Theodore Gilmore Bilbo: Thirty-ninth and Forty-third Governor of Mississippi: 1916-1920; 1928-1932
Although he was only five-feet, two-inches tall, Theodore G. Bilbo, in
life as in legend, is a towering figure who stalked across the pages of
Mississippi history. For forty years, from 1907 to 1947, “The Man,”
as he was called by friends and foes alike, occupied a prominent place
in Mississippi politics.
After losing his first political race in 1903 to a “one-armed Confederate veteran,” Bilbo launched an illustrious and successful political career that included the offices of state senator, 1908-1912; lieutenant governor, 1912-1916; governor, 1916-1920 and 1928-1932; and United States senator, 1935-1947. His long career was punctuated by defeats as well as victories, and included losing campaigns for circuit clerk in 1903, U. S. Congress in 1918, governor in 1923, and U. S. Congress in 1932. Governor Bilbo’s wife, Linda Gaddy Bedgood, made several campaign speeches for him in 1915 and may have been the first woman to actively participate in a statewide political race in Mississippi.
In Governor Bilbo’s second inaugural address, January 17, 1928, he recommended moving the University of Mississippi from Oxford to Jackson and the construction of a new $15 million university. He also recommended a thorough reorganization of Mississippi’s other public institutions of higher learning, including the establishment of a commissioner of higher education.
After those recommendations were defeated, Governor Bilbo persuaded the
college board to dismiss two college presidents and about fifty-three
faculty members. The number of presidents and faculty dismissed by Governor
Bilbo has been greatly exaggerated by his critics. Actually, Governor
Bilbo's motivation was not to punish his enemies and reward his friends,
but to improve and upgrade the state's colleges. Nevertheless, several
accrediting agencies withdrew accreditation from Mississippi’s institutions
of higher learning for two years.
After his second term ended in 1932, Governor Bilbo ran unsuccessfully
for the United States Congress. Two years later he was elected to the
U. S. Senate. He was re-elected in 1940 and 1946. During his early years
in the Senate, Bilbo was a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s
New Deal programs.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Posted January 2004
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (1950), 849.
Green, A. Wigfall. The Man Bilbo (Baton Rouge, 1963).
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1917), 494.
Morgan, Chester. Redneck Liberal: Theodore G. Bilbo and the New Deal (Baton Rouge, 1985).
Sansing, David G. Making Haste Slowly, The Troubled History of Higher Education in Mississippi (Jackson, 1990), 91-110.
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