George E. Chamberlain

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George E. Chamberlain
United States Senator
from Oregon
In office
March 4, 1909 – March 3, 1921
Preceded byCharles W. Fulton
Succeeded byRobert N. Stanfield
11th Governor of Oregon
In office
January 15, 1903 – February 28, 1909
Preceded byT. T. Geer
Succeeded byFrank W. Benson
1st Attorney General of Oregon
In office
May 20, 1891 – January 14, 1895
GovernorSylvester Pennoyer
Preceded byInaugural holder
Succeeded byCicero M. Idleman
Member of the Oregon House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born(1854-01-01)January 1, 1854
Natchez, Mississippi
DiedJuly 9, 1928(1928-07-09) (aged 74)
Washington, DC
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Sallie Newman Welch
(m. 1879⁠–⁠1925)
(m. 1926)

George Earle Chamberlain Sr. (January 1, 1854 – July 9, 1928) was an American attorney, politician, and public official in Oregon. A native of Mississippi and member of the Democratic Party, Chamberlain's political achievements included appointment followed by election as the first Attorney General of Oregon, a stint as the state's 11th Governor, and two terms in the United States Senate in Washington, DC.


Early life[edit]

George Earle Chamberlain was born in Natchez, Mississippi, on January 1, 1854. The Chamberlain family were early immigrants to North America from England, helping to pioneer in the state of Massachusetts.[1] His father, Dr. Charles Thomson Chamberlain, was born in Delaware and attended medical school in Philadelphia before moving to the small southern town of Natchez in 1837, attracted by the prospects offered there for a newly coined medical practitioner.[1]

Dr. Chamberlain quickly built a large and prosperous practice, which enabled him to maintain his Maryland-born wife, the former Pamelia H. Archer, and family in comfort.[1] Pamelia Archer herself hailed from an illustrious pioneer family, being the granddaughter of Maryland Congressman John Archer (1741–1810), the daughter of Maryland Congressman Stevenson Archer Sr. (1786–1848), and the sister of Maryland Congressman Stevenson Archer Jr. (1827–1898).[1] George Earle Chamberlain was the couple's third child.[1]

George Earle Chamberlain attended public schools in Natchez, completing his secondary education in 1870 at the age of 16.[1] Following graduation he first worked two years as a clerk in a general merchandise store before leaving for Washington and Lee University in 1872.[1] Chamberlain successfully complete the course of work there, graduating with dual degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Law in July 1876,[1] gaining membership in Phi Kappa Psi fraternity in the process.

Following graduation from Washington and Lee, Chamberlain briefly returned home to Natchez but decided that professional prospects in the post-bellum South were marginal at best and he departed for a new life in Oregon, arriving on December 6, 1876.[1]

Chamberlain's first job in the west was a brief and poor-paying stint as the teacher of a country school in Linn County, Oregon.[1] Late in 1877 he was appointed deputy clerk of Linn County, remaining in that position until the summer of 1879.[1] In the interim he passed the Oregon state bar, enabling him to practice law in the state. In 1879, Chamberlain married Sallie Newman Welch, with whom he would have seven children. He was widowed on May 26, 1925.[2]

In 1878 he served in the Linn County Rifles, a volunteer militia formed to fight against belligerents from the Bannock, Shoshone, and Paiute peoples in the so-called Bannock War.

Political career[edit]

Senator George Earle Chamberlain, 1919

A member of the Democratic Party, Chamberlain ran for the Oregon House of Representatives in November 1880, winning election to a two-year term.

In 1884, Chamberlain was named district attorney for Oregon's 3rd judicial district.[1] His skill in that position gained the notice of Democratic Governor Sylvester Pennoyer and when in 1891 the state legislature established the new position of Oregon Attorney General, Chamberlain was appointed in May as the first to serve that position.[1] He stood for election to the position in the fall, winning at the polls despite being the candidate of the minority party in the state.[1] Chamberlain would remain Oregon's Attorney General until January 1895, following the expiration of his term. He would be the only Democrat to serve that position for 58 years, until Robert Y. Thornton was elected in 1952.

After leaving the Oregon Attorney General's position, Chamberlain went into the banking business, taking positions with the First National Bank and later the Linn County National Bank in his new hometown of Albany.[1]

Chamberlain next moved north to Portland and in 1900 stood for election as the district attorney for Multnomah County.[1] He won by more than 1,000 votes, despite the county's 4,000 vote Republican majority.[1] This again put Chamberlain in the public eye for a run at statewide office.

Governor of Oregon[edit]

In 1902, he was nominated by the Democratic Party of Oregon for Governor by acclamation at the party's nominating convention.[1] Chamberlain was elected Governor of Oregon in a tight election by just 256 votes, this in a state which delivered 15,000 more votes to the Republicans in the concurrent congressional elections.[1]

Chamberlain was reelected in 1906, resigning his term when elected to the Senate.

Chamberlain during his tenure in the 1920s

United States Senator[edit]

In 1908 he was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate; he was reelected in 1914 and served from March 4, 1909, to March 3, 1921. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1920. He was chairman of the Committee on Geological Survey (Sixty-second Congress) and a member of the Committee on Military Affairs (Sixty-third through Sixty-fifth Congresses), the Committee on Public Lands (Sixty-third Congress), and the Committee on Expenditures in the War Department (Sixty-sixth Congress).

The Chamberlain Military Preparedness Bill of 1918, which he wrote, bears his name.

Death and legacy[edit]

He was a member of the United States Shipping Board from 1921 to 1923 and engaged in the practice of law in Washington, D.C.

Chamberlain married his longtime personal secretary, Carolyn B. Shelton, on July 12, 1926, in Norfolk, Virginia.[3]

Chamberlain died there on July 9, 1928, and interment was in Arlington National Cemetery.[4]

During his life Chamberlain was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and was a 32nd degree Mason in Portland.[1] He was also a member of the Commercial Club of Portland, the Multnomah Athletic Club, the Oregon Historical Society, and was a life member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Chapman Publishing Company, "Hon. George E. Chamberlain ", Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley Oregon, 1903, Part 1/2, pp. 36–39
  2. ^ Robbins, William G. "George E. Chamberlain". The Oregon Encyclopedia.
  3. ^ Mabey, Kaylyn F. (February 12, 2015). "Heritage: Oregon's first woman governor lasted a weekend". Statesman Journal. Retrieved January 2, 2017.
  4. ^ Frank Livezey Roberts. "The Public Speaking of George Earle Chamberlain: a Study of the Utilization of Speech by a Prominent Politician", Department of Speech and Drama. Stanford University., (1954), p. 71.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Chamberlain, George Earle," Dictionary of American Biography, vol 3 p 999.
  • Roberts, Frank Livezey. "The Public Speaking of George Earle Chamberlain: A Study of the Utilization of Speech by a Prominent Politician" (PhD dissertation, Stanford University; Proquest Dissertations Publishing, 1955. 0011182). online

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
W. R. King
Democratic nominee for Governor of Oregon
1902, 1906
Succeeded by
First Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Oregon
(Class 3)

1914, 1920
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by
Office established
Attorney General of Oregon
Succeeded by
Cicero M. Idleman
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Oregon
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Oregon
Succeeded by