Wendell Lewis Willkie


Honorary Degree (1938)
Doctor of Laws
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: Herman B Wells
Maurer School of Law Academy of Law Alumni Fellows (1938)
LL.B 1916


Wendell Willkie was a corporate lawyer and Republican nominee for president in 1940. Willkie was born in Elwood, Indiana in 1892, where his parents, Herman and Henrietta, were both lawyers. Wendell graduated from Elwood High School, matriculated to Indiana University and later graduated from Indiana University School of Law in 1916. He joined the family law practice, but entered WWI in the Spring of 1917.

After his discharge he moved to Akron, Ohio, first working in the legal department at Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and later joining a private practice. In Akron Willkie's skill as a public speaker and his activities in the local Democratic Party brought him into the public eye. Meanwhile his case load was largely representing utility companies and in 1929 he found himself in New York City representing the Commonwealth and Southern corporation, an electric utility holding company. Newly formed, the timing was unfortunate as the stock market crashed several months after his move. Willkie became president of the company in 1934 and, through his plans, revenues increased. Willkie opposed FDR's TVA projects, stating that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to be involved in running utility businesses. This outspoken criticism of FDR's New Deal legislation to abolish holding companies resulted in Willkie's defection from the Democratic Party and pushed him toward capturing the 1940 GOP nomination for president. Though unsuccessful in his bid, he received more votes than any previous Republican candidate. FDR and Willkie did agree on America's need to end its isolationism and in August 1942 Willkie embarked on a 50-day airplane trip around the world at FDR's request to promote international cooperation. The trip resulted in his hugely successful book One World and further political recognition. He also worked tirelessly on issues concerning civil rights and civil liberties and even defended a member of the Communist party before the Supreme Court late in 1942. Wendell L. Willkie died in October 1944 following his second attempt to become the GOP presidential nomination.