Warren Atherton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Warren Atherton
Warren Hendry Atherton

(1891-12-28)December 28, 1891
DiedMarch 7, 1976(1976-03-07) (aged 84)
Stockton, California, US
Known forDesigner of the G.I. Bill
TitleNational Commander of
The American Legion
Term1943 – 1944
PredecessorRoane Waring
SuccessorEdward N. Scheiberling
Anne Holt Atherton
(m. 1917⁠–⁠1951)
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Captain
Battles/warsWorld War I

Warren Hendry Atherton (December 28, 1891 – March 7, 1976) was an American attorney who was the national commander of The American Legion from 1943 to 1944.[1] He is widely recognized as a designer of the G.I. Bill, officially known as the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Born in San Francisco, California, the son of Dwight Copeland Atherton and Elizabeth Hendry,[4] he is a direct descendant of James Atherton, one of the first settlers of New England, who arrived in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in the 1630s.[5]

Atherton received no formal higher education. Nonetheless, at age 20, he went to work for the Stockton law office of H. R. McNoble in 1911.[2]


After serving under General John J. Pershing in France during World War I, he was admitted to the California State Bar in 1913, and began his career as an attorney, eventually gaining notoriety as a Stockton City judge and local president of the Chamber of Commerce.[6][7]

He also worked as the general counsel for the California Department of Veterans Affairs and its preceding boards and commissions from 1935 to 1960, and served on the California Board of Prison Terms and Paroles (1935–1937). He served as California State Commander in the 1930s.[8]

During 1943, Atherton was a consultant to the Secretary of War and envoy to Nelson Rockefeller, coordinator of international affairs.[7] He was vocal against strikes during wartime, clashing with the U.S. labor leader, William Green.[9] He had promoted this stance since 1941 when he was part of the American Legion defence committee.[10]

He served as National Commander of The American Legion from 1943 to 1944. In 1943, he joined Francis Sullivan in drafting the G.I. Bill, suggesting one bill be written that would consolidate the best features of many veteran bills then before Congress. Atherton had to overcome opposition by Representative John E. Rankin, a Mississippi Democrat and segregationist, who at first co-sponsored the bill, but then opposed it.[11] The Bill passed through Congress in 1944 in a bipartisan effort led by Atherton as Head of his the American Legion, who wanted to reward practically all wartime veterans.[12][13]

Atherton was a supporter of Universal service which he believed was needed to shorten World War II.[14] At the 1944 American Legion National Convention in Chicago, Atherton presented the Legion's Distinguished Service Medal to Henry Ford II in honor of his grandfather Henry Ford's achievements. During this period he toured Australia, the Pacific and Latin America.[15][16]

Later life[edit]

Atherton was a staunch California Republican, and served as delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1944, 1948 and 1952. Controversially, he supported the idea of deportation of Japanese nationals at the end of World War II.[17]

As chairman of the Republican Veterans League, the Republican National Committee announced in 1948 his appointment as chairman of the advisory committee of the Republican Veterans for Dewey and Warren.[18] The New York Times reported on July 24, 1953, his appointment to the reconstituted National Security Training Commission.[19]

In 1957, he ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate.[7][6][20] He withdrew from the race and endorsed Goodwin Knight who subsequently lost the Senate race by over 10% to Clair Engle.[21]


Upon his return from World War I, he married Anne Holt, daughter of the founder of Caterpillar Inc. and inventor, Benjamin Holt.[2][6][7] He lived with his family on Atherton Island[22] and was a Rotary member.[23] A fete attended by over 300 people was marked in his honor to commemorate his 80th birthday in 1971.[24]

Geological Survey imagery of Atherton Island, located in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta

Atherton died on March 7, 1976, and was buried at Morris Chapel within the University of the Pacific in Stockton, where his papers are housed today.[2][7][25]

He was listed in Who's Who in Commerce and Industry and Who’s Who in America”.[26]


The San Joaquin Delta College campus has the Warren Atherton Auditorium, a 1,428-seat performance venue where concerts are hosted.[27] Notable annual musicals are held at this venue, as well as regular performances by the Stockton Symphony.


  1. ^ "The Commander-in-Chief welcomes another Commander". The New York Times. October 14, 1943. p. 13.
  2. ^ a b c d Judge Warren H. Atherton, History of San Joaquin County, California, Los Angeles, Historic Record Co., 1923. p. 1271
  3. ^ "Servicemen's Readjustment Act (1944)". National Archives.
  4. ^ "Entry for Warren H. Atherton". Atherton One Name Study.
  5. ^ "James Atherton entry on the Atherton ONS".
    - John Farmer (1829). A genealogical register of the first settlers of New England. Carter, Andrews & Co. p. 20 – via Babel.
  6. ^ a b c Register of the Warren H. Atherton Papers, 1891-1976
  7. ^ a b c d e "Register of the Warren H. Atherton Papers, 1891-1976". California Digital Library.
  8. ^ "State Adjutant Fishe (Frishe), Nat'l Commander Louis Johnson, and State Commander Atherton". National Park Service. 1933.
  9. ^ "Legion Head, Green clash on 'TREASON'; AFL Chief Makes a Spirited Reply as Atherton Assails Strikes in Wartime". The New York Times Business and Financial Section. October 9, 1943. p. 23.
  10. ^ "'COOLING' PERIODS FOR LABOR URGED; W.H. Atherton of the Legion's Defense Committee Would Prevent Quick Strikes KNUDSEN PLAN FAVORED He Also Asks Uniform Rule on the Draft Deferment of Essential Workmen". The New York Times. March 17, 1941. p. 12.
  11. ^ "Atherton Assails Rankin for Delay; Demands Prompt Congressional Action on Problems Veterans Will Face After War". The New York Times, Books section. April 22, 1944. p. 14.
    - "Warren Atherton Named Legion Head". Berkeley Daily Gazette. United Press – via Google News Archive Search.
  12. ^ "Warren H. Atherton to Harry W. Colmery". Kansas Memory.
  13. ^ "75th anniversary G.I. Bill".
  14. ^ "Legion Head backs Universal Service; Atherton, in Debate With Carey, CIO, Says It Would Shorten War, Save Lives, Money". The New York Times. January 21, 1944. p. 6.
  15. ^ "ATHERTON SEES M'ARTHUR; Legion Commander Will Tour Southwest Pacific Base". The New York Times. June 4, 1944. p. 20.
  16. ^ "Atherton Speaks in Guatemala". The New York Times. August 9, 1944. p. 3.
  17. ^ "Deport Japanese, Legion Head Asks; Atherton Says 50-Year Trial Has Shown They Cannot Be Assimilated in U.S. Warns of ire on coast and Declares Nobody Wants Those Held in Relocation Camps Sent Back After War". The New York Times. January 30, 1944. p. 28.
  18. ^ "Legion Ex-Heads in Dewey Posts". The New York Times. August 27, 1948. p. 20.
  19. ^ "3 Men sworn in to training unit; General Adler, New Chairman, Dr. Compton and Atherton Take Oath at White House". The New York Times. August 2, 1953. p. 29.
  20. ^ "Atherton Quits Senate Race". The New York Times, Business financial section. March 5, 1958. p. 63.
  21. ^ "Atherton will support Knight in Senate race". Lodi News Sentinel. May 20, 1958. p. 14.
  22. ^ "Atherton Island Recommended as City Yacht Basin". Stockton Independent. Stockton, California. April 17, 1936. p. 2.
  23. ^ "Warren Atherton". politicalgraveyard.com.
  24. ^ "Fete For GI Bill Leader: 300 Will Honor Attorney Atherton At 80th Birthday". The Sacramento Bee. Sacramento, California. December 26, 1971. p. 6.
  25. ^ "Warren Atherton, headed legion in 1944". The New York Times. March 10, 1976. p. 38.
  26. ^ "Who's Who in Commerce and Industry". 1965. p. 39 – via Google Books.
  27. ^ "San Joaquin Delta Center for the Arts". June 4, 2022.

External links[edit]

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Roane Waring
National Commander of The American Legion
1943 – 1944
Succeeded by
Edward N. Scheiberling