Orville Freeman

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Orville Freeman
16th United States Secretary of Agriculture
In office
January 21, 1961 – January 20, 1969
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded byEzra Taft Benson
Succeeded byClifford M. Hardin
29th Governor of Minnesota
In office
January 5, 1955 – January 2, 1961
LieutenantKarl Rolvaag
Preceded byC. Elmer Anderson
Succeeded byElmer L. Andersen
Personal details
Orville Lothrop Freeman

(1918-05-09)May 9, 1918
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
DiedFebruary 20, 2003(2003-02-20) (aged 84)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Resting placeLakewood Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Jane Shields
(m. 1942)
Children2, including Michael
EducationUniversity of Minnesota (BA, LLB)
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Marine Corps
Battles/warsWorld War II
 • Battle of Bougainville

Orville Lothrop Freeman (May 9, 1918 – February 20, 2003) was an American Democratic politician who served as the 29th governor of Minnesota from 1955 to 1961, and as the U.S. secretary of agriculture from 1961 to 1969 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He was one of the founding members of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party and strongly influential in the merger of the pre-DFL Minnesota Democratic and Farmer-Labor Parties. Freeman nominated Kennedy for president at the 1960 Democratic Party national convention.

Early life[edit]

Freeman was born on May 9, 1918, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of Orville and Frances (Schroeder) Freeman.[1] He attended Central High School in Minneapolis.[2] In 1940, Freeman graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Minnesota, where he met his lifelong friend and political ally Hubert Humphrey. He also met his wife, Jane Charlotte Shields,[3] in college. They married on May 2, 1942, and had two children.

Military service[edit]

Figuring that the United States would eventually become involved in World War II, Freeman signed up for the Marine Reserve in 1940 with the understanding he could finish law school before he fulfilled his required service. The attack on Pearl Harbor ended that arrangement, and on December 31, 1941, he received orders to report to Officer Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico.[4]

After graduating and following training to be an infantry officer, Freeman reported to Camp Elliot, just outside San Diego, California. He was soon assigned to the 9th Marine Regiment, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines. His unit shipped out overseas for periods of training in New Zealand and Guadalcanal.[4]

On November 1, 1943, Freeman saw his first combat when his unit came ashore at Torokina on Bougainville in what were the first battles of the Bougainville Campaign. A few days later, while he was leading a patrol, he encountered a group of five or six Japanese soldiers in a clearing. An exchange of gunfire followed, and Freeman was wounded in the jaw and left arm. He was evacuated to a US Army hospital on New Caledonia and then to a Naval hospital on Nouméa. He returned to the U.S. in 1944 but never recovered enough movement in his arm to pass a Marine Corps physical to return to combat.[4]

Political career[edit]

Freeman as governor

Freeman earned his LL.B. from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1946. He then practiced law in Minneapolis.[5] He ran unsuccessfully for attorney general of Minnesota in 1950 and for governor in 1952.[5]

Freeman was elected governor in 1954 and reelected in 1956 and 1958. He took the unusual action of declaring martial law in the city of Albert Lea on December 11, 1959, to maintain law and order during a strike at the Wilson Packing Company. After 12 days, a federal court ruled that martial law was inappropriate.[6] On November 13, 1955, Freeman was a guest on the variety show Toast of the Town, which was later called The Ed Sullivan Show.

In July 1960, Freeman nominated U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy for president at the Democratic National Convention.

Following his defeat for reelection as governor in 1960, Freeman was appointed as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture by the newly elected President Kennedy, and he was retained in that post by President Lyndon B. Johnson. He served until January 21, 1969.

Later life[edit]

Later, Freeman headed two consulting businesses and practiced law in Washington, D.C.[5] He was president and CEO of Business International Corporation from 1970 to 1985.[7]

Freeman died from complications of Alzheimer's disease on February 20, 2003, in Minneapolis.[5] He was buried in that city's Lakewood Cemetery.


Freeman is remembered for submitting proposed legislation to establish the Food Stamp Program for the poor, which is still in use today.[8]

His son Mike Freeman ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1998 and served non-consecutive terms as County Attorney for Hennepin County, Minnesota (1991 to 1999, and 2007 to 2023).

Freeman’s name was mentioned in a 1963 episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. In the Season 2 episode “Granny’s Garden”, the main characters are about to mule-plow their estate's front lawn in order to plant a garden. The character Jane Hathaway drives up and exclaims “What in the name of Secretary Freeman are you doing?!”

Awards and decorations[edit]

Freeman's decorations and medals include:

Bronze star
Purple Heart Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ service star World War II Victory Medal

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Onofrio, Jan (January 2000). Minnesota Biographical Dictionary: People of All Times and Places Who Have Been Important to the History and Life of the State. Somerset Publishers. ISBN 9780403096749.
  2. ^ Brandt, S. (July 3, 2013). "Central alums mark alma mater's centennial". Star Tribune. Minneapolis-St. Paul. Retrieved May 24, 2020.
  3. ^ "Jane Freeman, mother of Mike Freeman and a founding force of the DFL Party, dies at 96". Star Tribune.
  4. ^ a b c Berry (1982), p.149-162.
  5. ^ a b c d Stout, David (February 22, 2003). "Orville Freeman, 84, Dies; 60's Agriculture Secretary". The New York Times. p. B6. Retrieved January 30, 2010.
  6. ^ "Martial Law Ordered in Meat Strike", Oakland Tribune, December 11, 1959, p1; "Court Ends Wilson Closure", December 23, 1959, p4
  7. ^ "Obituary for Orville L. Freeman". Star Tribune. Retrieved February 5, 2023.
  8. ^ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): A Short History of SNAP Archived November 6, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, United States Department of Agriculture.



  • Berry, Henry (1982). Semper Fi, Mac – Living Memories of the U.S. Marines in World War II. New York, N.Y.: William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-14956-1.


External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Francis M. Smith
Democratic nominee for Attorney General of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Allan L. Johnson
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Minnesota
1952, 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Secretary of Agriculture
Succeeded by