Back to former Rhode Island governors
John Hubbard Chafee
Rhode Island

Gov. John Hubbard Chafee

  • January 1, 1963 - January 7, 1969
  • Republican
  • October 22, 1922
  • October 24, 1999
  • Rhode Island
  • Yale University; Harvard University Law School
  • Married Virginia Coates; six children
  • Senator
  • Marines


JOHN HUBBARD CHAFEE was born in Providence, Rhode Island and educated at Yale University. He left Yale to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. He rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant and fought on Guadalcanal as well as in the battle of Okinawa. Two years after the war ended, he was awarded a bachelor’s degree from Yale, following which he received a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1950. In 1951 Chafee was recalled to Marine Corps service during the Korean War with the rank of captain. Upon his release from active duty, he pursued the private practice of law and entered local politics, winning election to three terms in the Rhode Island House of Representatives before becoming governor. During his three gubernatorial terms, Chafee promoted a liberal agenda that included the passage of antidiscrimination legislation in the areas of housing and employment and a health care plan for the state’s elderly (both of which pre-dated similar federal legislation). He also supported the construction of Interstate 95, acquisition of land for state woodlands and waterfront parks, and the expansion of the state vocational training program. Chafee went on to serve as Secretary of the Navy under President Richard Nixon and became well known for his May 1969 decision to block the court martial of the commander of the USS Pueblo, which had been captured by the North Koreans in 1968. [The Navy ship, which had been in international waters, and its crew were taken and held by North Korea. The crew was eventually released but the ship remained in North Korean hands. A Naval inquiry recommended a court martial of the ship’s commanding officer for sparking conflict with the North Koreans against orders.] After running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1972, Chafee won a Senate seat in 1976 and was reelected to three additional terms. He made his mark as a staunch supporter of environmental protection, guiding passage of the Superfund Toxic Waste Cleanup Program (1980), the Clean Air Act (1986), the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act (1990), and the Safe Drinking Water Act (1995). Chafee died in Washington, DC six months after announcing that he would not seek a fifth Senate term.


Governors of the American States, Commonwealths, and Territories, National Governors' Conference, 1967.

La France, August P. Manual with Rules and Orders for the use of the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island, 1963-1964.

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.

University of Rhode Island, Special Collections

Who Was Who, Vol. 13. New Providence, NJ: Marquis Who's Who, 2000.


Recent Rhode Island Governors