Edwin Upton Curtis

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Edwin Upton Curtis
Mayor EU Curtis.png
City clerk of
Boston, Massachusetts[1]
In office
Preceded by Joseph H. O'Neil
Succeeded by J. Mitchell Galvin
34th Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts
In office
Preceded by Nathan Matthews, Jr.
Succeeded by Josiah Quincy
Police Commissioner of Boston, Massachusetts
In office
Preceded by Stephen O'Meara
Succeeded by Herbert A. Wilson
Personal details
Born May 26, 1861
Roxbury, Massachusetts
Died March 28, 1922(1922-03-28) (aged 60)
Boston, Massachusetts
Political party Republican[1][2]
Education Roxbury Latin School
Alma mater Bowdoin College
Profession Attorney[1]

Edwin Upton Curtis (May 26, 1861 – March 28, 1922) was an American attorney[1] and politician from Massachusetts who served as the 34th Mayor of Boston in 1895. As Boston Police Commissioner from 1918–1922, Curtis' refusal to recognize the union formed by the department's officers provoked the 1919 Boston Police Strike.[3]


Early life and education[edit]

Curtis was the son of George and Martha Ann (Upton) Curtis,[1] who were seventh-generation Bostonians.[4]

After attending the grammar and Latin schools in Roxbury, Curtis went to the little Blue Family School for Boys in Farmington, Maine. He graduated from Bowdoin College.[4]


After apprenticing with former Massachusetts governor (and former Boston mayor) William Gaston, Curtis studied law and took the bar. He and a Bowdoin classmate formed the law firm Curtis & Reed. He also became active in politics as a member of the Republican Party.[4]

After serving as Boston city clerk from 1889-1890, Curtis was elected Boston mayor in 1895. In the 1895 election Curtis was defeated for re-election by Josiah Quincy.[4]

After leaving the mayoralty, Curtis was successively Boston's Assistant United States Treasurer and then the Collector of the Port.[5]

Police commissioner[edit]

In December 1918 Curtis was appointed as the Commissioner of the Boston Police Department by Governor Samuel McCall.[2]

In 1919, in response to rumors that policemen of the Boston Police Department planned to form a union, Curtis issued a statement denying that police officers had any right to form a union, much less one affiliated with a larger organization like the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In August of that year, the AFL issued a charter to the Boston Police Union.[6] Curtis said the union's leaders were insubordinate and planned to relieve them of duty, but said that he would suspend the sentence if the union was dissolved by September 4.[7] Boston mayor Andrew James Peters convinced Curtis to delay his action for a few days, but Curtis ultimately suspended the union leaders on September 8.[8]

The following day, about three-quarters of the policemen in Boston went on strike. That night and the next, there was sporadic violence and rioting in the lawless city.[9] Mayor Peters, concerned about sympathy strikes, had called up some units of the Massachusetts National Guard stationed in the Boston area and relieved Curtis of duty.[10] Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge, furious that the mayor had called out state guard units, finally acted.[11] He called up more units of the National Guard, restored Curtis to office, and took personal control of the police force.[12]

Samuel Gompers of the AFL recognized that the strike was damaging the cause of labor in the public mind and advised the strikers to return to work. Commissioner Curtis remained adamant and refused to re-hire the striking policemen, and Coolidge called for a new police force to be recruited.[13]

Curtis served as Police Commissioner until his sudden death in 1922.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

Curtis plays a key role in Dennis Lehane's novel The Given Day.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Crane, Ellery Bicknell (1907), Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County, Massachusetts: With a History of Worcester Society of Antiquity. Vol. IV, New York, N.Y.: The Lewis Publishing Company, p. 26. 
  2. ^ a b Ciment, James (2007), The Home Front Encyclopedia: United States, Britain, and Canada in World Wars I and II, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Inc., p. 52, ISBN 1-57607-849-3 
  3. ^ Robert K. Murray, Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria, 1919–1920 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1955),122-34
  4. ^ a b c d "In the Public Eye," Munsey's Magazine vol. 15 (1896), p. 487.
  5. ^ a b "Edwin U. Curtis, Dead," New York Times (Mar. 29, 1922).
  6. ^ Russell, Francis (1975). A City in Terror: Calvin Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Police Strike. Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-5033-0., pp. 77–79.
  7. ^ Russell, 86–87
  8. ^ Russell, 111–113; Sobel, 133–136
  9. ^ Russell, 131–170.
  10. ^ Russell, 120
  11. ^ Sobel, Robert (1998). Coolidge: An American Enigma. Regnery Publishing. ISBN 978-0-89526-410-7, p. 141.
  12. ^ Sobel, 142.
  13. ^ Russell, 182–183.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Joseph H. O'Neil
Boston City Clerk
Succeeded by
J. Mitchell Galvin
Preceded by
Nathan Matthews, Jr.
Mayor of Boston
Succeeded by
Josiah Quincy
Preceded by
George H. Lyman
Collector of Customs for the Port of Boston
Succeeded by
Edmund Billings
Preceded by
Stephen O'Meara
Commissioner of the Boston Police Department
Succeeded by
Herbert A. Wilson