George Washington Donaghey

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George Washington Donahey
Portrait of George Washington Donaghey.jpg
22nd Governor of Arkansas
In office
January 14, 1909 – January 16, 1913
Preceded by Jesse M. Martin
Succeeded by Joseph Taylor Robinson
Personal details
Born (1856-07-01)July 1, 1856
Union Parish, Louisiana, USA
Died December 15, 1937(1937-12-15) (aged 81)
Little Rock, Pulaski County
Resting place Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Louvenia Wallace Donaghey (married 1887-1937, his death)
Children No children
Residence (1) Conway, Faulkner County

(2) Little Rock, Arkansas

Alma mater University of Arkansas
Profession Developer

George Washington Donaghey (July 1, 1856 – December 15, 1937) was the 22nd Governor of the U.S. state of Arkansas from 1909 to 1913.

Donaghey was born in the Oakland Community in Union Parish in north Louisiana. From 1882 to 1883, he attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He was a school teacher, carpenter, and he studied both architecture and structural engineering. In 1883, Donaghey established his residence at Conway, Arkansas, and adopted that city as his hometown; one of the major streets there bears his name.


Having himself lacked a formal education, Donaghey worked diligently to bring institutions of higher learning to Conway. He served on the boards of Philander Smith College in Little Rock and Hendrix College in Conway, where his service extended from 1906 until his death. Additionally, he gave generously to both institutions.


Donaghey entered business as a contractor and constructed courthouses in Texas and Arkansas. He built ice plants and roads in Arkansas and constructed water tanks and railroad stations for the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad.

As governor[edit]

In 1908, Donaghey was elected governor on a "Complete the Capitol" program, having successfully explained to voters the need to complete the state capitol building project that had languished for many years. He won a three-way primary election which broke the power of former Governor Jefferson "Jeff" Davis on the Arkansas Democratic Party. Victory in the general election over Republican John L. Worthington was a mere formality, 110,418 (68.1 percent) to 41,689 (27.7 percent). Worthington had also run in 1906 against Davis.[1] Donaghey had to wait ten months to take office. In the meantime, he traveled the country, and as professor Calvin Ledbetter, Jr., of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, points out in his book The Carpenter from Conway, Donaghey educated himself for the political office which awaited him..

Donaghey was reelected in 1910, having defeated another Republican, Andrew L. Roland, 101,612 (67.4 percent) to 38,870 (26.5 percent. Another 9,196 ballots (6.1 percent) were cast for the Socialist candidate, Dan Hogan.[1]

Donaghey's progressive stance procured passage of the Initiative and Referendum Act by which Arkansans can take governmental matters into their own hands and bypass the state legislature. Arkansas is the only state in the American South to grant its citizens such power. The initiative, which began in South Dakota, is otherwise particularly known in California and Colorado.

The Donaghey administration focused on roads, public health, and railroads. The administration established four agricultural high schools that later developed into Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, and the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Donaghey was vehemently opposed to the use of prisoners for contract-leased labor, especially for building railroads. Unable to get the legislature to abolish the practice, Donaghey just prior to leaving office pardoned 360 prisoners, 37 percent of the incarcerated population. This left the lease system with insufficient available prisoners for utilization in construction. In 1913, a year after Donaghey left office, the legislature finally ended the practice.

After being governor[edit]

After his defeat by Joseph Taylor Robinson in 1912 in his attempt at a third term as governor, Donaghey persisted in his quest to complete the Capitol. A critical year was 1913. Senator Jeff Davis died two days into the year. Robinson, then governor, was named by the legislature as Davis' successor. J. M. Futtrell, president of the Arkansas Senate, became acting governor. The result was Futtrell and the Capitol Building Commission asked Donaghey to become a commission member and take charge of completing construction. He did. Donaghey in 1917 completed the Capitol, valued at more than $300 million today, for $2.2 million, ending an 18-year effort. As a hallmark to completion, Donaghey personally built the governor's conference table, which sets today as the centerpiece of the governor's conference room in the north wing of the Capitol.

As a former governor, Donaghey served on a number of boards and commissions responsible for a variety of tasks such as constructions, education, and charities. He penned the book Build a State Capitol, which details the construction of the Arkansas capitol building.

Donaghey died in Little Rock and is interred there at the Roselawn Memorial Park Cemetery.

To be merged:

Donaghey was named second in a Log Cabin Democrat survey of the ten most influential people in the history of Faulkner County.

A highly principled man, he was responsible for bringing three colleges to Conway, working to eliminate liquor and in 1879 to the removal of five saloons from the city's streets. He also worked to build many of the city's commercial buildings at the turn of the 20th century.

His progressive outlook from living in Conway for thirty years, coupled with his anathema for politics that prevented completion of the state Capitol caused Donaghey to run for governor, be elected and serve from 1909 through 1913 in an effort to erase Arkansas's "hillbilly" image.

His 18-year struggle, even after he was defeated for a third term as governor in 1912, succeeded in obtaining the completion of the state capitol. Donaghey was recognized in his latter years for his civic, charitable, and public works until his death in 1937 at the age of eighty-one.

Donaghey, known through an Arkansas Democrat headline as the "Carpenter From Conway," was a jack of all trades  – a farmer, cook, carpenter, casketmaker, cowboy, cabinetmaker, hunter, plantation owner, town marshal, governor, and philanthropist.

John Pence introduced Donaghey to a woodworking apprenticeship in his shop in Conway. Even though he relished woodworking and cabinetmaking, Donaghey recognized the need for more education and spent a year at the University of Arkansas. However, his friends wrote him that he'd likely lose the love of his life, the former Louvenia Wallace, if he did not return to Conway. Once home, he formed a partnership with Pence, only to see the woodworking shop and his tools go up in flames in an 1886 fire that consumed most of the business district. But the fire also was Donaghey's salvation. Other burned businesses needed to rebuild, and they needed carpenters  – . The success of his shop enabled Donaghey to marry Miss Wallace, a South Carolina native, in September 1887, a marriage that would last fifty years but which would not yield any children.

In 1890, Donaghey obtained his first major construction job, building the Bank of Conway. He followed with the second structure at Hendrix College, Main Hall at CBC, the Faulkner County Courthouse, and the Arkansas School for the Deaf in Little Rock. Two of his structures stand to this day. They are the Ott building at Parkway and Oak Street, and Old Main on what is now the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Old Main, built in 1917, was Donaghey's last project in Conway.

Drawing from witnessing his father's drunken binges and a Texas knife fight in which he became involved during a friend's drunken rage, Donaghey arduously worked to rid Conway of liquor. He even accepted the role of town marshal in 1884 to remove drunks in a town of one thousand people but five saloons. He ran for mayor the following year but lost.

Donaghey reclaimed 700 acres (2.8 km2) of swamp land near the Lollie Plantation west of Mayflower, Arkansas. He sold the land in 1916. After leaving Conway for Little Rock in 1909, his house burned. He never rebuilt and eventually sold the lot. Still, Donaghey regularly returned to Conway to visit friends and conduct business.

He ran for governor because the incumbent, Jeff Davis, refused to build the state Capitol. Davis preferred to remain at the Old Statehouse on Markham Street. Donaghey was not a polished public speaker but still won the Democratic primary election against a protégé of Davis, who by then had become a U.S. senator but still controlled the Arkansas Democratic party.

In an unused room in the Faulkner County Courthouse, Donaghey drafted forty-three proposals for his two-hour speech while assuming office in 1909. His efforts brought the forerunners of Arkansas State University, Arkansas Tech University, the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and Southern Arkansas University into being as agricultural schools. In his second term, Donaghey established the state Board of Education.

The state Health Department was established at his insistence. Donaghey had lost two sisters to typhoid fever, a disease from which his wife barely escaped. He also established the state tuberculosis sanatorium in Booneville; a sister, three uncles and an aunt of his had died of the lung disease.

Completion of the state Capitol was his toughest test. As a builder, he set to work on his objective. But a $1 million cost ceiling, politics, graft, Davis' opposition at every turn, pay-as-you-go attitude of the legislature, battles between and with architects, bribes, use of Batesville limestone rather than Bedford, Indian, marble, legal attacks, published critical reviews, arbitration, labor disputes and religious controversies worked against progress. The secretary of state, custodian of the Capitol, refused to move from the Old Statehouse.

After four years as governor, Donaghey became president and founder of First National Bank of North Little Rock. He also built the Waldron, Donaghey and Wallace buildings. He and his wife created the Donaghey Trust in which he gave the Donaghey and Wallace buildings to Little Rock Junior College, which had no financial endowments. The gift was valued between $1.5 million and $2 million. Estimates are that the college's successor, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has received more than $4 million from the Donaghey Trust.

Donaghey's Monument[edit]

In 1931, Donaghey, who felt a kinship to both Arkansas and Louisiana, established a monument at the Union Parish/Union County state line near his birthplace. The Art Deco-style monument contains intricate carvings and includes references to transportation in 1831 and 1931 and mentions Governor Huey P. Long, Jr., whose educational program Donaghey admired. The land was not registered with state parks offices in either state, timber companies cut trees around it, and the marker was forgotten.[2]

In 1975, an employee of the Louisiana Department of Transportation came across the abandoned monument and informed then State Representative Louise B. Johnson of Bernice of his discovery. In an article in the North Louisiana Historical Association Journal (since North Louisiana History), Johnson explained that she asked the Olinkraft Timber Company of West Monroe, Louisiana, to cease cutting trees on the property and to help with the restoration of the monument. She introduced a bill to cede the state's part of the property to the state parks system. Governor Edwin Washington Edwards signed what became Act 734 of 1975, and a re-dedication ceremony was held in which he and Johnson planted a tree. Months later, Arkansas sold its part of the land to Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation, according to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. Since that time, chunks of the monument have been lost or spray-painted by vandals. Restoration efforts were unveiled in 2009.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, p. 1601
  2. ^ a b "Matthew Hamil, "Monument Forgotten by Time"". Monroe News Star, August 31, 2009. Retrieved August 31, 2009. [dead link]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Jesse M. Martin
Acting Governor
Governor of Arkansas
Succeeded by
Joseph Taylor Robinson