JOHN JACOB CORNWELL was born near Pennsboro, West Virginia. He began teaching at the age of sixteen and served as principal of the grade schools of Romney, West Virginia for several years. He attended Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and West Virginia University, and went on to study law. With his brother, he purchased the Hampshire Review
in 1890 and served as its editor until 1917. He was elected to two terms in the West Virginia State Senate. Although defeated in his first campaign for governor, he won the position in 1916—the only Democrat on the state ticket to be elected. During his single term as governor, he called the state legislature into special session to submit a constitutional amendment proposing a budget system. Additional measures were enacted during his administration to aid the federal government during World War I and to establish a mothers’ pension. He later served as director of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway Company.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vols. 17 and 60. New York: James T. White & Company.
West Virginia Archives and History