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Charles Curtis

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Title: Charles Curtis  
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Subject: United States presidential election, 1928, Herbert Hoover, Charles G. Dawes, United States presidential election, 1932, Trent Lott
Collection: 1860 Births, 1936 Deaths, American People of English Descent, American People of French Descent, American People of Kaw Descent, American People of Osage Descent, American People of Potawatomi Descent, American People of Scottish Descent, American People of Welsh Descent, American Prosecutors, Deaths from Myocardial Infarction, Hoover Administration Cabinet Members, Kansas Republicans, Kaw People, Members of the United States House of Representatives from Kansas, Native American Lawyers, Native American Members of the United States Congress, People from Topeka, Kansas, Politicians from Topeka, Kansas, Republican Party (United States) Vice Presidential Nominees, Republican Party Members of the United States House of Representatives, Republican Party United States Senators, Republican Party Vice Presidents of the United States, United States Senators from Kansas, United States Vice-Presidential Candidates, 1928, United States Vice-Presidential Candidates, 1932, Washington, D.C. Republicans
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Charles Curtis

Charles Curtis
31st Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933
President Herbert Hoover
Preceded by Charles G. Dawes
Succeeded by John Nance Garner
Senate Majority Leader
In office
March 9, 1925 – March 3, 1929
Whip Wesley Livsey Jones
Preceded by Henry Cabot Lodge
Succeeded by James Eli Watson
President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate
In office
December 4, 1911 – December 12, 1911
Preceded by Augustus O. Bacon
Succeeded by Augustus O. Bacon
United States Senator
from Kansas
In office
March 4, 1915 – March 3, 1929
Preceded by Joseph L. Bristow
Succeeded by Henry J. Allen
In office
January 29, 1907 – March 4, 1913
Preceded by Alfred W. Benson
Succeeded by William H. Thompson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kansas's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1899 – January 28, 1907
Preceded by Case Broderick
Succeeded by Daniel R. Anthony, Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kansas's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1893 – March 4, 1899
Preceded by John Grant Otis
Succeeded by James Monroe Miller
Personal details
Born (1860-01-25)January 25, 1860
Topeka, Kansas
Died February 8, 1936(1936-02-08) (aged 76)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Anna Elizabeth Baird "Annie" Curtis
Children Permelia Jeannette Curtis
Henry "Harry" King Curtis
Leona Virginia Curtis
Religion Methodist
Signature Cursive signature in ink

Charles Curtis (January 25, 1860 – February 8, 1936) was the 31st Vice President of the United States (1929–1933).

After serving as a United States Representative, then becoming a longtime United States Senator from Kansas, Curtis was chosen as Senate Majority Leader by his Republican colleagues. A Kaw Nation Native American Indian, he was the first person with significant Native American ancestry and the first person with acknowledged non-European ancestry to reach either of the two highest offices in the United States government's executive branch.

As an attorney, Curtis entered political life at the age of 32, winning multiple terms from his district in Topeka, Kansas, starting in 1892 as a Republican to the US House of Representatives. He was elected to the US Senate first by the Kansas Legislature (in 1906), and then by popular vote (in 1914, 1920 and 1926), serving one six-year term from 1907 to 1913, and then most of three terms from 1915 to 1929 (when he became Vice President). His long popularity and connections in Kansas and national politics helped make Curtis a strong leader in the Senate; he marshaled support to be elected as Senate Minority Whip from 1915 to 1925 and then as Senate Majority Leader from 1925 to 1929. In these positions, he was instrumental in managing legislation and accomplishing Republican national goals.

Curtis ran for Vice President with Herbert Hoover as President in 1928. They won a landslide victory. Although they ran again in 1932, the population saw Hoover as failing to alleviate the Great Depression, and they were defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt and John Nance Garner.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Marriage and family 2
  • Political career 3
    • Vice President of the United States 3.1
  • After politics 4
  • Legacy and honors 5
  • Portrayal in film 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life and education

Born on January 25, 1860 in Topeka, Kansas Territory, prior to its admission as a state in January 1861, Charles Curtis is notable as an Executive Branch officer born in a territory rather than a state of the Union. Curtis was nearly half American Indian in ancestry. His mother, Ellen Papin (also spelled Pappan), was one-fourth French, one-fourth Kaw, one-fourth Osage, and one-fourth Potawatomi. His father, Orren Curtis, was of English, Scots, and Welsh ancestry.[1] On his mother's side, Curtis was a descendant of the chiefs White Plume of the Kaw Nation and Pawhuska, of the Osage.[2]

Curtis's first words as an infant were in French and Kansa, learned from his mother, who died when he was only three. He also learned to love racing horse living with his mother's family on the Kaw reservation, and later was a highly successful jockey in prairie horse races.[3]

On June 1, 1868, one hundred Cheyenne warriors invaded the Kaw Reservation. Terrified white settlers took refuge in nearby Council Grove. The Kaw men painted their faces, donned their tribal regalia, and rode out on horseback to confront the Cheyenne. The rival Indian armies put on display of superb horsemanship, accompanied with war cries and volleys of bullets and arrows. After about four hours, the Cheyenne retired with a few stolen horses and a peace offering of coffee and sugar from the Council Grove merchants. No one had been injuring on either side. During the somewhat halfhearted battle, the mixed-blood Kaw interpreter, Joe Jim, galloped 60 miles to Topeka to seek assistance from the Governor. Riding along with Joe Jim was eight-year-old Charles Curtis, then nicknamed "Indian Charley").[4]

Curtis' mother had died in 1863, and his father remarried, only to divorce. He finally married a third time. The elder Curtis was captured and imprisoned during his Civil War service, and the infant Charles was cared for by his grandparents. They also helped him gain possession of his mother's land in North Topeka, which he inherited despite his father's attempt to gain control for himself.[3]

Curtis was strongly influenced by both sets of grandparents. After living on the reservation with his maternal grandparents, M. Papin and Julie Gonville, he returned to Topeka. He then lived with his paternal grandparents while attending Topeka High School. Both grandmothers encouraged him to get an education.

Curtis read law in an established firm where he worked part-time. He was admitted to the bar in 1881,[3] and began his practice in Topeka. He served as prosecuting attorney of Shawnee County, Kansas from 1885 to 1889.

Marriage and family

On 27 November 1884, Charles Curtis married Annie Elizabeth Baird[5] (1860–1924), with whom he had three children: Permelia Jeannette Curtis (1886-1955), Henry "Harry" King Curtis (1890-1946) and Leona Virginia Curtis (1892-1965). He and his wife also provided a home for his half-sister Theresa Permelia "Dolly" Curtis and then after his wife died in 1924.

A widower when elected Vice President in 1928, Curtis had his half-sister "Dolly" Curtis Gann live with him in Washington, DC and act as his hostess for social events. To date, Curtis is the last Vice President who was unmarried during his entire time in office, although Alben W. Barkley who served as Vice President from 1949 to 1953 was widowed and remarried while in office.

Political career

The zest Curtis showed for horse racing (he was a jockey in his youth) was expressed in his political career. First elected as a Republican to the House of Representatives of the 53rd Congress, Curtis was re-elected for the following six terms. He made the effort to learn about his many constituents and treated them as personal friends.

Charles Curtis' Vice Presidential Bust.

While serving as a Congressman, Curtis originated and helped pass the Curtis Act of 1898, with provisions that included bringing the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma under land allotment and restructuring provisions. It limited their tribal courts and government. By his own experience, Curtis believed that the Indians could benefit by getting educated, assimilating and joining the main society. The government tried to encourage Indians to accept individual citizenship and lands, and to take up European-American culture. In application of these goals, some administrators went too far in terms of threats and breaking down families. (see Indian Boarding Schools)

With his ties in Congress, Curtis was always abreast of changes in Indian law and programs. He re-enrolled with the Kaw tribe, which had been removed from Kansas to Oklahoma when he was in his teens. In 1902 the Kaw Allotment Act disbanded the Kaw nation as a legal entity. This was the tribe of Curtis and his mother. The act transferred 160 acres (0.6 km²) of former tribal land to the federal government. Other land formerly held in common was allocated to individual tribal members. Under the terms of the act, as enrolled tribal members, Curtis (and his three children) received about 1,625 acres (6.6 km²) in total of Kaw land in Oklahoma.

Curtis served in the House from March 4, 1893 until January 28, 1907, when he resigned, after being chosen by the Kansas Legislature, to fill the short unexpired term of Senator Joseph R. Burton in the United States Senate. On that same day of January 28, Curtis was also chosen by Kansas' state lawmakers for the full senatorial term commencing March 4 of that year and ending March 4, 1913. In 1912 he was unsuccessful in gaining the legislature's designation again as senator, but his absence from the Senate was brief.

After passage of the 17th Amendment, which provided for direct election of senators, in 1914 Curtis was elected by popular vote for the six-year Senate term commencing March 4, 1915. He was re-elected to the Senate in 1920 and again in 1926. Curtis served without interruption from March 4, 1915 until his resignation on March 3, 1929, after being elected as Vice-President.

During his tenure in the Senate, Curtis was President pro tempore of the Senate as well as Chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of the Interior, of the Committee on Indian Depredations, and of the Committee on Coast Defenses, as well as of the Republican Conference.

In 1923 Senator Curtis, together with fellow Kansan, Representative Daniel Read Anthony, Jr., proposed the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution to each of their Houses. The amendment did not go forward.

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge, and Senator Curtis on their way to the Capitol building on Inauguration Day, March 4, 1925.

Curtis' leadership abilities were demonstrated by his election as United States Senate Republican Whip from 1915 to 1924 and Majority Leader from 1925 to 1929. He was effective in collaboration and moving legislation forward in the Senate. Idaho Senator William Borah acclaimed Curtis "a great reconciler, a walking political encyclopedia and one of the best political poker players in America."[3] Time magazine reported when featuring him on the cover in December 1926 that "it is in the party caucuses, in the committee rooms, in the cloakrooms that he patches up troubles, puts through legislation" as one of the two leading senators, with Reed Smoot.[6]

Vice President of the United States

In 1928 Curtis ran with Herbert Hoover heading the Republican ticket for president and vice-president. Following their landslide 58% to 41% victory, Curtis resigned from the Senate on March 3, 1929 to assume the office of Vice President. The pair was inaugurated, he had an Indian jazz band perform, on March 4, 1929.[7] Soon after the Great Depression began, Curtis endorsed the five-day work week, with no reduction in wages, as a work-sharing solution to unemployment. (See John Ryan's book Questions of the Day.) He was 69 when he took office, making him the second oldest Vice President to date, behind Alben W. Barkley at 71.

Curtis' nomination for vice president made history because he was the only native Kansan and only Indian to hold the post. As the first American of Indian ancestry to reach high office, he decorated his office with Native American artifacts and posed for pictures wearing Indian headdresses.

Curtis was remembered for not making many speeches. The same Star article also said that he had the "best card index of the state ever made." Curtis used a black book, later a card index, to write down all the people he met while he was in office or campaigning, causing him to be known for "his remarkable memory for faces and names."

"Never a pension letter, or any other letter for that matter, came in that wasn't answered promptly," the article stated. "And another name went into the all-embracing card index. The doctors were listed. The farm leaders. The school teachers. The lists were kept up to date. How such an intricate index could be kept up to date and function so smoothly was a marvel to his associates. It was one of Curtis' prides."[8]

Curtis was celebrated as a "stand patter," the most regular of Republicans, and yet a man who could always bargain with his party's progressives and with senators from across the center aisle. Newspapers claimed that Curtis knew the Senate rules better than any other senator and declared him "the most competent man in Congress to look after the legislative program of the administration."[9]

He was the first Vice President to take the oath of office on a Bible in the same manner as the President always had. Since Curtis employed a woman as secretary to the Vice President, instead of the customary man, he scored another minor first. Miss Lola M. Williams of Columbus, Kansas, who had been working for Curtis for some time, became one of the first females to venture out on the Senate floor, traditionally a masculine monopoly. The Topeka Drum Corps, featuring an eighty-two-year-old fife player, journeyed to Washington to drum him into office; it was claimed that this had always been done for Curtis since he became county attorney in 1884. Other hokum in the tradition of American politics included the presentation of several gavels and the receipt of a comical telegram from the leader of an Indian delegation from Oklahoma, asking for horses to meet the train so the squaws and children wouldn't have to walk, a humorous way of asking that transportation from the station be provided."

After the Stock Market Crash in 1929, the problems of the Great Depression led to the defeat of the Republican ticket in the next election. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected as president by a margin of 57% to 40% in 1932. Curtis' term as Vice President ended on March 4, 1933, and he was succeeded by John Garner.

Curtis' search for status revived the issue of an official vice-presidential residence. The wealthy widow of Missouri Senator John B. Henderson lived in a brownstone castle on 16th Street, on a hillside several blocks north of the White House. For years Mrs. Henderson had lobbied to rechristen 16th Street as the Avenue of the Presidents and had persuaded many embassies to locate along the street—by selling them inexpensive parcels of land. Mrs. Henderson became convinced that the street would be the perfect location for a permanent vice-presidential dwelling, suitable for entertaining, and she offered to give the government a house overlooking Meridian Hill Park, whose land she had also contributed to the city. Earlier, Vice President Calvin Coolidge had declined a similar offer.

After politics

Curtis decided to stay in Washington, D.C. to resume his legal career as he had a wide network of professional contacts from his long career in public service.

He died there on February 8, 1936 from a heart attack.[10] By his wishes, his body was returned to his beloved Kansas and buried next to his wife at the Topeka Cemetery. He was the last Vice President to have facial hair.

Legacy and honors

  • He was featured as Kansas Senator on the cover of Time magazine, December 20, 1926[6] and June 18, 1928,[11] and as Vice President on the cover of Time, December 5, 1932,[12] all with accompanying articles.
  • His house in Topeka, Kansas has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a state historic site; the Charles Curtis House Museum is now operated as a house museum.[13]

Portrayal in film

  • In Jim Thorpe – All-American (1951), a biopic about Native-American Olympian Jim Thorpe, newsreel footage from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics includes Vice President Charles Curtis opening the Olympics.[14]
  • In Sporting Blood (1931), Gambler Warren 'Rid' Riddell (Clark Gable) wins a racehorse, Tommy Boy, on a bet. Rid consistently wins with the horse in both honestly and dishonestly run races. Vice President Charles Curtis is shown in newsreel footage of the 1931 Kentucky Derby included in the film.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Christensen, Lee R. The Curtis Peet Ancestry of Charles Curtis Vice-President of the United States 4 March 1929-3 March 1933. 
  2. ^ "Genealogy of Vice President Charles Curtis - Mother's side: Pappans (of Charles Curtis)". Retrieved July 19, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Charles Curtis, 31st Vice President (1929-1933)". U.S. Senate: Art & History. US Retrieved December 14, 2011. , reprinted from Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789–1993. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. 1997. 
  4. ^ Unrau, William E. (1971). Mixed Bloods and Tribal Dissolution: Charles Curtis and the Quest for Indian Identity. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 72–75.  and Crawford, Samuel J. (1911). Kansas in the Sixties. Chicago, IL: A.C. McClurg. p. 289. 
  5. ^ Blackmar, Frank Wilson (1912). Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Embracing Events, Institutions, Industries, Counties, Cities, Towns, Prominent Persons, Etc. Standard Publishing Company. p. 487. 
  6. ^ a b "The Congress: Quiet Leader". Time. December 20, 1926. Archived from the original on 2008-12-20. Retrieved December 30, 2009. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Former Vice President, Charles Curtis. Succumbs". Southeast Missourian. February 8, 1936. p. 1. Retrieved August 13, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Senator Charles Curtis". Time. June 18, 1928. Archived from the original on 2010-11-21. Retrieved December 30, 2009. 
  12. ^ "Lamest Duck". Time. December 5, 1932. Archived from the original on 2009-04-02. Retrieved January 21, 2010. 
  13. ^ Charles Curtis House Museum, official website
  14. ^ "Jim Thorpe – All-American (1951)". The Internet Movie Database. January 21, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Sporting Blood (1931)". The Internet Movie Database. January 21, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2010. 

External links

  • Charles Curtis at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • "Charles Curtis; Native-American Indian Vice-President; a biography", Vice President Charles Curtis Website
  • Whispers Like Thunder, Moro Films official movie web site
  • From Kaw Teepee to Capitol; The Life Story of Charles Curtis, Indian, Who Has Risen to High EstateDon C. Seitz, , full text, Hathi Trust Digital Library
  • Charles Curtis House Museum, official website
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles G. Dawes
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933
Succeeded by
John Nance Garner
Preceded by
William P. Frye
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
Rotating pro tems
Succeeded by
James P. Clarke
United States Senate
Preceded by
Joseph L. Bristow
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Kansas
March 4, 1915 – March 3, 1929
Served alongside: William Howard Thompson, Arthur Capper
Succeeded by
Henry Justin Allen
Preceded by
Alfred W. Benson
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Kansas
January 29, 1907 – March 4, 1913
Served alongside: Chester I. Long, Joseph L. Bristow
Succeeded by
William Howard Thompson
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Case Broderick
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kansas's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1899 – January 29, 1907
Succeeded by
Daniel R. Anthony, Jr.
Preceded by
John Grant Otis
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kansas's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1893 – March 4, 1899
Succeeded by
James Monroe Miller
Party political offices
Preceded by
Charles G. Dawes
Republican vice presidential nominee
1928, 1932
Succeeded by
Frank Knox
Preceded by
Henry Cabot Lodge
Senate Republican Leader
November 9, 1924 – March 3, 1929
Succeeded by
James E. Watson
Preceded by
James Wolcott Wadsworth Jr.
New York
Senate Republican Whip
March 4, 1915 – November 9, 1924
Succeeded by
Wesley L. Jones
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