Paul Martin Pearson

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Paul Martin Pearson
Paul Martin Pearson photo
Born(1871-10-22)October 22, 1871
DiedMarch 26, 1938(1938-03-26) (aged 66)
OccupationAuthor, college professor

Dr. Paul Martin Pearson (October 22, 1871 – March 26, 1938) was an author, college professor, and a very embattled first civilian Governor of the United States Virgin Islands.

Pearson was born in Litchfield, Illinois and attended Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas for his Master of Arts degree. He subsequently obtained his doctorate at Northwestern University and did some teaching there, before moving to Swarthmore, Pennsylvania and becoming a professor of Public Speaking at Swarthmore College. He also wrote several books on public speaking. He was also a major advocate of the Chautauqua movement in the US and founded the Swarthmore Chautauqua Associations.

During World War I, he was responsible for the YMCA education programs in United States Army cantonments.

He was the father of Drew Pearson, the well-known newspaper columnist and radio host.

Governor of the Virgin Islands[edit]

In 1931, Pearson was appointed by President Herbert Hoover to be the first civilian Governor of the United States Virgin Islands. His new government, inaugurated March 18, 1931, was given $763,000 ($8.5 million in inflation-adjusted 2005 dollars) to try and shore up the Islands' finances which were badly hurt by Prohibition. (The primary export had been rum.) They were also given the task of replacing all military-government officials with new civilian ones, a task which they were required to complete within the first six months. As a show of support, President Hoover visited the Virgin Islands (and Puerto Rico) as a show of support for the new civilian administration.

Herbert Brown denouncement[edit]

Less than a year after taking office, friction developed between the Governor and Herbert D. Brown, the chief of the Bureau of Efficiency. Brown had previously endorsed Pearson for the position, but by June 1931, he had requested to Hoover and the Department of the Interior that Pearson be replaced. This dispute was in large part financial. Under the military government, Brown had operated a quasi-civilian government in St. Croix since 1928, using money allocated to that purpose by Congress (for an "efficiency investigation"). Under the civilian government, this budget reverted to the new Governor. While Pearson largely implemented Brown's existing programs, he was no longer given direct authority. Pearson was also criticized for cronyism, including creating positions in his government (such as "Director of Adult Entertainment") which were given to friends from Pennsylvania. (Pearson rebutted that the positions were to help native morale.) On August 4, the Department of the Interior announced that Pearson would not be ousted from his position.

Financial problems also plagued Pearson during his time as Governor as the US Government was providing $200,000 annually for aid. In November 1932, he proposed to Congress that the Islands be allowed to export rum again, but only to foreigners so as not to violate Prohibition. However, this became moot when the 21st Amendment was ratified the following year.

Pearson continued to be unpopular with the locals, especially after passing a law which taxed all imported products from the United States at 5%. On October 19, 1933, the populace of the Virgin Islands voted in a popular referendum whether or not to ask President Franklin D. Roosevelt to withdraw him. Ninety-eight percent of those voting favored the removal of Pearson from office. In February 1934, Pearson declared personal bankruptcy, in large part due to debts incurred while working with his Chautauqua organization in Pennsylvania.


In November 1934, a scandal erupted as Pearson's executive assistant, Paul C. Yates was fired by Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes for "disloyalty" and "insubordination" and ordered him to return to Washington, D.C. for an investigation. Instead, Yates immediately resigned his position and traveled to Washington to meet with committees from both houses of Congress. He alleged to Congress that Ickes had been "outrageously deceived" by Pearson and that Pearson had been covering up scandals and mismanagement. Congress dispatched Ernest Gruening, the chief of the Bureau of Insular Affairs, Division of Territories and Island Possessions to the Islands to investigate. Gruening found no mismanagement in his investigation. (Critics have pointed out that Gruening worked for Ickes and that he may not have been an unbiased investigator.) Despite this, on February 28, 1935, Congress voted to start their own independent investigation, to be led by Millard Tydings, a Senator. The Senate hearings continued, but President Roosevelt appointed Lawrence William Cramer as the new Governor.

In 1935 Pearson returned to the mainland to work for the new United States Housing Authority. On February 28, 1938, he suffered a stroke while on a business trip to California to urge passage of a law to permit public housing in that State. He died a month later.[1]


  1. ^ "Paul M. Pearson Papers". Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.
  • Virgin Islands Get a Civil Government; Hoover Names Dr. P.M. Pearson Governor. Special to The New York Times. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Jan 31, 1931. pg. 1, 1 pgs
  • President Appoints Civilian Governor of Virgin Islands. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Jan 31, 1931. pg. 1, 2 pgs
  • SAIL TODAY TO SET UP VIRGIN ISLAND REGIME. Special to The New York Times.. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Mar 12, 1931. pg. 13, 1 pgs
  • THRONG GREETS CIVIL GOVERNOR IN VIRGIN ISLES. Chicago Daily Tribune. Chicago, Ill.: Mar 18, 1931. pg. 5, 1 pgs
  • BROWN QUITS AS EXTRA GOVERNOR OF VIRGIN ISLES. Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1963). Chicago, Ill.: Jun 1, 1931. pg. 11, 1 pgs
  • VIRGIN ISLANDS AGAIN IN ROLE OF CASUS BELLI. Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1963). Chicago, Ill.: Jun 7, 1931. pg. 6, 1 pgs
  • VIRGIN ISLANDS HEAD ASSAILED BY SPONSOR. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Aug 4, 1931. pg. 22, 1 pgs
  • PEARSON WINS FIRST BRUSH IN TIFF WITH BROWN. Chicago Daily Tribune. Chicago, Ill.: Aug 5, 1931. pg. 18, 1 pgs
  • Virgin Islands Vote on Pearson. Exclusive. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Oct 20, 1933. pg. 1, 1 pgs
  • P.M. PEARSON BANKRUPT. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Feb 22, 1934. pg. 10, 1 pgs
  • VIRGIN ISLANDS SCANDAL BRINGS FEDERAL QUIZ. Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1963). Chicago, Ill.: Nov 1, 1934. pg. 6, 1 pgs
  • NEW INQUIRY MOVE ON VIRGIN ISLANDS. Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Jan 21, 1935. pg. 7, 1 pgs
  • Virgin Islands Inquiry Voted. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Mar 1, 1935. pg. 3, 1 pgs
  • TYDINGS TO HEAD INQUIRY. Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Apr 4, 1935. pg. 11, 1 pgs
  • ISLANDS GET NEW RULER. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Jul 24, 1935. pg. 13, 1 pgs

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Waldo A. Evans
Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands
Succeeded by
Robert Herrick
(Acting Governor)