MICHIGAN TRAILS
GENEALOGY and HISTORY
 

Luren Dickinson
Governor (1939 - 1935=)

 


Hon. Luren D. Dickinson, fifty-fourth governor of Michigan, has figured prominently in the State's political history for many years and has wielded a wide influence in the promotion of beneficial legislation and in the advancement of those interests which  maintain high civic standards. Born in Niagara County, New York, April 15, 1859, he is of the eighth generation of the Dickinson family represented in America, tracing his ancestry back to William Dickinson, whose son, Nathaniel Dickinson, was born at Ely, Cambridge County, England, in 1600. Bidding adieu to his native land, he braved the dangers of ocean travel in that day to establish his home in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1630 and thus became the founder of the family in the new world.  Noah Dickinson, the great-great-grandfather of Luren D. Dickinson, was born in 1729 and served as a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War. His son, Philemon Dickinson, was born in Dutchess County, New York, where the family home had been established, and he in turn was the father of Hosea Dickinson, who was born in Bolton, Warren County, New York, February 9, 1803. Daniel Dickinson, father of Luren D. Dickinson, was born in the Empire State, December 1, 1828, and married at Albion, New York, Hannah E. Leavens, whose birth occurred April 17, 1830. Removing westward, they settled in Illinois but later returned to New York, and when they again started westward their destination was Eaton County, Michigan. Daniel Dickinson died January 4, 1903, while his wife survived until July 11, 1916. They were parents of four children: Joseph Hosea, who died in infancy; R. Marvin, a resident of Charlotte, Michigan; Luren D., of this review, who makes his home on a farm near Charlotte; and Emma Deone, the widow of Frank Mickesell, of Charlotte.

Luren D. Dickinson was but a year old when in 1860 his parents settled in Eaton County, where he has since lived. He supplemented his early educational training, received in the district schools, by study in the Charlotte high school and for nineteen years he engaged in teaching during the winter seasons and at one time was principal of the Potterville high school. On the 16th of October, 1888, he married Zora D. Cooley, daughter of William T. and Catherine (Nissley) Cooley, who had come to Michigan from Ohio. They reared an adopted daughter, now deceased.

Mr. Dickinson has long been interested in farming, fruit growing and stock raising and is also associated with business interests of the city as a stockholder in the First National Bank of Charlotte and the Duplex Truck Company of Lansing and Charlotte.  He resides on the home farm near the latter city and is a member of the Charlotte Grange.  Public interests and activities have always shared his time with personal affairs. Long an earnest member in the Eaton Methodist Episcopal Church, he is serving as one of its trustees and has eight times been elected to the General or World's Conference of the church and was a member of the Inter-Church Commission of the Two Methodisms. He is likewise vice president of the Men's Work Commission of the Methodist Episcopal Church of America and was for four years president of the Laymen's Association of the Methodist Church of the World. His humanitarian spirit has found expression in his service as state chairman of the Near East Relief work since the World War.

In political circles he has long been an outstanding figure. He was a member of the Republican county committee for twenty-four years and for four years chairman of the representative committee. For eleven years he was assessor of the school district, has also been town clerk, was superintendent of schools under the old system and several times filled the office of supervisor. Elected to the State Legislature, he served during the sessions of 1897-98, 1905-06 and 1907-08 and was then elected to the Senate for the term covering 1909-10. He received the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor at the primary election August 25, 1914, and at the general election on November 3, 1914, the popular vote placed him in office, where he continued through three successive terms. He then withdrew to private life for a period but at the general election of November 2 1926, was again chosen for the office, wa reelected in 1928 and also in 1930, having the unusual record of being six times chosen for that position. One of the Michigan papers, writing of his candidacy for lieutenant governor, said: "Luren Dickinson has spoken in nearly every schoolhouse and church in the state in behalf of his principles against the use of liquor. He is a strict prohibitionist and as such command the vote that believes as he does almost solidly. A presiding officer of the Michigan Senate he always lent dignity and poise to that august body."  It is a recognized fact throughout the State that Mr. Dickinson's position is never an equivocal one. He stands firmly in support of the principles in which he believes and has worked untiringly and effectively for the promotion of higher standards of citizenship. He finds his recreation in travel and has visited points of interest in every section of the country.

Mr. Dickinson was nominated lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket in the campaigns of 1932 and also in 1936, but went down to defeat with the rest of the ticket because of the Roosevelt landslides. He was again nominated lieutenant governor in 1938 and elected by the largest majority of any candidate of the ticket. On the death of Governor Fitzgerald on March 16, 1938, who was elected at this same election, Mr. Dickinson succeeded to the office of governor the following day.

A Centennial History of the State and its People Edited by George N. Fuller Lewis Publishing Co. , 1939

LUREN D. DICKINSON DIES QUIETLY AT HOME, ENDING UNIQUE CAREER
Blood Clot Results in Ex-Governor's Death After Heart Attack

Luren D. Dickinson, 84-year-old crusader against liquor and the first man to reach the governorship of Michigan by the death of a predecessor, died during the noon hour Thursday at this farm home near Charlotte.

Death cane quietly, slightly more than 24 hours after Dickinson had suffered a severe heart attack at his Center Eaton home where he had been in virtual retirement since he was defeated in his gubernatorial reelection contest by Murray D. Van Wagoner, former governor.

The life of the veteran of Michigan politics ended at 12:30 o'clock.

EXAMINED HOUR BEFORE

Dr. H. Allen Moyer, state health commissioner and Dickinson's personal physician and long-time friend, had examined Dickinson less than one hour before and had declared he was "sinking" but that "he clings tenaciously to life."  The doctor had returned to his own home only a few minutes before he was called back to the Dickinson residence and pronounced the former chief executive dead.

Dickinson suffered the heart attack while recuperating from a strained back suffered shortly before his 84th birthday last Thursday.

An old friend, Mrs. Bernice Curtis, a neighbor of the Dickinsons for many years, Mrs. Marie Snow, a nurse, and Miss Della Patterson, child of an adopted daughter of Dickinson whom he often called his niece and sometimes "my granddaughter," were with him as the former governor quietly ceased to breathe.

Doctor Moyer said the aged man apparently was unaware of how seriously ill he was in his dying moments.

Moyer said a blood clot in an artery leading to the heart had caused death.

KELLY IN TRIBUTE

Governor Kelly, informed on the death of Dickinson, issued the following statement:  "I have known Luren D. Dickinson for many years and admired his fine purpose in life, his high ideals, his unswerving integrity and co-operation.

"During the last four, however, I have had an unusual opportunity to become closely acquainted with him in the administration of state affairs. My respect and affection for him during this period grew day by day. He has been an inspiration to me and to all others who have had the privilege of coming in close contact with him.

"Michigan has lost one of its most illustrious sons, a son who watched this great state grow from a sparsely-settled section to a leading, if not the leading, state of the nation.

"Luren D. Dickinson made a great contribution to the welfare of the state and its people during the four-score and four years of his life."

Dickinson, while colorless in appearance was a colorful character in the political scene -- a showman and a fighter, too -- who employed unorthodox language and tactics to attain his goals.

He waged an unrelenting personal war on what he called "sin and high life practices," contending they stemmed from a common root, hard liquor.  He startled the nation with a blast of criticism of the 1939 national conference of governors, charging that the entertainment at the Albany, N.Y., and New York meetings, he attended was "a setting for a libertine" in which young men and women were plied with strong drink and lured to "a hellish brink."

Other governors bitterly assailed his remarks, but Dickinson just grinned from behind his ancient gold-rimmed spectacles. His constituents knew the Dickinson technique, his flair for the bizarre in putting across a point, and weren't much excited.

GOVERNOR AFTER 40 YEARS

Puckishly, Dickinson waited for more than a year, then announced his remarks has been more abstract than concrete -- that he had in mind what might have resulted from the drinking he said he witnessed.

For decades of public service lay behind Dickinson when, on the night of May 16, 1939, the old-fashioned horn-type wall telephone rang in his farm home near Charlotte, calling from a sick-bed to receive word that the death of Gov. Frank D. Fitzgerald had made him governor.

Dickinson then in his 79th year, serving his seventh term as lieutenant governor. Devoutly religious, he took his oath of office in his modest little white frame home the following day and after prayerful reflection announced: "I am humbled by this new responsibility. I truly believe, after 40 years in public life, that I understand something of the problems of this great office, and here and now I dedicate myself to the task of serving all of our people."

The men who knew him, including politicians against  whose opposition he had battled his way to political victories in the past, said his administration probably would be an experience for the people of this state.  And it was.

GUIDED BY PRAYER.

He found the executive office an ideal sounding board for his homely philosophies and preachments against liquor, and loved it. He depended on prayer for guidance in funning his office. He said he had "a pipeline to God" -- and frequently he called his secretary o kneel beside him while he besought divine aid in unraveling some knotty government problem.

He issues almost weekly Sunday "sermons" to his constituents as press releases, even after he left office, among them a recipe for longevity which contained advice to young men, "don't get stuck on yourself or some other man's red-lipped wife." "Keep your appetite from being tinkered with," he added. "* * * don't bewitch it with popular menus, modern dishes, patent cures, or statements of vitamin nuts."

Dickinson was a product of a hard pioneering era, and loved to tell of his boyhood in log cabin days when meals were cooked in a fireplace. Publicly, he yearned for the "good old days" when life was simple, government less complex.

LEFT OFFICE RELUCTANTLY

Reluctantly he gave up the office of governor on December 31, 1841, following an election defeat in which he asked for no votes, and filed sworn statements he had expended no money to campaign. Reluctantly, too, in the fall of the following year he announced his retirement from the political wars in which he had fought so long, convinced he was too old to run again for public office -- not that he felt too old despite his more than 80 years.

He was unaware of what his physician and a very few other persons knew -- that he had a dangerous heart condition.

A one-time country schoolmaster, and a Sunday school teacher until he was 80, Dickinson was a frail, stooped figure, but a fighter in politics. He was a master with the soft-answer, employed in ridicule to wither a bothersome foe, although he employed the weapon infrequently.  Mostly, he did just as he pleased after praying for direction.

SURVIVED SETBACKS

His rise in politics was slow -- sometimes painful with defeat. From assessor to town clerk, to supervisor, and finally state representative and state senator he rose step by step until he was elected lieutenant governor in 1914.  Seven times he held that office, and twice was defeated after winning the Republican nomination for it.

He played pretty much a lone hand in politics but in his later years was aided by the wise counsel of his old friend, the late Grove M. Rouse, at whose funeral he subsequently wept.

The politicians didn't like Dickinson, but he had them baffled. They would celebrate each defeat as the last of Dickinson, his political funeral, and again and again he "came back" on the wings of an unorthodox campaign in which he didn't ask for votes, gave temperance talks instead of political speeches, and paid his way by selling gallons of maple syrup from his sugar "bush," and from small fees he charged his audiences.

SIN, LIQUOR, FIRST FOES

Foremost came his war on sin and liquor, his own personal hopes second, and church members by the thousands who had heard his sermons would rally to his cause and see that he was elected.

That story was true in 1938 when he won the lieutenant governorship from which he advanced to the executive office, Republican strategists said he was too old, would not strengthen the ticket, but he reached out and captured the nomination. Though he accused fellow candidates of trying to "trade him off" in the subsequent election campaign, he went on to win the office.

Until very recent years, Dickinson wore wing collars and cutaway coats, and he never did give up his black, high-laced shoes.

In office he incurred the displeasure of another aged former governor, Chase S. Osborn, with whom he waged a classic feud of public statements, but each man professed deep admiration for the other.

LONG DRY LEAGUE HEAD

Only elevation to the executive office induced Dickinson to give up presidency of the Michigan Anti-Saloon league, which he had held for years. He said he considered the governor should not be identified with an agency fighting for a political issue.

Part of the trouble he had with political chieftains lay in his identifications as an ardent "dry." They feared he would weaken their tickets in Wayne county and other areas where prohibition had been unpopular.  But they objected, too, to his rigid refusal to deal with them.  He boasted he campaigned without promises or compromises, and in the 1940 election in which he was defeated for election as governor, he publicly offered homely campaign advice to Murray D. Van Wagonor, his Democrat opponent.

Politicians, noting his year-round lecturing to church groups and country fairs, sometimes said they wondered if Dickinson, who always denied he campaigned, actually ever ceased campaigning, even though he might not "talk politics" at these gatherings.

Published in Lansing State Journal (Lansing, Michigan) 22 Apr 1943

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