AUSTIN PEAY III was born near Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He attended Washington and Lee University and received his law degree from Centre College, after which he practiced law first in Hopkinsville and later in Clarksville, Tennessee. He served in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1901 to 1905. He chaired the State Democratic Committee in 1905 and managed the successful gubernatorial campaign of Malcolm Patterson in 1908. After failing to win the Democratic nomination for governor in 1918, he successfully challenged incumbent governor Alfred Taylor four years later. He gained national prominence signing a bill passed by the state legislature that prohibited teaching the theory of evolution, which resulted in the famous trial of Professor John Scopes for violating the law, with William Jennings Bryan assisting the prosecution and Clarence Darrow appearing for the defense. Major achievements of his administration included passage of the Reorganization Act of 1923, which consolidated the executive branch of the Tennessee government into eight new departments, and the Education Act of 1925, which reorganized the public educational system. Peay also turned the state’s deficit into a surplus and is credited with developing Tennessee’s first modern highway system. And during the Peay administration, Reelfoot Lake was developed as a state game and fish preserve and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was created. Peay was reelected in 1924 and again in 1926 but died of a cerebral hemorrhage during the first year of his third term-the only governor to die in office.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 33. New York: James T. White & Company.
Past Governors of Tennessee
Philips, Margaret I. The Governors of Tennessee. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 2001.
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.
White, Robert H. Messages of the Governors of Tennessee, 1921-1933. Nashville: The Tennessee Historical Commission, Vol. 10, 1952.