George H. Hodges
Politician, governor. Democrat. Born: February 6, 1866, Richland County, Wisconsin. Died: October 7, 1947, Kansas City, Missouri. Served as 19th Governor of Kansas: January 13, 1913, to January 11, 1915.
George Hartshorn Hodges was born in Orion, Richland County, Wisconsin, on February 6, 1866, to William W. and Lydia Ann Hodges. His father was a schoolteacher known for his snappy wit and mentor in his community. His mother reared three children and managed the home.
In 1869 when Hodges was three years old the family moved to Olathe, Kansas. His father died soon afterward due to an abrupt serious illness. There Hodges attended public school. When he was 20 he began work as a lumber yardman and was later promoted to yard manager.
Hodges joined with his younger brother, Frank, in 1889 to begin their own lumber business. Business proved difficult and they turned toward advertising to build clientele. The lumber-hardware business finally took off and the brothers built a chain of eight stores and 14 lumberyards. The company operated for many years and even had a location at Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Hodges became director of the First National Bank of Olathe along with numerous other commercial enterprises. He was also editor and proprietor of the Johnson County Democrat.
In 1896 Hodges became city councilman of Olathe; at the same time his brother, Frank, was a two-term mayor of that city. He married Ora May Murray in Johnson County, Kansas, on March 8, 1899; they had one child.
After four years as the city councilman Hodges served one term as mayor of Olathe. In 1904 he was elected state senator and served in that role until 1912. He also was chairman of the state Democratic convention in 1906. As state senator he worked to push progressive measures to improve Kansas. He was active on the railroad committee. Senator Hodges along with three other senators authored the Kansas public utilities law that was enacted in 1911.
Hodges won the 1912 gubernatorial nomination and defeated the Republican candidate Arthur Capper by a razor-thin margin of 29 votes. He was only the second Democratic governor in the state of Kansas. He took office on January 13, 1913, and followed progressive measures similar to that of President Woodrow Wilson. Kansans cast their electoral votes for Wilson, and elected Democrats to fill five of eight congressional seats. Democrats took the majority in both the state senate and house.
As governor Hodges appointed the first utilities commission, one of the first commissions appointed in the United States. His loyalty to his party’s ideals never wavered. He was often acknowledged in Democratic circles as “the man who made his party over” for his groundbreaking reforms in the early 20th century.
Governor Hodges also insured the passing of the state's first corporation tax levy. The governor authorized a broader measure by amending the Kansas constitution to permit women’s suffrage. The state's board of administration was granted full responsibility for overseeing all state agencies, as well as the advancement of women’s roles in state government. Hodges gained nationwide notoriety with his idea of changing the machinery of government by abolishing the two-house legislature system and replacing it with a single and smaller governing body. He addressed the national political establishment and the press, making the argument for streamlining the government legislative process that was simply considered too big for the day.
He achieved much in his two years as chief of state. His long-term experience in the state senate had greased the wheels of many of his successful accomplishments, most notable a top-notch state bottom-up business administration. Thirteen of the fourteen platform pledges on the docket were written into the statute books of the state of Kansas in the period 1913 to 1915 thanks to Hodges' support. As part of this progressive mandate Kansas’ voters approved an amendment to the state constitution granting women equal suffrage. Hodges increased the number of women in state government authority. In August 1913 Hodges collaborated with Missouri Governor Elliott Major in a joint project coined “Good Road Days.” The two governors were seen in “khaki overalls” working side by side with many bi-state citizens to improve the roads.
Hodges lost his reelection bid by large margin to Arthur Capper in 1915. He returned to his lumberyard and hardware business in Olathe and never returned to state politics. He served with the Red Cross in World War I with a courtesy title of major. He was also a member of the state textbook commission and state board of regents. Hodges remained a staunch prohibitionist and was frequently on the Chautauqua circuit lecturing on the evils of drink.
Hodges died in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 7, 1947, in Kansas City, Missouri; he was buried in Olathe Cemetery.
Entry: Hodges, George H.
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2011
Date Modified: February 2017
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