WILLIAM DENNISON STEPHENS was born in Eaton, Ohio, on December 26, 1859. After graduating from Eaton High School in 1876, Stephens moved to California, where he became a successful businessman and wholesale grocer. He served on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce from 1902 to 1911, and was named interim mayor of Los Angeles in 1909. In 1910, Stephens was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and was reelected in 1912, 1914, and 1916, but resigned from Congress when he was appointed to the Lieutenant Governor’s office in April 1916. He served as Lieutenant Governor until March 1917, when he succeeded Governor Johnson, who had resigned from office to take his seat in the U.S. Senate. Stephens served the remainder of Johnson’s term, and in the 1918 gubernatorial election became the first acting governor to be elected in his own right. During his tenure, he supported prohibition, and women were fighting for the right to vote. World War I had started, and Stephen’s administration endured threats and bombings. The International Workers of the World were accused of bombing the governor’s mansion in December 1917. Stephens, who was a stable force against all left-wing groups, led the campaign in the passage of a criminal syndicalism law. He also reorganized the executive branch, and initiated a veteran welfare program and new highway construction plans. Unsuccessful in his reelection bid, he left office on January 9, 1923. Stephens, who was admitted to the bar while governor, returned to Los Angeles, and entered into a private law practice. Governor William Stephens died on April 24, 1944, and is buried at the Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Official Records: California State Archives
Image source: California State Library: Governors' Gallery
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.