Charles A. Sprague

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Charles A. Sprague
Charles A. Sprague.jpg
22nd Governor of Oregon
In office
January 9, 1939 – January 11, 1943
Preceded byCharles H. Martin
Succeeded byEarl Snell
Personal details
Born(1887-11-12)November 12, 1887
Lawrence, Kansas
DiedMarch 13, 1969(1969-03-13) (aged 81)
Salem, Oregon
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Blanche Chamberlain
Alma materMonmouth College

Charles Arthur Sprague (November 12, 1887 – March 13, 1969) was the 22nd Governor of the US state of Oregon from 1939 to 1943. He was also the editor and publisher of the Oregon Statesman from 1929 to 1969. Sprague High School in Salem, Oregon is named after him.[1]

He was also distantly related to two Rhode Island Governors, William Sprague III and William Sprague IV.

Early years[edit]

Charles Sprague was born in Lawrence, Kansas, the son of Charles Allen Sprague, a grain-elevator operator, and Caroline Glasgow. He grew up with his brother, Robert Wyatt, in Columbus Junction, Iowa, where he attended public schools and worked for his father. He enrolled at Monmouth College in Illinois and paid his expenses by reporting part-time for regional newspapers. When his income proved inadequate, Sprague took a leave at the end of his sophomore year and spent two years as a high school principal and teacher in Ainsworth, Iowa. On his return to Monmouth, Sprague served as editor of the student newspaper. From then on, he had aspirations to go into journalism. Following his graduation with honors in 1910, Sprague became superintendent of schools in Waitsburg, Washington. Two years later, he married Blanche Chamberlain, the principal of a local grade school; they had two children. Sprague was soon named assistant superintendent of public instruction for the state of Washington.

Becomes a public figure[edit]

In 1925 he acquired a one-third interest and became the business manager of the Corvallis Gazette Times, and four years later, purchased a two-thirds interest in the Oregon Statesman, long the most influential newspaper in the capital city of Salem. For the next forty years, he was its editor and publisher. In 1955 Sprague received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College. Sprague established himself as one of the leading editorialists and public commentators of the Pacific Northwest, and his editorials were often reprinted in some of America's largest newspapers. Sprague gained a national reputation as an articulate spokesman for small-town values, fiscal conservatism, and internationalism. He held control of the paper until his death. A declared Republican, he nonetheless took an independent position on the issues of the time, reflecting a progressive view which was often at odds with leaders of his party.

In 1938 Republicans were hesitant to challenge the Democratic incumbent governor Charles H. Martin, who had strong Republican business support. As a result Sprague easily won the Republican nomination for governor in a field of eight candidates. In the meantime, however, Martin was a New Deal critic and was opposed in his own primary by the Roosevelt administration's choice, State Senator Henry Hess. Taking advantage of the split among the Democrats, Sprague made the administrations' intervention a major campaign theme, urging voters to "repudiate outside interference in local affairs." Martin and his allies campaigned for Sprague. Sprague won decisively, carrying 32 of the 36 counties in the general election, winning 214,062 votes to Hess' 158,744. Republicans also won control of the Oregon State Senate, 21 to 9, and the House, 50 to 10.

Term as governor[edit]

As governor, Sprague invoked the populist legacy of George W. Joseph and Julius Meier.[2] With backing from both labor and industry, he moved quickly to improve the state's employment services and launched vocational-training programs to aid the jobless in efforts to lift Oregon out of the Great Depression. He modernized the state school system by pushing through legislation that provided for the consolidation of rural school districts. He reduced the state debt by $12 million and balanced the budget while increasing social welfare services. Sprague helped maintain peace in labor disputes by his forthright opposition to an antipicketing law that was later held to be unconstitutional by the Oregon Supreme Court. He lost the political backing of organized labor, though, as a result of his policy of awarding state contracts to the lowest bidder, whether or not they were union firms.

Republicans expected smooth sailing legislatively and politically. Nevertheless, he vetoed so many special interest bills passed by his fellow Republicans that opponents initiated a recall move. It failed, but Sprague's effectiveness had been reduced.

During Sprague's administration, Oregon became the first state to initiate control over logging operations to insure enforcement of progressive forest practices. These practices included reasonable protection of trees from slash burns, not harvesting immature trees during cutting operations, and retaining some mature trees for seeding purposes. In addition, a state forestry research program was adopted. He also established a forestry research program and obtained authority for the state to acquire abandoned cut over land for replanting. "Wise handling of natural forest lands," he declared, "calls for their consolidation under public ownership except for those lands in the hands of strong private interests capable of carrying them through long growing periods."

After one term, Sprague was defeated for the 1942 Oregon Republican gubernatorial nomination by the Secretary of State, Earl Snell, who went on to be elected Governor.

Death and legacy[edit]

Sprague died on March 13, 1969. Sprague and his wife are interred in Mount Crest Abbey Mausoleum, in Salem, Oregon.

The Salem-Keizer School District named Charles A. Sprague High School, known as Sprague High School, in his honor in 1972.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • George Turnbull, "Governors of Oregon" (1962);
  • and profiles by Richard I. Neuberger in the "Sunday Oregonian", March 18, 1951, and the "Nation", January 26, 1952; and by Malcolm Bauer in the New York Herald-Tribune, December 1, 1960.
  • obituary in the New York Times, March 14, 1969.
  • Dictionary of American Biography edited by Dumas Malone, Volume XVII, Charles Scribner & Sons, New York, Volume XXI, Supplement Eight 1966–1970, page 616.
  • Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States: 1789–1978, Volume 3, pages 1281–1282
  • McKay, Floyd J. An Editor for Oregon: Charles A. Sprague and the Politics of Change. Oregon State University Press, 1998.


External links[edit]

  • Official Oregon Biography and other Information
  • McKay, Floyd. "Charles Sprague (1887–1969)". The Oregon Encyclopedia.
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles H. Martin
Governor of Oregon
Succeeded by
Earl Snell
Party political offices
Preceded by
Joe E. Dunne
Republican nominee for Governor of Oregon
Succeeded by
Earl Snell