WILLIAM JONATHAN NORTHEN, Georgia’s 39th governor, was born in Jones County, Georgia, on July 9, 1835. He graduated from Mercer University in 1853 and then taught school until 1874, when health reasons forced him to retire. Settling on a plantation in Hancock County, he became president of the State Agricultural Society, attaining expertise in farming techniques. Northen entered politics as a two-term member of the Georgia House of Representatives, and served as a one-term member of the Georgia Senate. He won the 1890 Democratic gubernatorial nomination and was elected governor of Georgia. He was reelected to a second term in 1892. During his tenure, he advocated for and achieved educational improvements: the State Normal School was founded as well as an agricultural and mechanical college for African-Americans; the school term was changed from three months to five, and a school for teacher training was established. Also during his tenure, the Georgia railroad commission was given more authority – which they used to restrict railroad employees’ workday to 13 hours and to institute regulation policies on express and telegraph businesses. After leaving office on October 27, 1894, he served for a short time as state historian, and edited a seven-volume compilation of biographical sketches titled, Men of Mark in Georgia. He also was very involved with his religious affiliation, serving as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention and donating time to several other religious associations. Governor William J. Northen died on March 25, 1913, and was buried at the Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
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.