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Walter R. Stubbs

Politician, governor. Republican. Born: November 7, 1858, Wayne County, Indiana. Died: March 25, 1929, Topeka, Kansas. Served as 18th Governor of Kansas: January 11, 1909, to January 13, 1913.

Walter Stubbs

Walter Roscoe Stubbs was born near Richmond, Indiana, on November 7, 1858, to John T. and Esther (Bailey) Stubbs. He grew up on a farm and had 12 brothers and sisters; five of whom died in infancy.  His family were Quakers. When he was young his parents moved to Iowa. In 1869, after a few years of drought, they moved to Hesper in Douglas County, Kansas. There they settled and continued farming. 

Stubbs was educated at the Hesper country school and later attended the University of Kansas preparatory school; but he did not complete a college degree. His parents were of modest means and he was compelled to work to help support their large family. He mastered many trades including clerking, farming, banking, and driving a mule team.

At the age of 20 he bought a pair of mules and contracted with railroad companies to do grading. He merged his with another team of mules to double productivity and began a lucrative contract business. Stubbs became a self-made millionaire. When the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Company was soliciting contractors to construct a line from St. Louis to Kansas City, Stubbs drove the entire proposed route collecting the cost details of the project. He submitted his bid and secured a $3,000,000 contract, and netted $250,000 on the venture. 

Stubbs married Stella Hostettler on September 21, 1887; they had two sons and two daughters. 

In 1902 Stubbs entered politics. He was nominated by the Republicans to represent a district in Douglas County in the state legislature, and was elected. After a successful period in the state house of representatives and with constituent satisfaction he was reelected to office in 1904. He was made speaker of the house. His first order of business was to advocate reforms in the methodology and streamlining of state printing operations. Stubbs' resourcefulness and frugality also earned accolades on the floor for efficiency and economy in addressing the unnecessary large numbers of employees doing legislative work. Stubbs was reelected to an uneventful third term in 1906. He was also the chairman of the state Republican central committee in his last four years as a state legislator. Republicans nominated Stubbs in 1908 for governor. He was the first governor to receive his nomination directly from the people under the direct primary law that he fought so hard to enact as a legislator. He won the governor's election in 1908 and was sworn in at the 18th governor of Kansas on January 11, 1909. 

Governor Stubbs was a staunch activist in the Kansas Republican progressive wing. He brought prohibition to the center as the law of Kansas. The relaxed policies of previous governors on prohibition enabled drug stores across the state to sell liquors inconspicuously and Stubbs, determined to enforce the law to its fullest, nearly brought the illegal sale of alcohol to its end. He was known as a man of his word. His messages to the general assembly were consistent but stern. The governor had no problem with calling out unworthy or incompetent public officers. Walter was a member of the Masons, a very public-spirited citizen, and of stern civic responsibility. He had an individualistic personality made of heavy steel, which had a lasting impression in Kansas’ political affairs. 

Stubbs was the first to authorize a public utilities commission. The policies of managing state charities were also improved. Regulatory restrictions were implemented upon Kansas insurance companies. Railroad rates were tightly controlled, and the need for better roads was addressed. A new law prohibiting the consumption of intoxicating liquors on trains only passing through Kansas was enacted and sternly enforced. 

During Stubbs’ first term, the legislature passed laws setting the standard of weights and measures for staple products. The year 1911 also brought forth many interesting legislative acts in the public interest. Among them was State Senator J. N. Dolley’s “Blue Sky” Law that provided for strict regulation of investment companies. The Kansas “blue sky” law was the first in the United States to regulate the offering and sale of securities to protect the public from fraud. Stubbs was an early twentieth century political mover and shaker with progressive polices. He pushed for campaign expense laws and comprehensive high school teacher training programs as well as civil service reform.

Stubbs did not run for a third term of office, but instead decided to run for U. S. Senate. He won the primary of 1912 but lost in the general election to William Howard Thompson. 

Stubbs retired from public life in 1925 to return to farming and irrigation maintenance management near the Arkansas River Valley near Fowler, Colorado. He also oversaw cattle ranches in Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico. His home was at Wind Hill near the University of Kansas in Lawrence. 

Later in life Stubbs developed undiagnosed severe heart ailments. He was reported in critical condition in the last days leading to his death of heart failure in Topeka on March 25, 1929. Funeral services for the former governor were directed by Dr. Charles M. Sheldon of Topeka and held at First Methodist Church in Lawrence. He was interned at Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence.

Entry: Stubbs, Walter R.

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

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.