Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission
Joe T. Robinson was born in a log house on a farm near Lonoke on August 26, 1872. His father was a physician and Baptist minister. Though educated in one-room rural schools, the young Robinson gained a reputation as an essayist and orator. At the age of seventeen he passed the Arkansas teacher's exam and taught school for two years to earn money to attend the University of Arkansas. Robinson was elected to the Arkansas legislature in the fall of 1894 and in the spring of 1895 he received his degree from the University of Virginia School of Law at the age of twenty-two. The following December he married Ewilda Gertrude Miller.
Elected to Congress in 1902, he served five terms. In 1912, while still in Congress, he announced his candidacy for governor. Robinson won and resigned from Congress on January 14, 1913 and was inaugurated governor on January 16, 1913. In the meantime, Jeff Davis, Arkansas's U.S. Senator had died unexpectedly on January 3. On January 28 the Arkansas legislature chose Robinson to succeed Davis as Senator. In the span of only two weeks Robinson went from U.S. Representative, to Governor of Arkansas, to U.S. Senator. He was the last senator in the United States to be elected by a vote of a state legislature.
An old-style orator with a booming voice, Robinson rose rapidly in the Senate where he was regarded as a progressive of the stripe of Woodrow Wilson. In 1922 he was chosen the Senate leader of the minority Democrats. Six years later Robinson was nominated the Democratic vice-presidential candidate on the ticket headed by Alfred E. Smith of New York, a Roman Catholic and opponent of prohibition. Even before he accepted the nomination, Robinson told his friend Bernard Baruch that he feared there was still too much prejudice against Catholics for one to be elected president. Robinson made it his personal crusade to address the issue head-on in speech after speech throughout the South. As it would turn out, Landon would carry only six states. All of them, including Arkansas, were Southern states. Herbert Hoover and the Republicans were victorious in 1928.
The following year brought the stock market crash followed by the Great Depression. In 1932 the Democrats gained control of both the presidency and Congress. As Majority Leader, Robinson became Franklin Delano Roosevelt's point-man in the Senate during the "one hundred days" when most of the "New Deal" legislation was passed. In 1937 Robinson died of a heart attack in the midst of the struggle over Roosevelt's so-called "court-packing" plan.
See also this Arkansas News article: Congressman, Governor, and Senator: Joe T. Robinson Serve State and Nation.
Next: George Washington Hays