Back to former Illinois governors
Joseph Wilson Fifer

Gov. Joseph Wilson Fifer

  • January 14, 1889 - January 10, 1893
  • Republican
  • October 28, 1840
  • August 6, 1938
  • Virginia
  • Wesleyan University
  • Married Gertrude Lewis; Two Children
  • Army


JOSEPH W. FIFER, Illinois’ twenty-first governor, was born in Staunton, Virginia, on October 28, 1840. His early education was limited and attained in the common schools of Illinois. During the Civil War, he served in the 33rd Illinois Infantry as a private, was severely wounded in 1863, and in October 1864, was honorably mustered out. After his military service, Fifer attended and graduated from Wesleyan University in 1868, then studied law, and established a legal career in Bloomington, Illinois. He entered public service in 1871, serving for one year as Bloomington’s corporation counsel. He also served as states’ attorney for McLean County from 1872 to 1880 and was a two-term member of the Illinois State Senate, serving from 1880 to 1884. Fifer won the 1887 Republican gubernatorial nomination and was elected governor of Illinois on November 6, 1888. He was sworn into office on January 14, 1889. During his tenure, the state historical library was founded, the primary election law of 1885 was abolished, and a ballot reform bill was passed, as well as, an amendment and codification of the state public school law. Also, a bill was sanctioned that made it mandatory for bank directors to own at least ten shares of bank stock, the election of U.S. senators by a direct vote of the people was enacted, and women were allowed the right to vote for school officers in all elections. After leaving the governor’s office on January 10, 1893, Fifer served as a member of the Interstate Commerce Commission from 1899 to 1906, and as a delegate to the 1920 Illinois Constitutional Convention. Governor Joseph W. Fifer died on August 6, 1938, and was buried in Bloomington, Illinois.


Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 1, Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.


Illinois History

Illinois Trails

Recent Illinois Governors