Edward Lewis "Bob" Bartlett
Edward Lewis "Bob" Bartlett (April 20, 1904 – December 11, 1968) was an American
politician and a member of the Democratic Party.
Bartlett was born in Seattle, Washington. After graduating from the University of
Alaska in 1925, Bartlett began his career in politics. A reporter for the Fairbanks
Daily News until 1933, he accepted the position of secretary to Delegate Anthony Dimond
of Alaska. Three years later he became the chairman of the Unemployment Compensation
Commission of Alaska.
On January 30, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him secretary of the
Alaska Territory. Beginning in 1945, Bartlett served as the delegate from Alaska to the
79th and the six succeeding Congresses. Continuing his civic service, he was president
of the Alaska Tuberculosis Association and served as a member of the Alaska War
Council. He labored constantly for statehood; upon Alaska's admission to the Union in
1959 he became the first senator from Alaska and served until 1968.
Bartlett possessed the reputation of a quiet man of achievement. The Library of
Congress estimates that he had more bills passed into law than any other member in
congressional history. Even before statehood he was writing legislation (sponsored by
other congressional representatives), such as the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act of
1956. Some of his bills included the Radiation Safety Bill and the Bartlett Act,
requiring all federally funded buildings to be accessible to the handicapped.
Bartlett died following heart surgery on December 11, 1968 at Cleveland Clinic Hospital
in Cleveland, Ohio. Ted Stevens was appointed to replace him on December 24, 1968.
In 1971, the state of Alaska donated a bronze statue of Bartlett to the National
Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capitol.
A substantial number of buildings, place names and other things in Alaska have been
named after Bartlett over the years. The most notable of these include Bartlett
Regional Hospital (originally Bartlett Memorial Hospital), the hospital serving Juneau,
as well as Bartlett High School in Anchorage and Bartlett Hall at the University of
of Senator Bartlett
The "Architect of Alaska Statehood"
Senator Bartlett's statue was unveiled in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, March 27,
1971. Felix de Weldon, the Viennese-born artist who sculpted the Iwo Jima Memorial, had
worked with Bartlett's widow, Vide, to create the likeness. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens
opened the proceedings and the Rev. Edward Elson, Chaplain for the U. S. Senate,
provided the invocation. Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, Alaska Representative Nick Begich,
Washington Senator Warren G. Magnuson, and Alaska Lieutenant Governor "Red" Boucher
also spoke in Bartlett's honor. Rev. Elson closed the ceremony with a benediction.
Lieutenant Governor Boucher, presenting the statue to the Nation, announced that "as
representatives of the people, the Alaska Legislature authorized that Alaska's first
hero in Statuary Hall be Bob Bartlett. His place in history was now inscribed in the
halls of the nation's Capitol, the building in which he worked for fourteen long years
to achieve statehood for Alaska. "The millions who will visit this statue this year and
in the years to come," Boucher concluded, will see in the statue of Bob Bartlett "the
face of a man who gave his service and life to Alaska."
Rev. Elson praised Bartlett's "high vision, lofty idealism, prodigious energy and
sacrificial devotion;" he lauded Senator Bartlett's legislative and executive talents
and "enduring statesmanship," but also spoke of his "selfless labor for others," the
"warmth of his friendship," and his gentle and human graces which endeared him to the
multitudes of his fellow citizens." "Statehood," Senator Gravel said of Bartlett, "is
his monument." He referred to the statue as "a small tribute, but it is one [Alaskans]
offer with love and respect." Congressman Begich then introduced Bartlett's wife, Vide,
and Hugh Wade, Alaska's Secretary of State, who unveiled the statue. Senator Magnuson
of Washington, who had worked with Bartlett since Bartlett's arrival as a Territorial
Delegate to the U. S. Senate in 1945, recounted Bartlett's life and work.
Bob Bartlett was born in Seattle, Washington in 1904. His parents, Klondike pioneers,
brought him to the Alaskan mining town of Fairbanks the next year, and when he was only
two years old Congress passed the bill which gave Alaska an elected delegate to
Congress. The second Organic Act of 1912 revised Alaska's relation to the United States
but still made no provision for statehood, an elected governor, or tax reform. Bartlett
was, however, growing up along with the Territory.
After graduating from Fairbanks High School in 1922, Bartlett attended the University
of Washington and then the University of Alaska before taking up a position as staff
reporter for the Fairbanks News-Miner. He earned a reputation as an astute commentator
on the Alaskan political scene, and as Associate Editor supported Anthony J. Dimond's
successful 1932 candidacy for Territorial Delegate to Congress. Bartlett came to
Washington, D. C. as part of Delegate Dimond's staff just as the New Deal was getting
underway. Bartlett's considerable knowledge of Territorial problems earned him an
eventual appointment as Secretary of Alaska in 1939. During his tenure as Secretary,
Bartlett served as Acting Governor on numerous occasions, including the opening of the
Alaska-Canada Highway and as a member of the Alaska War Council. When Delegate Dimond
resigned in 1944, Bartlett was elected as his successor.
In Congress, Bartlett showed extraordinary prowess for writing and successfully
promoting bills which brought Federal money into Alaska. Bartlett served on the
Committee on Public Lands, the Agriculture committee, and the Armed Services Committee,
writing more successful bills than any other Member (thirteen of his measures became
law). In 1947, he introduced a statehood bill and urged hearings to be held in Alaska.
The importance of statehood to the natural resources of Alaska and her citizens was
discussed throughout the state: meetings were held in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seward,
Kodiak, Nome, Barrow, Cordova, Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell, and Ketchikan. Many forces
testified against statehood, among them Alaskan businessmen--who feared an influx of
economic competition under statehood--and lobbyists for the canned salmon industry--who
hoped to thwart the implementation of Federal conservation laws for their fish traps in
Alaskan waters. Congressional opposition usually fretted about Alaska's non-contiguity
with the continental states, dwelt on the difficulty of defending Alaska, and expressed
insecurity about the racial diversity of the region's population.
Though hotly debated, the bill was never voted on. But in 1949 Bartlett ushered in the
Alaskan Public Works Act, which made available some $70 million in Federal matching
funds for reconstruction and rehabilitation of community facilities. In 1950, a bill
for Alaska Statehood passed the House by a 40-vote margin but was stifled in committee
hearings by the Senate. Unfazed, Bartlett continued to speak in favor of statehood,
invoking the support of the people--both in Alaska and the United States--and calling
on them to get involved in the battle for statehood. Alaskans responded with the 1955
Constitutional Convention and elected a "Tennessee Plan" delegation to Congress:
Senators-elect Ernest Gruening and William Egan and Representative-elect Ralph Rivers
were sent to Washington to solicit statehood in 1956. These populist efforts showed
lawmakers in the Capitol that Bartlett's proposals had widespread support.
In April 1958, both houses of Congress passed a resolution of statehood for Alaska, and
on January 3, 1959, President Eisenhower signed the bill into law. Alaska was now the
49th state, and, in Senator Warren Magnuson's phrase, Bartlett might rightly be called
its "Founding Father." Alaskans demonstrated their gratitude by electing Bartlett as
its first Senator, a position he maintained from 1958 until his death in 1969. The
following obituaries from Alaskan newspapers best sum up Bartlett's relation to his
The people of this state who loved him are known for their individualism, divisiveness,
sectionalism, arrogance, and clannishness. Yet [Bartlett] held them united behind him
for 24 years--a longevity in public office that is unequaled in Alaska. On ten
different occasions the stubborn, unmanageable, belligerent, and politically erratic
populace of Alaska handed him the crown with election returns as much as 81 percent in
his favor. No one in all the states' history has ever enjoyed such frequent and solid
support from Alaskans.
A second obituary referred to Bartlett as a paradoxical man:
He was a humble man, but one who was terribly proud--of his state, his friends, of the
loyalty he felt to those who had earned his respect. He was nonpolitical, but a master
politician. He was sensitive and shy, but practical and bold. He was quite, yet with
gifted wit. He was no great orator, but a charming public speaker who could enthrall an
In closing, Senator Ted Stevens spoke of Bartlett's self-effacing nature, his friendship
with the elevator operators and maintenance men, and his unforced geniality. Bartlett
was not just a social success, however, as the Library of Congress estimates that he
had more bills passed into law than any other Member in the history of Congress. The
success of statehood was just a beginning for Bartlett's efforts. New battles to be
fought included the infant mortality rate, the irradication of tuberculosis and ear
disease, the poverty of Alaska's native population, the high rate of unemployment and
the vulnerability of Alaska defenses. Senator Bartlett labored to make life better for
Alaskans until his death in December 11, 1968. When he was buried in Fairbanks, his
favorite poem was read:
"Under the wide and starry sky, dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and
gladly die, and I layed me down with a will.
"This be the verse you gave: Here I lie where I long to be; home is the sailor, home
from sea, and the hunter home from the hill."
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