Hon. George H. Hodges, the nineteenth governor of Kansas, was chief executive of the state from January, 1913, to January, 1915. Of his capable administration as governor, marked by progressive leadership throughout, a complete review is given elsewhere in this publication in the chapter devoted to the work of the governors. The following paragraphs serve to supplement that review with some of the more personal details and his place as a Kansas citizen and business man.
A resident of Kansas nearly fifty years, George Hartshorn Hodges was born at Orion, in Richland County, Wisconsin, February 6, 1866, a son of William W. and Lydia Ann (Hartshorn) Hodges. When he was three years of age, in 1869, his parents brought him to Kansas and they located at Olathe, in Johnson County, where he had lived almost his entire life. His father was a school teacher, a man of fine intellectual and moral character, and while at his death a few years later he left his family little material property, he left an honored name and a character which his own children strove to emulate. W. W. Hodges evinced a great fondness for young people and had the ability to win their regard and thus did much to influence the formative character of many youth.
Governor Hodges was educated in the public schools of Olathe and in 1886, at the age of twenty, began work as a yardman in a local lumber yard. His work was characterized by more than routine and perfunctory performance. Not only did he distinguish himself by the studious attention to details and the fidelity to duty, but he evidenced a broad sense of business ethics which were exemplified by his later business successes on a larger scale and his career in the public eye. In a short time he was made manager in the lumber yard, and in 1889 he and his brother established a business of their own under the firm name of Hodges Brothers. In this initial enterprise Governor Hodges was advanced sufficient money by a friend to enable him to buy an old yard in a remote part of the City of Olathe. It was with considerable difficulty that he got his business started, and one of the factors in its early success was the liberal expenditure of money for first-class advertising. The firm of Hodges Brothers had been in business since 1889, and it is proprietor of ten or more lumber yards distributed all over this part of the state. Mr. Hodges is a director of the First National Bank of Olathe and several other commercial enterprises. He at one time served as adjutant of the First Regiment Kansas National Guard. He is a Knight of Pythias, an Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a Mason and had attained the thirty-third honorary degree in the Scottish Rite.
Mr. Hodges comes of democratic parentage, his father being a Virginian; in fact, the family tree seems to have borne democratic governors–former Governor Patterson of Ohio, Governor Mann of Virginia and Governor Hodges being distant relatives. At one time he served as a member of the Olathe City Council and his brother and business partner, Frank, was for two terms mayor of that city. Prior to his election as governor, Mr. Hodges served in the Kansas State Senate from 1904 to 1912. He is the second democrat ever elected in Kansas to a state office.
The larger facts of his political experience preceding his election as governor have been well described in an article published about the beginning of Mr. Hodges’ administration as governor and written by S. T. Seaton, a well-known Kansas editor. Those paragraphs are given herewith for the value they possess as supplementing the estimation of Governor Hodges’ executive administration.
“In 1904 there was a sort of political uprising in the senatorial district composed of Johnson and Miami counties. The republican factions could not agree upon which ‘boss’ to elect. The democrats had their senatorial convention that year at Paola and placed George H. Hodges in nomination for state senator. He could not make much of a speech in those days, but he was a good rustler and hand shaker, and when the votes were counted in November his majority in the two counties was something over nine hundred. He thus became a state senator at a time when the people were just awakening to their political rights and it was just dawning upon them that there was such a thing as being progressive.
“In 1908 Senator Hodges was again a candidate for state senator and was again elected by about 1,400 majority. During his eight years’ service in the senate he had become a campaign speaker second to none in the state, and his reputation and his ideas had permeated practically every county and town. In 1910 he was a candidate for governor and again carried the Johnson-Miami district by about 700 majority and reduced the republican majority in the state from 45,000 to 16,000. In 1912 he again carried the Johnson-Miami district by about 1,100 and the state by an official majority of twenty-nine.
“In his eight years’ service as state senator Governor Hodges was always in the forefront of every fight for the enactment of progressive measures. He was one of the little band of progressives who fought the good fight for those ideas when it took courage to make the fight. During his service as state senator there was at no time more than five democratic members in that body, yet he made himself a recognized leader on the floor of the senate and more than once turned the scale in favor of progressive measures. In those eight years no vote of his was cast against progressive measures, and the soundness and practicability of most of the reform laws enacted during that time are largely due to the wisdom of his counsel and the uncompromising attitude he had at all times taken in support of progressive principles.
“As a member of the railroad committee of the senate he laid the foundation for the present general railroad law. With Senator Stewart of Wichita he brought in a minority report. A majority of the senate was determined that the law should not authorize the railroad commission to begin rate inquiries, and proceedings for rate reductions except upon complaint of shippers. Senator Hodges and his associates were equally determined that shippers should not be saddled with the expense of preparing complaints; they insisted that the commission should be authorized to proceed on its own motion. Senator Hodges and his associates were defeated in their efforts at the 1905 session, but two years later the commission was given this authority, which was demanded by the public sentiment which Senator Hodges and his associates had awakened by the discussions in 1905, and it was his support that made possible the enactment of the present public utilities law in 1911. In fact the public utilities law was written by him and three other senators appointed by the Senate. As governor he appointed the first utilities commission to serve Kansas–in fact one of the first commissions appointed in the United States. It was only because Governor Hodges was broad-minded enough to lay aside politics and support the measure, which was being pressed by the preceding administration, that it became a law.
“He introduced and secured the passage of the reciprocal demurrage bill, the coal-weighing bill, the tax on express companies; was joint author of the bill simplifying the Australian ballot law and subsequently made a valiant fight for the enactment of the Massachusetts ballot law, the passage of which as governor he secured from a democratic legislature in 1913. Jointly with the senator from Wyandotte County he was author of the anti-pass law; he prepared and secured the passage of a bill making a 15 per cent horizontal reduction in the freight rates on grain and grain products. He was one of the few senators who opposed the passage of the inheritance tax law, which was repealed by the democratic legislature in 1913. He helped prepare and pass a bank guaranty law, and the anti-lobby bill. His vote made possible the Kansas primary election law, which took the nomination of public officials from the bosses and gave it to the people. He secured the passage of a law requiring railroad companies to block and guard switches for the protection of employes. He supported the bill which strengthened the child labor law and introduced the first measure in the senate providing for the publication of text books and their distribution by the state at actual cost; also the bill requiring reports of accidents should be made to the state factory inspector. The bill requiring a better bond under the laborer’s lien law. He supported the workman’s compensation and employers’ liability laws and secured their amendment and extension from the legislature of 1913. He was the author of the first good roads measure passed in Kansas–was author of the concrete bridge bill and was the pioneer good roads advocate of the Middle West. These are the most important items in Senator Hodges’ legislative record.”
As governor he achieved a distinction throughout the entire United States by his recommendation that the cumbersome, unwieldly two-house Legislature be abolished and a single legislative body of small membership become the law-making body of the state. His advocacy of the commission form of government for county and state was noteworthy, and it is growing in popular favor. He is a recognized authority on state government and is thoroughly conversant with the delinquencies of the present inefficient form of state and county government.
Mr. Hodges is best known in democratic circles as the man “who made his party over.” By the force of his own personality he forced his party to abandon its life-long advocacy of resubmission of the prohibitory laws and to become the champion of the strict enforcement of the prohibitory laws of Kansas. During his term of office the illicit sales of intoxicating liquors became almost nil.
For two years Governor Hodges had been constantly speaking in behalf of national prohibition and is recognized as one of the ablest if not the foremost prohibitory speaker of the country.