FRANCIS E. MC GOVERN was born near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1890, going on to serve as a high school principal in Brodhead and Appleton. He studied law in his spare time and was admitted to the Wisconsin Bar in 1897, after which he established a law practice in Milwaukee. He was elected District Attorney in Milwaukee in 1904 on a reform platform, securing Grand Jury indictments against those involved in municipal corruption. Although not endorsed by the Republican Party in the 1906 primary for District Attorney, he went on to win as an independent candidate. With the support of Robert La Follette, he won the governorship in 1910, going on to help secure the first workers compensation program in the United States. He also supported workplace safety legislation, labor protections for women and children, a highway commission to administer a highway construction program, water and forest preservation laws, a state life insurance fund, and granting of home rule to cities. Other laws enacted during his administration were aimed at encouraging farm cooperatives and facilitating loans for farm improvements. McGovern served as chair of the Governors’ Conference Executive Committee. During his second term, he had a falling out with La Follette that resulted in La Follette supporters in the legislature opposing his proposals. Although he won the Republican primary for a vacated U.S. Senate seat in 1914, La Follette’s failure to support to his bid cost him the election. He went on to serve in the Army Judge Advocate Department, trying court martials, following which he became ex-officio chairman of the Claims Board of the US. Emergency Fleet Corporation. He supported Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s and won the Democratic nomination for governor but lost the general election.
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, Vol. 17. New York: James T. White & Company.
Wisconsin Historical Society