George William Norris is considered one of the most influential senators of the 20th century. He was born on 11 July 1861 in Clyde, Ohio in York Township. Senator Norris was the 11th child born to his parents, Chauncey and Mary Norris. The family lived in very meager conditions on a small farm. His father, Chauncey, died when he was only fours old. As a result, his mother encouraged him to do well and get a good education to escape the circumstances of poverty. Young George grew up on the family's Ohio farm and was a hard worker. He farmed during the planting and harvest seasons, and attended school during the winter. George Creel, an author who later wrote about Senator Norris' life stated, "A hard-working, useful life, but one for which he was admirably fitted by early training. Never at anytime did the Norris mouth know a silver spoon." These early life experiences would affect his life and guide him years later when he served in the US Congress.
During his late teens he attended college at Baldwin University in Berea, Ohio. To pay for his college education, he earned income through farming and teaching, while sometimes having to take off whole semesters because of work. While at Baldwin, he discovered he had a great talent for debating and thereafter desired to earn a law degree. After one year at Baldwin, he transferred to Northern Indiana State Normal School in Valparaiso, Indiana. He continued his teaching career to earn funds to pay for his college education. Later he attended law school at Valparaiso University earning his law degree and was admitted to the bar association in 1883.
In 1884, he moved to Nebraska. While aspiring to open up his own law practice, he continued teaching for a short while to earn enough money to accomplish this dream. Later in 1884, he finally accomplished his goal and open a law partnership with H.H. Harrington in Beatrice, Nebraska. Approximately a year later, he moved and opened another law office in Beaver City, Nebraska. After some years of practicing law, he eventually became, a three-term, District Attorney for Furnas County, Nebraska. He also served as the District Judge for the Nebraska 14th District from 1895-1892.
In 1902, he was elected to the US House of Representatives and served for five-terms until 1913. He was then elected as a US senator for the State of Nebraska and served in the US Senate for five-terms from 1913-1943. During his years of service, he was a Republican from 1913-1936 and an Independent from 1936-1943.
According to US Senate history, he was a "fiercely independent" politician and developed politically into a "western agrarian progressive." Throughout the New Deal era of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he cooperated with the president regularly, and though a Republican, became known as the "Democrat of Democrats." He is remembered in history as one of the most influential US senators of all-time. In 1955, when a special committee was formed to choose five exceptional members of the senate, whose portraits would be permanently displayed in the Senate Reception Room, George W. Norris was suggested more often than the forty-one names that were submitted.
Senator Norris' major accomplishments during his forty years of service as a US Congressman and US Senator were very noteworthy. They include the passage of the 20th Amendment to the US Constitution, aka, the "Lame Duck" amendment in 1933. This amendment stipulates that Congress assembles in January following the November elections, rather than the following March. It also changed the presidential inauguration from March to January 20th. He also sponsored and fiercely pursued for the "Rural Electrification Act" of 1936. This act provided Federal funds for the establishment of electrical distribution systems in rural areas of the United States. Only 10% of American farm families had electrical power available to them in the early 1930s, and only 5.9% of Nebraska farms had electrical power. It also eventually led to the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority that provides electrical power to many parts of the American south. Senator Norris is recognized for planning the TVA that provides "flood control and electricity in the region drained by the Tennessee River."
This man believed that the people of rural America needed this resource as well as urban areas and fought for their benefit while in Congress. Growing up on a farm here in Clyde, he knew the challenges and drawbacks of not having electricity, and realized that rural American families would be able to live easier as a result of this beneficial resource. His concern for the average common person is evident in the things he championed while in Washington D.C. Being reared in a family "of little consequence" would have given him the appreciation for the impoverished and underprivileged. To Senator Norris' credit, he was more concerned about aiding those in need than necessarily garnering votes for his seat in Congress, and was a man that did not mind speaking his mind.
He was well thought of and respected by many constituents and colleagues. John F. Kennedy, while serving in the Senate in 1956, mentioned him as part of the Courageous Eight in his book, Profiles in Courage. He quoted Norris as saying, "I would rather go down to my political grave with a clear conscience than ride in the chariot of victory." Senator Kennedy reasoned, "Nothing could sway [George Norris] from what he thought was right, from his determination to help all the people, from his hope to save them from the twin tragedies of poverty and war."
Senator Norris' career in politics ended in 1942 when he was defeated in his bid for a sixth term in the Senate. In 1943, he returned to his home in McCook, Nebraska and died a year later on 2 September 1944. He was the first inductee to the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1961, but it was his upbringing here in Ohio that influenced the majority of his life. His former home in McCook is a National Historic Landmark and the public is able to visit it today as an offshoot of the Nebraska State Historical Society.
Senate Historical Office. "United States Senate." www.senate.gov. accessed: 19 August 2017. https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/George_Norris.htm
National Parks Service. "George William Norris (1861-1944)" Homestead National Monument of America. accessed: 19 August 2017. www.nps.gov/home/learn/historyculture/upload/MW.pdf.GeorgeWNorris.a.pdf
Nebraska Studies. "U.S. Congressman & U.S. Senator from Nebraska for 40 Years" Nebraska Studies.org. accessed: 19 August 2017. http://www.nebraskastudies.org/0800/frameset_reset.html?http:www.nebraskastudies.org/0800/stories/0801_0300.html
newspapers.com "Newspapers.com" www.ancestry.com. various publication dates. accessed: 17 August 2017.
The Evening Review (East Liverpool, Ohio) 11 July 1912.
Lancaster Eagle-Gazette (Lancaster, Ohio) 6 March 1928.
The Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) 10 May 1930.
The Fremont News Messenger (Fremont, Ohio) 20 January 1936.
Portsmouth Daily Times (Portsmouth, Ohio) 11 July 1936.
Washington C.H. Record-Herald (Washington Court House, Ohio) 21 July 1942.
The Coshocton Tribune (Coshocton, Ohio) 3 September 1944.