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Fundamental Documents of Ohio






Please note that the book The Governors of Ohio, from which this biography was taken, was published in 1969. The final two years of Rhodes' second gubernatorial term (1970 and 1971) and his tenure as Ohio's governor from 1975 through 1983 are not discussed in the following biographical essay.


1963 -

The sixty-first governor of Ohio is James A. Rhodes, who was in- augurated on January 14, 1963. He had won the 1962 election over the Democratic incumbent, Michael V. DiSalle, by a majority of nearly 556,000 votes in a Republican tide which gave the governor's party a safe margin in both houses of the general assembly.

James Allen Rhodes, the son of James L. and Susan Rhodes, was born at Coalton, in Jackson County, Ohio, on September 13, 1909. His father, a Welsh coal miner, died when James was eight years old, and the boy worked at odd jobs after school to help provide for his mother and two sisters. During his high school years, the family lived at Spring- field, Ohio, where the youth attended South High School. He also attended Ohio State University, but was forced to leave before graduation to sup- port his mother and sisters. The family was living in Columbus at that time, and Rhodes opened a restaurant near the campus.

The first public office held by Rhodes was that of a member of the Columbus Board of Education from 1937 to 1939. In the general election of November 1939, he was elected auditor of the city of Columbus and was reelected to that office two years later, with a vote almost double that of his opponent. In November 1943, he was elected mayor of Colum- bus. At thirty-four, he was said to be the youngest mayor of any metro- politan city in the United States at the time. Twice reelected, he served from 1944 to 1953 and established a reputation as a good financial ad- ministrator by wiping out a $4,000,000 deficit in the city treasury. This feat stood him in good stead in his campaign in 1952 for auditor of state, an office for which he had been nominated on the Republican ticket with- out opposition. He was elected in November over the well-known in- cumbent, Joseph T. Ferguson, by a majority of over 300,000 votes. He was twice reelected to this office, both times being unopposed in the Republican primary, and winning the election in 1956 over Joseph Ferguson (by more than 300,000 votes) and in 1960 over James D. Ferguson (by a margin of nearly 700,000). In his ten years as auditor of state, Rhodes made an enviable reputation for efficiency and economy in the state's finances.

His gubernatorial ambitions were given a setback when, in May 1950, Rhodes lost the Republican nomination for governor to Don H. Ebright. Four years later he won the nomination without opposition. In November, however, he was unable to overcome the popularity of Frank J. Lausche, who carried the state by a majority of nearly 213,000 to win an unprecedented fifth term.

In 1962, Rhodes again secured the Republican nomination for governor (this time over slight opposition) and went on to win in No- vember over the incumbent, Michael V. DiSalle, by a margin of nearly 556,000 votes. The Republican victory was due in part to the alarm of conservatives generally over huge state expenditures under the DiSalle administration. Economy in government was one of the principal planks in the Republican platform, and soon after taking office in keeping with campaign promises, Governor Rhodes instituted an austerity program in an effort to wipe out a deficit of $83,000,000 in the state's general fund. DiSalle's proposed budget was drastically reduced, state departments were required to trim expenditures by 9.1 per cent, and four thousand state employees were laid off. The Council for Government Reorganiza- tion made recommendations that saved the state $60,000,000 in a four- year period. These and other economies enabled Rhodes to balance the budget and turn the deficit into a surplus.

In spite of these measures, the expanding population and growing demands for state services forced Governor Rhodes to submit to the general assembly in March 1963 the largest proposed budget in the state's history. A large part of the increase was requested for public schools and higher education. The administration expected that increased revenues from existing taxes would make new ones unnecessary.

To provide funds for capital improvements, the voters approved in November 1963, a $250,000,000 bond issue and two years later another of $290,000,000 mainly for a new penitentiary, a medium security prison, new universities at Cleveland and Dayton, a new medical school at To- ledo, and a new historical center at Columbus.

In 1966, Governor Rhodes was reelected by a record 703,000-vote margin over the Democratic candidate, Frazier Reams, and began his second term on January 9, 1967, thus becoming the first governor elected for two consecutive four-year terms under the constitutional amendment of 1954. With both houses of the 107th general assembly having a Re- publican majority of 2 to 1 or better, administration measures had clear, sailing. Most important among them is the school foundation bill, which increased state aid to local school districts-and raised the minimum teach- ers' salary scale in accordance with recommendations of the state's educational leaders. Other administration measures adopted were the establishment of a department of urban affairs and the creation of a crime commission for more effective law enforcement. The governor's policy of setting up a study commission to help solve the urgent problems of water and air pollution has had bipartisan support.

From the first, the governor has placed a great deal of emphasis on the industrial development of the state and considers providing jobs for all employable workers and training them to qualify for the available jobs to be one of the primary functions of state government. In pursuit of these aims, he has endeavored to promote the human and natural re- sources of the state to Ohioans and the nation. Although Ohio's unem- ployment rate has fallen from above to well below the national average, the governor is still concerned over the high percentage of persons under thirty among the unemployed. As a result he is emphasizing the need for vocational and technical training at the high school and post high school levels. A constitutional amendment approved by the voters in November 1968 provided for the issuance of $779,000,000 worth of bonds including $100,000,000 for vocational, technical, and higher education and juvenile rehabilitation. Of the remainder, $500,000,000 was earmarked for high- ways, $20,000,000 for parks and recreational areas, and $19,000,000 for airports and state buildings. While mayor of Columbus, Rhodes formed a number of boys' or- ganizations and was a recipient of the Silver Keystone Award of the Boys' Clubs of America and the Helms Foundation Award, both con- ferred for work in combatting juvenile delinquency. As governor, he created the Ohio Youth Commission to deal with juvenile crime. His interest in athletics led to his selection as representative of the United States at the Olympic Games in London in 1948. Eleven Ohio colleges and universities have awarded him honorary degrees. He is the co-author of three historical novels and author of Teenage Hall of Fame, dealing with Ohio's Teenage Hall of Fame, which he originated.

Governor Rhodes is married to the former Miss Helen Rawlins of Jackson, Ohio. They have three daughters, Suzanne (Mrs. Richard Moore), Saundra (Mrs. John Jacob), and Sharon, and several grand- children.

An assessment of the total contribution of James A. Rhodes to the state of Ohio must await the completion of his term as governor and the perspective which only time can provide. The Ohio Historical Society


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