Los Angeles in the 1900s

Mayor William D. Stephens

1859–1944

by
George Garrigues

 

From the Los Angeles Examiner, April 26, 1944

William D. Stephens,
Governor During World War I,
Dies

California’s World War I governor, William Dennison Stephens, died yesterday at the age of 85 while his country was at war with the Japanese against whom he had raised a warning voice a quarter of a century ago.

He died at the Santa Fe Hospital after many weeks of failing health but a brief final illness.

Funeral services will be held at 3:30 o’clock Friday afternoon in the Masonic Temple, Pico Boulevard and Figueroa Street, conducted by Los Angeles Commandery, Knights Templar.

Interment at Rosedale Cemetery will be private. Bresee Bothers and Gillette are in charge.

Living quietly in Los Angeles during the last decade of his long life, former Governor Stephens had for many years been an outstanding figures in city, state and national politics and public life.

Succeeds Johnson in Governor’s Chair

He was governor of California from 1917 to 1923, succeeding, in 1917, Hiram W. Johnson, who resigned to become United States senator, and was elected governor the following year.

Prior to that time, he had served as mayor of Los Angeles, member of Congress and California lieutenant governor.

Governor Stephens’ only immediate survivor is his daughter, Mrs. John N. Osborn of Los Angeles. His wife, Mrs. Flora Rawson Stephens, long an invalid, died April 21, 1931, and a sister, Mrs. Sue Berthena Reynolds, died October 19, 1933, at the age of 78.

Born in Eaton, Ohio, December 18, 1859, William D. Stephens taught school and read law during his early years. In 1880 he joined an engineering corps and for eight years was engaged in the construction and operation of railroads in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Louisiana.

He came to Los Angeles in 1887 and entered business, eventually becoming a member of the firm of Carr and Stephens, grocers.

Active in Public Affairs While in L.A.

He soon became active in Los Angeles public affairs, serving as director and president of the Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Board of Education and in other capacities.

In 1909 he was elected mayor.

He entered national politics in 1910, when he was elected as a Republican to represent the Seventh District in Congress. From 1913 to 1916 he represented the Tenth District, resigning in 1916 when he was appointed lieutenant governor.

His next step was to the office of governor. This was his last public office, but he remained active in public affairs.

As long ago as 1919, Governor Stephens was urging realization of the Japanese menace and advocating strict exclusion laws. He declared that the influx of Japanese was a threat not only to California but [also] to the country as a whole and sought the aid of other governors and public officials in awakening the nation.

Vet Rehabilitation Program Furthered

As World War I governor, one of Governor Stephens’ special interests was the rehabilitation and reemployment of men returning from that conflict. He made many speeches urging an adequate program to restore these men to civilian life.

In March 1935 he was the first Los Angeles purchaser of the government’s then-new “baby bonds,” which later became defense bonds and now are war bonds.

The death of the former governor leaves four men still living who have served as California’s chief executive. They are Hiram Johnson, now U.S. senator; Frank F. Merriam, C.C. Young and Culbert L. Olson.

From the Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1944

Ex-Gov. W.D. Stephens Dies of Heart Ailment

Long Career Ranged From Rail Construction to Mercantile Business and National Guard

 

William D. Stephens, 84, former governor of California, died yesterday in Santa Fe Hospital of a heart ailment after an illness of several weeks.

Death came after a long life of public service which led him through the occupations of schoolmaster, engineer, railroad builder, merchant, representative in Congress, lawyer and governor of California.

Born in Eaton, Preble County, Ohio, Stephens was educated in the public schools of that state. . . . He came to Los Angeles in 1887 where he engaged in mercantile business until 1909.

During those years Stephens served as a director and president of the Chamber of Commerce and chairman of its harbor committee. As a member of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, Stephens played a major role in providing for the Owens Valley Aqueduct.

As a major in the California National Guard, Stephens was prominent in relief work following the San Francisco earthquake. . . .

Stephens was married June 17, 1891, in San Diego County to Miss Flora Rawson of Los Angeles, who died in 1931. Stephens leaves one daughter, Mrs. John N. Osburn, 100 N. Windsor Blvd. [see map], and two sisters, Mrs. Dwight W. Davis and Mrs. J.J. Fogarty, both of Los Angeles. . . .

The Times neglected to mention that Stephens had been mayor of Los Angeles, from March 15 to March 26, 1909.

From the Los Angeles Daily News, April 26, 1944

Ex-Governor Stephens Succumbs

William Dennison Stephens, 84, governor of California from 1917 to 1923, died yesterday in Santa Fe Hospital after a five weeks’ illness.

The former governor, who took office when Hiram W. Johnson went to the Senate, lived alone in a West Los Angeles hotel until a rew months ago. He then moved to the home of his son-in-law, Dr. John S. Osburn. . . .

Stephens is survived by his daughter, Mrs. Barbara Osburn; two sisters, Mrs. Dwight Warren Davis and Mrs. James J. Fogarty, both of Beverly Hills; and three grandchildren, Mrs. Robert Louis Fulton, Ann Osburn and Nelson Osburn, all of Los Angeles.

The Daily News, too, forgot about Stephens’ 11-day stint as mayor.

Mayors of the City of Los Angeles
1900-1909

Click on a name to read his obituary.
The Mayor
Dates of Birth and Death
Served as Mayor
Sept. 23, 1855–March 12, 1934
Dec. 15, 1898–Dec. 12, 1900
1859–April 7, 1937
Dec. 16, 1896 - Dec. 15, 1898,
Dec. 12, 1900–Dec. 8, 1904
and 1919-1921
1858–March 7, 1944
Dec. 8, 1904–Dec. 13, 1906
1866–Dec. 25, 1948
Dec. 13, 1906–March 11, 1909
1859–April 24, 1944
March 15, 1909–March 26, 1909
1839–Aug. 2, 1923
March 26, 1909–July 1913
To read more about any of these men, go to the Site Search Engine and type in the mayor’s last name.

The best single source for biographies of all Los Angeles mayors (through Tom Bradley) is Biographical Dictionary of American Mayors, 1820-1980, edited by Melvin G. Holli and Peter d’A. Jones, published by Greenwood Press in 1981.

Los Ageles history