Collections Blog

Collections Blog

Stories Behind the Objects: A 1910 Arkansas Democratic Primary Ballot and Governor George W. Donaghey

Old State House Museum - Thursday, March 31, 2016


Our collections spotlight this month highlights an official ballot from the Democratic primary in Sebastian County on March 30, 1910. In this election, incumbent Arkansas Governor George W. Donaghey defeated C.C. Kavanaugh and won his second gubernatorial term. Donaghey was re-elected with sixty-nine percent of the vote.

George Washington Donaghey was born on July 1, 1856 in Oakland, Louisiana and worked on his family’s farm straddling the Arkansas-Louisiana border for much of his childhood. After moving to Conway, Arkansas to live with his uncle in 1880, he met his wife, Louvenia Wallace. The couple married on September 20, 1883 and remained in Conway. Donaghey began his career as a carpenter, and later became a highly successful building contractor.

Through his support of education, Donaghey built a legacy in the state of Arkansas that still endures today. He became involved in education even before he became Arkansas’s twenty-second governor. In the 1890s, Donaghey greatly influenced several endeavors to bring colleges to Conway. He contributed $1,500, which was one-third of his assets at the time, to a fund to move Hendrix College to Conway. Likewise, he pledged $5,000 to establish Central College for Women, even though the college was created as a Baptist school, while Donaghey was a devout Methodist. Later, Donaghey led the fundraising effort to bring the Arkansas State Normal School to Conway, which later became Arkansas State Teachers College and then the University of Central Arkansas.

Because of his success and reputation as a building contractor Donaghey was appointed, along with four others, to the State Capitol Commission in 1899 to direct and oversee the construction of a new state capitol to replace the existing one, now known as the Old State House. Plagued by inadequate funding and political in-fighting, the building of the State Capitol took over 16 years to complete, its ultimate success largely thanks to Donaghey’s expertise, integrity, and persistence. He based his first campaign for governor on a pledge to complete the new capitol building.

After Donaghey won his first gubernatorial campaign in 1908, defeating John Worthington with seventy-one percent of the vote, he established and funded four agricultural high schools. Eventually, these schools became Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, and the University of Arkansas at Monticello. During his second term, Donaghey continued to support education in Arkansas with the creation of a state board of education to supervise the 5,143 school districts in 1911. Just as Donaghey was involved in education before his time as governor, he was still involved after leaving office. In 1929, the Donaghey family transferred ownership of the Donaghey Building and the Federal Bank and Trust Building, both built by Donaghey, to Little Rock Junior College. This endowment, which was valued between $1.5 and $2 million, was one of the most generous ever given in the state at the time. Little Rock Junior College eventually became the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, making it the sixth publicly supported university in Arkansas whose creation was directly affected by Donaghey.

However, Donaghey did not only leave his mark on the state through educational endeavors. At his insistence, the 1909 legislature submitted to the people a proposed constitutional amendment that established initiative and referendum. These are legal procedures by which the people can put proposed initiated acts and constitutional amendments on the ballot, as well as refer laws passed by the legislature to a popular vote. After the people ratified the amendment in 1910, Arkansas was the only Southern state with any kind of initiative and referendum laws for seventy years!