William Stephens bigraphy, stories - Governor of California

William Stephens : biography

26 December 1859 - 1944-4-25

William Dennison Stephens (December 26, 1859 – April 25, 1944) was an American federal and state politician. A three-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1911 to 1916, Stephens was the 24th governor of California from 1917 to 1923.

Biography

William Stephens was born in Eaton, Ohio on December 26, 1859. He was the third child out of a total of nine children born to Martin and Alvira Stephens. With ambitions to become a lawyer, Stephens studied earnestly in law to become a lawyer, yet family fortunes required all of his earnings to go to his family instead.

Following his graduation from Eaton High School in 1876, Stephens worked for three years as a school teacher before joining the railroad business to become an engineer. Between 1880 and 1887, Stephens helped survey the construction of railroads in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Louisiana. His days in the railroads came to an end in 1887 when his mother, Alvira, now falling ill, sought a hot and drier climate to improve her health. The Stephens family, including William, relocated to Los Angeles, California that year, though Alvira would be dead within a year.

After relocating to Los Angeles, Stephens began to work as a traveling salesman and later as a grocery manager. In 1891, Stephens married Flora E. Rawson (1869–1931). In 1902, he became a partner in Carr and Stephens Groceries, giving Stephens wide name recognition throughout Los Angeles. Increasingly, Stephens became involved in business and municipal politics, serving on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce from 1902 to 1911, as well as being elected to the Los Angeles Board of Education from 1906 to 1907. Stephens further served on the Los Angeles Board of Water Commissioners, working alongside William Mulholland in an advisory committee for the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

In 1906, Stephens served briefly as a Major in the California Army National Guard during the San Francisco Earthquake as part of the First Brigade. In 1909, he became vice president of the American National Bank.

Following Los Angeles Mayor Arthur C. Harper's resignation from office shortly before a crucial recall election, Stephens was appointed Acting Mayor of the city on March 15, 1909, becoming the city's 27th mayor. Stephens' mayoralty lasted for less than two weeks before George Alexander, the winner of the election, assumed the office.

After his brief stint as Mayor of Los Angeles, Stephens entered the realm of federal politics. In the 1910 elections, Stephens was elected as a Republican for the 7th congressional district to the U.S. House of Representatives. Due to redistricting, Stephens changed constituencies to the newly-created 10th congressional district for the 1912 elections, which he also won. During this time period, Stephens increasingly identified himself as a member of the Progressive movement, becoming a member of the Progressive Party, led by former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and California Governor Hiram Johnson. Stephens was one of the 13 Progressives to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1910s, four of which (including himself) came from California. He successfully defended his seat again in the 1914 elections, winning a consecutive third term to the House. Stephens would continue to identify himself as a member of the Progressive Party until the party’s dissolution in 1916, when he rejoined the Republican Party.

Following Lieutenant Governor John Morton Eshleman's death from tuberculosis on February 28, 1916, Governor Hiram Johnson sought a replacement for his subordinate. By mid-year, Johnson had selected Stephens as Eshleman's successor, forcing him to resign his seat from the federal House and assume the position of lieutenant governor on July 22.

Stephens' position as lieutenant governor was short lived. Governor Johnson himself was elected to the U.S. Senate in the 1916 elections, leaving the governorship open to the recently installed lieutenant governor. Johnson submitted his resignation to take his Senate seat on March 15, 1917, with Stephens, fulfilling his duties as lieutenant governor, to assume the governorship, making him the state's 24th governor.

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