Legislative Branch -- Senators

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Alexander, William Vollie (Bill), Jr.

William Vollie (Bill) Alexander Jr. represented the state of Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1969 to 1993, rising to the post of Chief Deputy House Majority Whip, an important position of chamber leadership. Bill Alexander was born on January 16, 1934, in Memphis, Tennessee, to William V. Alexander Sr. and Spencer (Buck) Alexander. The family moved to Osceola (Mississippi County) soon thereafter. He graduated from Osceola High School in 1951. That same year, he became an Eagle Scout. From 1951 to 1953, he served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), joined the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, and then moved back to the city of his …

Boozman, John

Businessman and rancher John Boozman became a leading Republican officeholder in the early part of the twenty-first century. First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001, he was later elected to the Senate and became, in 2015, the state’s senior U.S. senator. John Boozman was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on December 10, 1950, to Fay Winford Boozman Jr. and Marie Nichols Boozman. Fay Boozman was a U.S. Air Force master sergeant, and the family moved frequently when John was young. Boozman spent his high school years in Arkansas, graduating from Northside High School in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). Boozman played football for the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), which he attended from 1969 to 1972. …

Borland, Solon

Solon Borland was a physician, editor, United States senator, diplomat, and military officer. He was the first Arkansas politician to be given a major diplomatic assignment, which eventually resulted in the destruction of a town in Central America, one of the earliest examples of U.S. gunboat diplomacy.  According to an article in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Solon Borland was born in Suffolk, Nansemond County, Virginia, the youngest of three sons born to Thomas Wood Borland, a physician, and Harriet Godwin. Additional sources have his date of birth as August 8, 1811. His family moved to North Carolina by 1823. In 1831, he married Hildah (or Huldah) Wright of Virginia; they had two sons, Harold and Thomas. He …

Caraway, Hattie Ophelia Wyatt

Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate, the first woman to preside over the Senate, the first to chair a Senate committee, and the first to preside over a Senate hearing. She served from 1931 to 1945 and was a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s economic recovery legislation during the Great Depression. Hattie Wyatt was born to William Carroll Wyatt and Lucy Burch Wyatt on February 1, 1878, near Bakersville, Tennessee. It is unknown how many siblings she had, though the 1900 Census shows four children living at her parents’ residence. When she was four, she moved with her family to Hustburg, Tennessee, where she helped on the family farm and in …

Caraway, Thaddeus Horatius

Thaddeus Horatius Caraway was an Arkansas prosecuting attorney who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives four times and to the U.S. Senate twice. A progressive champion of the poor, Caraway vigorously challenged corruption while aiding Arkansas during the beginning of the Great Depression. His wife, Hattie Wyatt Caraway, filled his Senate seat upon his death on November 6, 1931. Thaddeus H. Caraway was born on October 17, 1871, in Spring Hill, Missouri, to Tolbert Caraway and Mary Ellen Caraway. After his father’s death when Caraway was a young child, his mother struggled to maintain the family. She moved the family to Clay County, Arkansas, when he was twelve. Caraway left Arkansas to attend Dickson Normal College in Dickson, …

Conway, Henry Wharton

Henry Wharton Conway was the delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Territory of Arkansas. He served in the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Congresses from 1823 until his death in 1827. Henry Wharton Conway was born on March 18, 1793, near Greeneville, Tennessee. One of ten children born to Thomas Conway and Ann Rector Conway, he received his early education by private tutors before enlisting in the U.S. Army. Serving in the War of 1812, he was commissioned as an ensign (at the time an army rank, but one that was ended after the war) and was promoted to lieutenant in 1813, serving through the end of the war and into peacetime. Conway was a member of the …

Dinsmore, Hugh Anderson

Hugh Anderson Dinsmore was the first Arkansan from Benton County appointed as a U.S. foreign minister. Dinsmore also served three years as a circuit clerk, six years as a prosecuting attorney, twelve years in Congress, and several years on the board of trustees for the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). Born on the family homestead in Cave Springs (Benton County) on December 24, 1850, Hugh Anderson Dinsmore was the eldest of five children born to Alexander Winchester Dinsmore and Catherine Anderson. In 1860, before the outbreak of the Civil War, his father owned six slaves and one of the five general stores operating in Bentonville (Benton County). Dinsmore was educated in Benton County schools and the Ozark Institute …

Dorsey, Stephen Wallace

Stephen Wallace Dorsey was a soldier, a U.S. senator from Arkansas, and an entrepreneur involved with railroads, ranching, mail delivery contracting, and mining. Ambitious, smart, and handsome, Dorsey was a prominent and successful man throughout his lifetime. His achievements, however, were frequently surrounded by controversy and scandal. The son of Irish immigrants, Stephen Dorsey was born on a farm in Benson, Vermont, on February 28, 1842. He was the seventh of ten children born to John and Mary Dorsey. When he was a teenager, Dorsey and his family moved to Oberlin, Ohio. At the start of the Civil War in 1861, Dorsey enlisted as a private in the First Ohio Light Artillery. He fought under generals James A. Garfield and …

Fulbright, Bill

aka: James William Fulbright
aka: J. William Fulbright
James William Fulbright was and remains among the best-known Arkansans. As a Democratic U.S. senator, he was a force for change. Like his Oxford tutor, R.B. McCallum, Bill Fulbright believed that a “Parliament of Man” was possible, that educated, enlightened human beings were able to recognize that their individual interests and were inextricably bound up with the well being of the community. The crux of that education was knowledge about and appreciation of other cultures. Tolerance, peaceful coexistence, respect for human rights, and collective security are Fulbright’s bequests to the nation and the world. Fulbright was born on April 9, 1905, in Summer, Missouri, to Jay and Roberta Fulbright. In 1906, the family moved to Fayetteville (Washington County), where his …

Hodges, Kaneaster, Jr.

Kaneaster Hodges Jr. served as a Democratic interim U.S. senator representing Arkansas from December 10, 1977, to January 3, 1979. He was appointed to the post by Governor David Pryor after the death of the incumbent senator, John L. McClellan. Hodges also served as city attorney and deputy prosecuting attorney of Newport (Jackson County) and held a number of positions in state government. Kaneaster Hodges Jr. was born to Harryette Hodges and Kaneaster Hodges Sr. in Newport on August 20, 1938; he was one of six children. His father, whose career path Hodges would follow, was a lawyer. Hodges graduated from Newport High School in 1956 and went on to receive his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1960 and …

Kirby, William Fosgate

William Fosgate Kirby was an associate justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court and also served as state attorney general and U.S. senator. A friend and political ally of Jeff Davis, Kirby was a member of the Democratic Party and an ardent agrarian populist. His convictions led to his spirited opposition to President Woodrow Wilson’s efforts to involve the United States in World War I. Born on November 16, 1867, near Texarkana (Miller County), William F. Kirby was the son of Joseph F. and Martha (Ferguson) Kirby. His father was an ex-Confederate who moved into the state from Alabama and took up agriculture. Kirby grew up on the family farm with his three brothers. He received his secondary education in local …

McClellan, John Little

John Little McClellan served longer in the U.S. Senate than any other Arkansan (1942–1977) and was one of its most powerful members. Under McClellan’s leadership, the Senate conducted some of its most significant investigations, including probes into the activities of such men as Jimmy Hoffa, Dave Beck, and Billie Sol Estes. Today, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System serves as a notable example of the senator’s belief that large federal projects would boost Arkansas’s prosperity. John McClellan was born on February 25, 1896, on a farm near Sheridan (Grant County) to Isaac S. and Belle Suddeth McClellan. The McClellans were staunch Democrats and named their son for Congressman John Little. Educated in public schools, McClellan became interested in law and …

McDonald, Alexander

As one of Arkansas’s Republican senators during Reconstruction, Alexander McDonald played a role in the return of the state to its place in the Union. Possibly, though, McDonald’s roles as banker and railroad executive were more important to the state than his brief political career. Alexander McDonald was born on April 10, 1832, near Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, one of several children of John and Lucy McDonald. He attended Dickinson Seminary in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and also Lewisburg University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, although it appears that he did not graduate from any institution. In 1857, he traveled west to the Kansas Territory and became a businessman. Along with his brother, Benjamin P. McDonald, he ran a sawmill—variously known as “Bowen and McDonald” …

Miller, John Elvis

John Elvis Miller, the son of a Confederate veteran, had a distinguished career in the law, sandwiched around a political career that took him to the U.S. Senate in one of the most startling Arkansas elections of the twentieth century. He was a prosecuting attorney, a congressman, and a senator, resigning the last position in 1941 when President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him U.S. judge for the Western District of Arkansas. John E. Miller was born on May 15, 1888, in Stoddard County, Missouri, the son of John A. and Mary Harper Miller. As a child, he helped his parents and seven siblings raise cotton and corn on their Missouri bootheel farm. When he finished the ninth grade, he took an …

Mitchel, Charles Burton

Charles Burton Mitchel briefly served as a U.S. senator from the state of Arkansas before resigning his office due to the secession of Arkansas and the beginning of the Civil War. He then served in the same capacity in the Confederate government until his death in 1864. Charles Mitchel—whose name is frequently misspelled as Mitchell—was born in Gallatin, Tennessee, on September 19, 1815, to John Mitchel and his wife. Records do not show the first name of his mother or identify any siblings, although he was one of four children in the household in 1820. After attending common schools, Mitchel graduated from the University of Nashville in 1833. He then earned a medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, …

Pryor, David Hampton

David Hampton Pryor, arguably the most popular Arkansas politician of the modern era, held four different political offices during his career: state House of Representatives member, U.S. congressman, governor, and U.S. senator. A Democrat, Pryor played a crucial role in limiting the rise of Republicanism in Arkansas in the latter decades of the twentieth century. David Pryor was born on August 29, 1934, in Camden (Ouachita County) to William Edgar Pryor and Susan Pryor. His father and grandfather were both sheriffs. His mother was the first Arkansas woman to run for elective office (she ran unsuccessfully for county circuit clerk in 1926); she later won a school board race. Pryor had three siblings. The role of Pryor’s family in public …

Pryor, Mark Lunsford

Mark Lunsford Pryor is an Arkansas lawyer and politician. Following in the footsteps of his father, David Pryor, he served two terms in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat before he was defeated for reelection in 2014. Mark Pryor was born in Fayetteville (Washington County) on January 10, 1963, to David Pryor and Barbara Jean Lunsford Pryor. With his father serving first as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives—followed by service as governor and U.S. senator—Mark Pryor grew up in a politically oriented household in both Arkansas and Washington DC. He received a BA in history from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville in 1985. He continued his studies at the University of Arkansas School of Law, …

Rice, Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin Rice was a Reconstruction-era U.S. senator from Arkansas, as well as an attorney, politician, and businessman who helped to reestablish the state following the turmoil of the Civil War. His career as senator was bookended by his involvement in the trial of David O. Dodd and the Brooks-Baxter War. Benjamin Rice was born on May 26, 1828, in East Otto, New York, to Elijah Rice and Hannah Hanks Rice; he was one of four sons, all of whom became lawyers. After attending private schools and studying law, Rice was admitted to the bar. He then moved to Irvine, Kentucky, where he practiced law for several years and also became involved in politics. He served as a member of …

Robinson, Joseph Taylor

Joseph Taylor Robinson was governor only a short time before taking office as a U.S. senator. He became Senate majority leader during the Great Depression, after his nomination as the Democratic Party candidate for vice president—the first Arkansan ever on a major party ticket. Joe T. Robinson was born on August 26, 1872, in Concord Township (Lonoke County) to James Madison Robinson—a doctor, farmer, and lay preacher from New York—and Matilda Jane Swaim of Tennessee. Usually attending the local one-room schoolhouse during the summer, he received fewer than forty-six months of formal education. He augmented his schooling by reading classics from his father’s extensive library. In his childhood, he chopped cotton and tended to his father’s apple orchard. During his …

Sebastian, William King

William Sebastian represented Arkansas in the U.S. Senate from 1848 until 1861. Also a farmer, lawyer, and judge, Sebastian served his state until the Civil War ended his career. Sebastian County, formed on January 6, 1851, was named for him. William King Sebastian was born in Centerville, Tennessee, in 1812 to Samuel Sebastian and his wife. Records do not include the name of his mother or any siblings (he appears to be one of at least three children in the household in 1830.) or the exact date of his birth. Sebastian moved to Arkansas in 1835, living briefly in Monroe County before making his home in Helena (Phillips County). While in Tennessee, Sebastian attended Columbia College, graduating in 1834. He …

Sevier, Ambrose Hundley

Ambrose Hundley Sevier was a territorial delegate and one of the first U.S. senators from the state of Arkansas. Sevier was also one of the founders of a political dynasty which ruled antebellum Arkansas politics from the 1820s until the Civil War. His cousin Henry Wharton Conway founded the Arkansas Democratic Party, and his other cousin, James Sevier Conway, served as Arkansas’s first state governor, while yet another cousin, Elias Nelson Conway, was the state’s fifth chief executive. He also married into the powerful Johnson family, and his brother-in-law Robert W. Johnson rose to prominence in antebellum Arkansas politics. Born on November 10, 1801, in Greene County, Tennessee, to John Sevier and Susannah Conway, he was the grandnephew of John …

Spencer, George Lloyd

George Lloyd Spencer, a Democrat, served as U.S. senator of Arkansas from April 1, 1941, to January 3, 1943, filling the vacancy left by the resignation of Senator John E. Miller. Spencer was not elected to a full term in office but served the remainder of Senator Miller’s term. Spencer also served in the U.S. Navy during both World War I and World War II. George Spencer was born on March 27, 1893, at Sarcoxie, Missouri, to George Spencer and Louella Riley Spencer. He moved to Okolona (Clark County) in 1902, where he attended public school. He also attended Peddie Institute at Highstown, New Jersey, and Henderson-Brown College in Arkadelphia (Clark County). In 1918, Spencer served as a seaman, second …

Walker, James David

James David Walker served as a U.S. senator from Arkansas from 1879 to 1885. Before that, he served as a judge and as a colonel in the Confederate army. Local historian William Campbell later described him as “a man of strong convictions, sturdy honesty, high principles, and the recognized leader of the bar,” adding that his “knowledge and use of the law was profound, and his pleading before juries was always persuasive.” He had little impact in the Senate, however. J. D. Walker was born on December 13, 1830, near Russellville, Kentucky, the fifth and youngest child of James Volney Walker and Susan Howard McLean Walker. On both sides of his family, he was related to politicians, including congressional representatives …