OSWALD WEST was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada but moved to Oregon with his family as a young child and was educated in Salem public schools until the age of sixteen, when he began working in a bank. In his twenties he spent six months in Alaska in search of gold. He was appointed a State Land Agent in 1903 by Governor George Chamberlain, with responsibility for recovering roughly 900,000 acres of Oregon school land obtained fraudulently by land speculators. In 1907 he was appointed to a four-year term on the Oregon Railroad Commission. His successful gubernatorial campaign of 1910 was based on a platform of support for direct government, including the use of initiatives and referendums and the direct primary. After vetoing more than fifty bills passed in 1911, he was able to secure the cooperation of a Republican-dominated state legislature. Banks, public service corporations, wages, hours, pensions, and working conditions were placed under stricter control. What measures West could not obtain through the legislature he secured through the use of initiatives and referendums, including women’s suffrage, prohibition, and workers compensation. West vigorously pursued prison reform, visiting prisons himself to talk with inmates in an effort to root out prison abuses and determine methods of rehabilitation that held the greatest potential for success. Oregon’s natural resources were a subject of focus as well, with the establishment of the Bureau of Forestry and the Fish and Game Commission, and Pacific Ocean beaches were protected for public use. West did not seek a second term, instead moving to Portland to practice law and writing newspaper and journal articles on a wide variety of subjects.
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. 16. New York: James T. White & Company.