James Withycombe

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James Withycombe
James Withycombe.jpg
15th Governor of Oregon
In office
January 12, 1915 – March 3, 1919
Preceded by Oswald West
Succeeded by Ben W. Olcott
Personal details
Born (1854-03-21)March 21, 1854
Tavistock, Devon, England, United Kingdom
Died March 3, 1919(1919-03-03) (aged 64)
Salem, Oregon, United States
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Isabel Withycombe
Profession Farmer

James Withycombe (March 21, 1854 – March 3, 1919) was an American Republican politician who served as the 15th Governor of Oregon.


Withycombe was born to tenant farmers Thomas and Mary Ann Withycombe in Tavistock, Devon, England, United Kingdom in 1854. Withycombe immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1871, settling on a farm near Hillsboro, Oregon. He worked on his father's farm for four years, and in 1873 Withycombe purchased his own 100-acre (0.40 km2) parcel on the Horace Lindsay Land Claim, later expanding his holdings to 256 acres (1.04 km2).

Agriculture became Withycombe's passion, becoming a prosperous livestock breeder and establishing a reputation as a successful scientific farmer. On June 6, 1875 in Washington County he married Isabell Carpenter, and the couple would have a daughter and three sons together.[1]

Farmer and educator

His success led to his involvement in local farming organizations. He became a charter member of the Farmington Grange, and later became a leader in the state grange movement. From these platforms, Withycombe's efficient, innovative, and profitable farming methods became a model for farmers across the Pacific Northwest. His stature gained him an appointment as State Veterinarian in 1889, where he would diligently work to improve conditions of livestock health around the state.

Withycombe in front of the OSU Ag Building

Although mostly self-educated, he was sought after by the Oregon Agricultural College at Corvallis (now Oregon State University) in 1898 to be the head of the college's experimental farming station. He received his Master's Degree in Agriculture 1891 from OAC.[2] Using this position to advance Oregon agriculture, he would play a major part in introducing alfalfa and clover to Eastern Oregon, laying the groundwork for the region's future agricultural economy.

Withycombe also became heavily involved in Oregon's agricultural industry, serving as president of the North Pacific Wool Growers and Northwest Sheep Breeders Associations. His tenureship on the board of the Oregon Academy of Sciences saw the dairy industry's profits rise from $2.5 million to $20 million. Such accomplishments built up respect for Withycombe statewide and gained the state Republican Party's attention.


Withycombe would enter politics in the 1906 primary, losing the Republican gubernatorial nomination. The 1910 election of controversial Democratic Governor Oswald West energized Oregon Republicans, who tapped Withycombe for the 1914 gubernatorial race. He handily defeated challenger Charles Smith; the first Republican Governor to assume office via election since T. T. Geer in 1903.

As Governor, James Withycombe vigorously promoted agricultural development. A notable proposal from his administration was to ask the Legislative Assembly to subsidize flax production as a prison industry.[3]

The Withycombe Administration backed the "Good Roads" movement, creating the Oregon Highway Commission while in office. With the new commission in place, a large road-building program was initiated, establishing many of Oregon's modern state routes and highways.

Upon the U.S. entry into the First World War, Governor Withycombe took a vocal and patriotic position in support of the war effort. He encouraged volunteer military service, and promoted the state's war industries.

Withycombe's crypt in Salem

While in office, he took a strong position against labor unions. He spoke out publicly against the Industrial Workers of the World, claiming that it terrorized labor and would cripple industry following several instances of IWW threats to disrupt production in 1917. He organized veterans of the Spanish–American War into an Oregon State Defense force, and encouraged citizens in Eastern Oregon to form self-defence committees to defend the state against violent labor agitators. Withycombe used his powers as Governor to prevent a shipyard strike in Astoria, by calling out the National Guard.

His 1918 reelection campaign capitalized on his wartime acts, portraying him as a wartime Governor actively protecting the state and aiding the defense of the United States. These efforts gained him a second term, of which he only served two months.

Death and legacy

Withycombe died in office of a heart condition on March 3, 1919, succeeded by Secretary of State Ben W. Olcott. He was interred in Mount Crest Abbey Mausoleum in City View Cemetery in Salem, Oregon.[4]

Withycombe Hall at Oregon State University is named after the him, as he was the head of the agricultural research station at OSU's predecessor (Oregon Agricultural College). The building is home to the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences, plus it contains an auditorium used by the Theater Department.[5]

Camp Withycombe, a military facility in Clackamas, was named for him.[6]


  1. County governors both die in office. Hillsboro Argus, October 19, 1976.
  2. Klooster, Karl (1992). Round the Roses II: More Past Portland Perspectives. p. 118. ISBN 0-9619847-1-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Oregon Governor James Withycombe". National Governors Association. Retrieved 2012-08-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "James Withycombe". Find A Grave. Retrieved 2012-08-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Withycombe Hall". Campus Map. Oregon State University. Retrieved 19 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Camp Withycombe". GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 2012-11-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Oswald West
Governor of Oregon
Succeeded by
Ben W. Olcott