The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Beardsley, William Shane
(May 13, 1901–November 21, 1954)

–Iowa governor—was the son of William Beardsley, a pharmacist, and Carrie (Shane) Beardsley. He was born in Beacon, Mahaska County, Iowa, and raised in Birmingham, Van Buren County, where he went to school. From the age of 11, he worked after school in the drugstore of his sickly father, who died when Beardsley was 14. He graduated from the Bowen Institute of Pharmacy and Chemistry at Brunswick, Missouri. He never went to college but soaked up books on history and economics. In 1919 he married Charlotte E. Manning of Birmingham. They had three sons and two daughters.

    At the age of 21, the nearly penniless Beardsley borrowed the money to take over a drugstore in the tiny town of New Virginia, Warren County. He made a business success and, always highly popular, in 1932 was elected Republican state senator for Warren and Clarke counties. He was a leading light in the senate, and after being reelected in 1936, became majority leader. Honoring a gentleman's agreement between Warren and Clarke counties, he did not run again in 1940.

    Having bought some 900 acres of land, Beardsley retired from politics to concentrate on farming and his drugstore. But after the Speaker of the Iowa House, who was also from Warren County, died of a heart attack in December 1946, Beardsley was asked to stand in the special election to fill the seat and proceeded to win. In the 1947 legislature, he was a strong supporter of labor and battled against the anti-closed shop labor bill and the banning of secondary boycotts. The legislation had the powerful backing of the two-term Republican Governor Robert D. Blue. At the end of the session, some Republicans turned to Beardsley to challenge Blue in the 1948 Republican primary for governor.

    At first, Beardsley was given little hope of beating an incumbent governor. But he had the support of organized labor, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, and the Iowa State Education Association. Beardsley travelled 20,000 miles and made hundreds of speeches. As the primary election approached, the polls all showed Blue ahead. The Iowa Poll published in the Des Moines Register the day before the election gave Governor Blue a clear lead among Republican voters, but reported that some Democrats were considering crossing over and voting for Beardsley. In fact, a massive Democratic crossover vote throughout the state saw Beardsley defeat Governor Blue 189,938 votes to 127,771–a majority of more than 62,000. "Neighbors from all around the New Virginia area crowded into the Beardsley store Monday night to cheer radio reports of his mounting lead and to drink "˜cokes.' Beardsley provided gallons of coffee and soft drinks for the visitors and he himself served some of the well-wishers."

    Beardsley was elected to three successive terms. His recommendation "that the union shop be legalized" was in vain. However, in the field of education, he was successful, as the General Assembly adopted his recommendation that the state should grant aid equal to a quarter of the total costs of operating Iowa's public schools. "As a result of this program," the governor boasted, "educational opportunities have been improved. The children of our state now enjoy the advantages of better schools and better teaching."

    Beardsley was an enthusiastic road builder and successfully persuaded the General Assembly to adopt a road-building program. In 1953 he reported that "there has been more construction of highways during the last twelve months than in any other given period in the history of our state."He was especially proud of the miles of farm-to-market roads that had been built. Highway safety was another keen concern of Beardsley's. The Iowa State Highway Patrol was expanded, and emphasized safety education as much as law enforcement. Driver training classes in the high schools turned out safe drivers.

    Conservation of soil and water was another dominant theme throughout his years in office. Beardsley established the Natural Resources Council, and once boasted, "The State of Iowa continues to pace the nation in conservation work."He was also proud of expanding and improving the programs in Iowa's mental health institutions and of developing mental health clinics in Iowa's hospitals. Other reforms included enlarging the staff and improving the facilities in training schools and children's institutions.

    Just north of Des Moines on the night of Sunday, November 21, 1954, Beardsley drove his car into the back of a truck and was killed instantly.
Sources See Gerard Schultz and Don L. Berry, History of Warren County, Iowa (1953), and obituaries in the Des Moines Register, 11/22/1954, and Indianola Tribune, 11/23/1954.
Contributor: Richard Acton