such as a 1926 resolution urging congressional legislation to promote U.S. agriculture in the world market. A new innovation of “governors only” sessions, resulting from an effort to contain grandstanding on the issue of prohibition, shut out the media and other guests to ensure more candor and less political pandering to constituents back home.

While staking the boundaries of expanded governorships in the 1920s, these leaders confronted a decade of opportunity; full of drama, both heroic and tragic. The ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment brought women into the national electorate and also into the gubernatorial office. In 1924, two women, Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming (1925– 1927) and Miriam “Ma” Ferguson of Texas (1925–1927, 1933–1935), were elected governor. At the 1925 governors’ meeting, Ross (officially the first female governor) thanked her male colleagues for their “generous attitude toward feminine invasion of a realm that tradition has recognized as exclusively the preserve of men.”1 Many Americans, however, were not so welcoming of change. Tired of war, the nation tried to retreat once more into isolationism, feeding a violent dislike of immigrants and a promotion of 100 percent Americanism based on the argument that only white Protestants were truly American. Millions of whites nationwide flocked to the newly rejuvenated Ku Klux Klan, which fueled

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