William Ben Cravens (1872–1939)
William Ben Cravens was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He had two separate and distinct periods of service in Congress, first representing the Fourth District of Arkansas in the Sixtieth, Sixty-First, and Sixty-Second Congresses, serving from 1907 to 1913, and then after two decades away, he returned to Congress, again representing the Fourth District, in the Seventy-Third through the Seventy-Sixth Congresses, serving from March 1933 until his death in early 1939.
Ben Cravens was born on January 17, 1872, in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) to William Murphy Cravens and Mary Eloise Rutherford Cravens. He attended the local schools before continuing his studies at Louisville Military Academy in Kentucky and then at Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. He studied law at the University of Missouri, graduating in 1893. He had married Caroline Dyal, a native of Wichita, Kansas, on December 19, 1884, and they had two children. His son, William, would later be elected to Congress upon Cravens’s death.
Admitted to the Arkansas bar following graduation, Cravens joined his father and began to practice law in Fort Smith. He served first as city attorney of Fort Smith from 1898 until 1902, and then as prosecuting attorney for Arkansas’s twelfth judicial district from 1902 until 1908. In 1906, he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives and was subsequently reelected in 1908 and 1910. He was chairman of the Committee on Enrolled Bills, as well as a member of the Committee on Military Affairs, the Committee on Industrial Arts and Expositions, and the Indian Affairs Committee. As a member of the Congressional Red River Improvement Association, Cravens was active in the effort to open the Red River to greater steamboat navigation, something that was seen as helping in the development of the state’s economy. However, despite having run unopposed in 1910, Cravens was denied re-nomination in 1912, the party instead choosing a young former state senator, Otis T. Wingo. He returned home, resuming the practice of law in Clarksville (Johnson County). Cravens was highly active in the Fort Smith community, serving in many civic organizations.
After a two-decade absence and at sixty years of age, Cravens returned to the electoral arena. In an ironic twist, he succeeded the retiring congresswoman, Effiegene Wingo, the widow of the man who twenty years before had ended Cravens’s first stint in Congress. After securing the Democratic nod, Cravens ran unopposed in the general election and joined the many new Democrats who had been swept into office in the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidential victory.
As Congress and the president worked to address the many issues stemming from the Great Depression, Cravens served on a range of committees, including Elections, Mines and Mining, and Flood Control. In addition, he served on the Committee on Public Building and Grounds as well as the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments. He consistently won reelection, never facing opposition in the November general election, and he served as the representative of Arkansas’s Fourth District until his sudden death in Washington DC on January 13, 1939.
Cravens is interred in Oak Cemetery in Fort Smith, and in a special election to fill the seat, his son, William Fadjo Cravens, was elected to succeed him.
For additional information:
“Ben Cravens, Congressman, Succumbs.” Arkansas Gazette, January 1, 1939, p. 14.
“William Ben Cravens” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=C000886 (accessed September 27, 2021).
William H. Pruden III
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