Biography of Paul H. Douglas by John Keohane

By John Keohane, Austin, Texas June 2003

Paul Howard Douglas (1892-1976) was an economist, social activist and United States Senator, a Quaker and a Unitarian, who led fights for civil rights, truth in lending, and honesty in government. By precept and example, he promoted honesty and integrity in public office, and inspired future generations by his forthright and positive approach.

Born in Massachusetts in an Episcopalian family, Paul was the younger son of James Howard and Annie Smith Douglas. Paul's father was a traveling salesman. Paul's mother died when he was four. James Douglas remarried, but proved an abusive husband. Divorce was a very limited option then, and, prior to an eventual divorce, his stepmother cared for her step-sons, but left with the boys to Maine. Paul would later write of her love and appreciation of boys not her own.

Paul grew big and tall in the Maine woods, played basketball in high school and football in college, and read a lot of books. It was the beginning of a lifetime love of reading.

Paul graduated from Bowdoin College in 1913, and earned MA (1915) and PhD (1921) in economics from Columbia University. In 1915 he married Dorothy Wolff, graduate of Bryn Mawr, and like Paul, earned a PhD from Columbia. Both were social reformers. Paul's family had been poor and Episcopalian; Dorothy's wealthy and Jewish. They planned for a large family, contributions to social causes, and two academic careers. For the first six years of their marriage, the Douglases moved each year. Paul studied at Harvard, taught at the University of Illinois, taught at Reed College in Oregon, was labor mediator for the Emergency Fleet Corporation, taught at the University of Washington, and finally, in 1920, came to teach economics at the University of Chicago.

The Emergency Fleet Corporation was set up under the U. S. Shipping Board to build up U. S. shipping to provide "a bridge to France" to supply troops and supplies to France during World War I. It was while working for the Emergency Fleet Corporation, and living in or near Philadelphia, that Paul read John Woolman's journals and determined to become a Quaker. Paul first joined Seattle Meeting in 1920 when he was teaching at the University of Washington. The next year he transferred to Chicago Meeting, and in 1931 he was a leading organizer of the 57 th Street Meeting of Friends. That Quaker meeting, near the University of Chicago, in its early years met in John Woolman Hall of the First Unitarian Church, with easy access through that church's doors on 57 th Street.

Paul was excited about both the city and the university. He thrived at the university, teaching economics and writing a book every two years. He met and got to know the already legendary Jane Addams of Hull House, and it was partly through her that he became fought against corruption and for social reform.

Chicago was great for Paul, but less thrilling for Dorothy. They had planned a large family, and two careers. They had four children, Helen, John, Dorothea, and Paul, but the University of Chicago's nepotism rules allowed no hiring of faculty wives, even those with PhDs from Columbia. Dorothy's wealth was helpful, but didn't mean a job. When she finally got a job at Smith College in 1924, she convinced Paul to teach at Amherst, which he did for a few years, before his return to Chicago. The Douglases were divorced in 1930 with Dorothy taking responsibility for the children.

In 1931, Paul remarried. His second wife, Emily Taft (Douglas), had strong roots in Chicago. Fifth cousin, once removed, of Unitarian President William Howard Taft, she was born in Chicago, graduated from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools(1916), and from the College of Literature of the University of Chicago(1919). 

In the late 20s, and throughout the 30s, Prof. Paul H. Douglas was active on public issues, but not closely allied with any particular political party. Democrats, Republicans, and Socialists, all attracted and repelled him. Douglas was an advisor to Republican Governor Gifford Pinchot of Pennsylvania and to Democratic Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt of New York. Douglas supported Socialist party candidate Norman Thomas in the 1932 Presidential election. Overall he found the Democrats too corrupt, the Republicans too backward, and the Socialists too ideological.

In his 1932 book, The Coming of a New Party, he promoted creation of a party similar to the Labour party in England. Some right-wingers, opposed to reforms, took that to mean that Paul was "socialist", but Paul never joined the Socialist Party, partly because he did not favor anyone's monopolies, even those of the government. Throughout his career, both before, during and after the senate years, he worked to make free enterprise truly free enterprise, and to curtail monopoly power.

In 1935, Douglas made a first foray toward elective office. He tried for party endorsement for the Republican nomination for mayor of Chicago. In Chicago, candidates for mayor have political party nominations, though candidates for alderman do not. Prof. Charles Merriam had been Republican candidate for mayor in 1907, Merriam's son, Bob, would become one in 1955, but Douglas was not slated. He did work with Republicans in supporting the Joseph Artman, for alderman in 1935. Socialists supported Professor Maynard Krueger. Democrat James Cusack was elected.

In 1939, Douglas was in a group of independents looking for an aldermanic challenger to Cusack. Perhaps reluctantly, Paul became their candidate. He then got unexpected support from Democratic Mayor Ed Kelly and city hall. There was a split among the Democrats. States Attorney Thomas Courtney was running for mayor against Kelly in the primary. That primary was the same day as the first voting for alderman, and Cusack was in the Courtney camp. Besides Cusack and Douglas, there was a third candidate,

Republican lawyer Noble W. Lee. One of Lee's daughters, Nancy Lee Johnson, a Unitarian-Universalist, is now in Congress (R-CT). Kelly supported Douglas, and with that support, and his own independent support, and with strenuous campaigning, Paul won. The council post was part-time. The professor kept his job at the university.

In 1942, Alderman Douglas sought higher office. He ran for the Democratic party nomination for the U. S. Senate and the right to challenge isolationist Republican incumbent Senator C. Wayland Brooks. With the support of downstate and liberal activists, he carried almost every county in the state, but because of a strong Chicago/Cook County vote for his opponent, lost the primary.

Just weeks after the primary, Professor Douglas joined the United States Marines. World War II was in full swing. Paul H. Douglas was 50 years old, a full professor at the University of Chicago, and a natural candidate for a desk job at the Pentagon, but he wanted combat. He had a friend in Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, former publisher of the Chicago Daily News. After surviving Marine Corps boot camp, Douglas got permission to contact Knox. With Knox's aid, and that of Douglas acquaintance and Knox aide Adlai E. Stevenson, Douglas was assigned to the First Marine Division and sent to the Pacific. Paul was wounded at Okinawa. The wound at Okinawa resulted in his left forearm becoming what he termed "a paperweight".

The 57 th Street Meeting of Friends, which Douglas helped organize, had discussions over many years as to whether Douglas, who violated Quaker doctrine by fighting with the marines, should be expelled. He never was.

In 1944, as Paul was fighting in the Pacific, his wife Emily was elected to a term in Congress as representative at large from Illinois. In 1946, as Paul was recovering from his war wounds, she was defeated for re-election. Discharged by the Marines late in 1946 after long stays in naval hospitals, Paul returned to the University of Chicago. In 1947 he was elected and served as President of the American Economic Association, but Paul was restless at Chicago, and interested in running for senator or governor in 1948.

In 1948 Douglas was slated by party leaders to run for the Senate against Brooks. Brooks was a formidable candidate, who had run for governor in 1936, and been elected to the Senate in 1940 and 1942. He was proud of his "patriotism", having been wounded by shrapnel in the back, when with the marines in France in WW I. John Bartlow Martin, biographer of Adlai E. Stevenson, writes that Stevenson wanted the Senate nomination, but Cook County chairman Jacob M. Arvey saw Douglas in uniform, with his "paperweight" left arm, and thought: "that will neutralize Brooks." According to Martin, Brooks would partially disrobe, to show where shrapnel had entered his back. Douglas could be eloquent about patriotism while staying fully clothed, with that dangling left arm. Paul campaigned hard, as did Emily. Though Brooks refused to debate, Paul debated him anyway, providing an empty chair, then taking both Brooks' side, and his own. Brooks might have been represented better by being there. Douglas writes that "Brook's replies, as I delivered them, never seemed to have the cogency and force of my attacks." When the votes were counted, Douglas had 55% of the total vote, defeating Brooks by more than 407,000.

As a new senator, there was much to do. One might not usually speak about office decoration, but office decoration said a lot about Douglas. In a special part of his inner office, Paul put photographs of six of his heroes, and only one of them was a fellow Democrat, John Peter Altgeld, the Illinois governor who met political suicide by pardoning the Haymarket "rioters". Three were Republicans, Lincoln, George Norris of Nebraska, and Robert LaFollette, Sr., or Wisconsin. One, Jane Addams, was a Socialist. The other was the humanist attorney Clarence Darrow. Like Douglas, each of them had been very independent, marching to his or her own drummer. These provide a window to the kind of senator Douglas would be. Stand on principle. Try to build coalitions, work to develop support both inside the Senate, and from sympathetic groups in the country at large. Fight the good fight, and keep at it, back and back and back again.

Paul Douglas was a fighter who lost many battles, but won his wars. When he came to Washington, in 1949, all restaurants and hotels in our nation's capital were off limits for any potential customer whose skin was dark. That was true throughout the South. The public schools in Washington, DC, and throughout the South, had split Systems, separate and unequal. This was true despite the fourteenth amendment to our Constitution stating that "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States", and the fifteenth stating that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . on account of race. . . ."

Douglas made it a major mission of his life as a senator, to get civil rights legislation through a Senate which, for seventy years before he came, buried anything to do with civil rights.

The primary civil rights bills were the Civil Rights Act of 1964, dealing with public accommodations, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. "Public Accommodations" includes hotels, motels, restaurants, stores, parks, busses and trains, even toilets and drinking fountains. The 1964 act also provided for resources for the Department of Justice to do enforcement. The 1965 Voting Rights Act provided for Federal marshals and registrars, as necessary, to register voters the South. Paul had seen this need in 1960, and had been unsuccessful in getting it included at that time. Now it was enacted, and proved to be the enforcement mechanism necessary for success.

One other area of Paul's leadership was in fiscal accountability of public officials. Douglas regularly stated his assets, his sources of income, and his liabilities, well before that was required by law. He returned special gifts over a set low monetary value, except for those which were perishable which he donated to veterans' hospitals. He set those restrictions, also, for his staff. In January 1952, Sen. Douglas delivered the Godkin lectures at Harvard. Those lectures titled Ethics in Government, provide a beacon for later legislation relating to public officials in both the executive and the legislature.

Much of Paul's other leadership as a senator built on his knowledge of economics. For example, he supported "truth in lending", that is legislation requiring lending institutions to state loan percentages in the same terms. We have this today, with loans stated in annual percentage rate (APR). Douglas fought for that for years. It was bottled up in committee, by the chairman of the banking committee, Sen. A. Willis Robertson (D-VA),who was a creature of the banks. Some of us today, know Robertson's son Pat, from his 700 Club on television. In 1966, Sen. Robertson lost his primary, and in the next congress Sen. Proxmire got Douglas' bill. Truth in lending became law. An ardent conservationist, before environmental protection was popular, Paul Douglas, led the fight in Congress to save the Indiana Dunes from the marauding bulldozers of steel companies. Today, as those steel companies are going out of business, the Dunes National Lakeshore remains for this and future generations.

In Washington, DC, in the 1950s, Paul and Emily attended All Souls Unitarian Church, largely because A. Powell Davies was minister. Emily joined in 1950, and later became moderator of the American Unitarian Association. Paul joined All Souls in 1955, while retaining his membership in the 57 th Street Meeting of Friends. In 1965, Paul and Emily withdrew from All Souls. They attended and supported Cedar Lane Unitarian Church, in Bethesda, MD, near their home in northwest Washington, DC.

In his autobiography, In the Fullness of Time, Senator Douglas tells of a conversation on religion with a Catholic, his one-time Senate colleague, President John F. Kennedy:

"He knew me to be one of a tiny religious group who were both Quakers and Unitarians. One day he asked quizzically if it was true that I did not believe in the Trinity. I replied that it was, since I had never known of a satisfactory description of the Holy Ghost as a separate being. There was a momentary silence, and a slight flicker in one eye, a distant cousin to a wink, before he asked urbanely, 'Isn't that going pretty far, Paul?'"

Paul served for eighteen years in the Senate, winning re-election in 1954 and 1960, but losing in 1966, when he was 74 years old. He lost to 47 years old liberal Republican Charles Percy who was himself an alumnus (AB '41), of the University of Chicago.

Douglas lost for multiple reasons, and two alumni of the University of Chicago have helped identify those to me. Leon M. Despres (PhB '27, LLD '29), a Douglas successor as Chicago alderman says it was "age". Senator Percy (AB '41) says a reason was foreign policy, and points out that Douglas continued to oppose recognizing Communist China, and to Douglas' continued support of the war in Vietnam. Other reasons include backlash from whites on some summer civil rights marches in Chicago neighborhoods, and sympathy for Percy on the still unsolved September murder of his daughter Valerie.

After his defeat, Douglas campaigned in his friend Hubert Humphrey's bid for President in 1968, and again wrote books, including his autobiography. In the early 1970s he had a stroke. He died in 1976. Private services were at a Quaker meeting house in with ashes scattered in the Japanese gardens in Jackson Park, near the University of Chicago.


Biles, Roger, Crusading Liberal, Paul H. Douglas of Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press, DeKalb, 2002
Caro, Robert A.; Master of the Senate Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2002
Douglas, Paul H., Ethics in Government, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1952
Douglas, Paul H., In Our Time, Harcourt, Brace and World, New York, 1967
Douglas, Paul H., In the Fullness of Time, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1971
Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique, University of Massachusetts Press, 1998
Martin, John Bartlow, Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1976
Shuman, Howard E., In the Oral History Project on the www site of the U. S. Senate
History of 57 th Street Meeting of Friends, 1931-1956 published by 57th Street Meeting of Friends, 5615 Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL, 1957
U. S. Congress, certified election results (available online)
Copy of membership book of Seattle Meeting (of Friends), showing Paul H. Douglas Letters and a postcard of Paul H. Douglas to Robert E. and Mary P. Keohane, parents of the author.
Clippings and other memorabilia relating to Paul H. Douglas saved by the Keohanes
Faxes from Senator Percy to this author about Senator Douglas
Letters from Alderman Despres, to this author about Senator Douglas

The author is grateful to the following:
Douglas C Anderson, of the First Unitarian Church of Chicago, son of the late Douglas B. Anderson, who ran the Chicago office for Sen. Douglas for all 18 years.
Saundra Asante and Molly Freeman, of All Souls Unitarian Church, Washington, DC
Jean Taft Douglas Bandler, daughter of Paul Howard and Emily Taft Douglas
Hon. Leon M. and Marion A. Despres, Chicago, Illinois (Mr. Despres was Hyde Park (Chicago) alderman, 1955-75)
Rev. Richard Henry, Unitarian minister, and Friends Memorial Church, Seattle, WA
Prof. Daniel Horowitz, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts Prof.
Robert O. Keohane, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina Sabron Newton, member of the Society of Friends (Quakers), Whittier, California
Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-IL) (Senator Percy succeeded Senator Douglas in the Senate, serving from 1967-1985).
Maxwell Primack, Buffalo, New York (Professor Primack was a write-in peace candidate for U. S. Senator from Illinois in 1966.)
Senator Paul Simon, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois (Senator Simon (D-IL), a protégé of Senator Douglas, was successor to Senator Percy, 1985-97.)

The archives of Paul H. Douglas are in the Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois

Copyright 2003, John Keohane. Used with permission.