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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Martin, Thomas Ellsworth
(January 18, 1893–June 27, 1971 )

–lawyer, city attorney, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator—was born in Melrose, Iowa, and attended various public schools i n Monroe County and in the town of Russell, graduating from Albia High School. He then attended the State University of Iowa, graduating in 1916 with a degree in accounting. He worked briefly for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, as a sales analyst and accountant. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Martin obtained a commission as a first lieutenant with the U.S. 35th Infantry. After the war, he again worked briefly for Goodyear. He married Dorris Brownlee of Waterloo on June 5, 1920. They had two children, Richard and Dorris.

    Martin moved back to Iowa City in 1920, where he lived for the next 40 years. He was an assistant professor of military science and tactics at the State University of Iowa from 1921 to 1923. He also worked as an accountant during the 1920s while completing a law degree at the State University of Iowa in 1927 and an LL.M. degree from Columbia in 1928. He was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1927 and became a practicing attorney in Iowa City. He became active in many civic activities, including memberships in the American Legion, Masonic Lodge, and Elks, and he served as president of the Chamber of Commerce.

    Martin was a Republican nominee for state commerce commissioner in 1932 and 1934 but was defeated both times. In March 1933 Republican Harry D. Breene was overwhelmingly elected mayor of Iowa City, defeating the Democratic administration. Breene immediately made a series of appointments to city offices that included Martin as city attorney. Martin served as city attorney for the next two years.

    In 1935, when Breene announced he would not run for reelection, Martin announced his candidacy. The campaign was contentious, with Martin staunchly supporting the establishment of a municipal electric light plant for the city. He was overwhelmingly elected and served until 1937. He did not seek reelection.

    The following year Martin sought election to the U.S. House of Representatives from Iowa's First Congressional District. He was elected over his Democratic opponent by a vote of 46,636 to 33,765. He ran successfully for reelection in 1940, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1948, 1950, and 1952. He ran unopposed in the Republican primary three times and always won the general election by margins similar to that of his first victory. In the House, he served on the Military Affairs and Ways and Means committees, and the Subcommittee on Administration of the Internal Revenue Service.

    In March 1953 Martin announced that he would run for the U.S. Senate seat then held by Democrat Guy Gillette, which would expire in January 1955. The odds were against Martin at first. Then Governor William Beardsley announced he would not run, and no other prominent Republican got into the race, perhaps because Gillette had served as U.S. senator for three terms and was the most popular Democratic vote getter in years. Nevertheless, in a barnstorming campaign in which he traveled 165,000 miles, Martin defeated Gillette on Election Day.

    Martin's entry into the Senate brought some changes in his views. While in the House, he had been a strong opponent of foreign aid, but in the Senate he suddenly shifted to strong support of foreign aid. His stated reason was that President Eisenhower needed it as a foreign policy tool and that congressional support for the president was necessary.

    In February 1959 Martin was embroiled in some controversy, when it was revealed that both his wife and son were on his staff payroll and that his overall payroll was significantly higher than that of Iowa's other senator, Bourke Hickenlooper. When Martin defended himself by stating that it was none of the public's business and initially refused to submit any information, the Des Moines Register roundly criticized his conduct. Several months later Martin made a full disclosure, and the controversy died down.

    In January 1960 Martin announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection, and he retired in January 1961 to Seattle, where his daughter and her family lived. He died on June 27, 1971, and was buried in Willamette National Cemetery, Portland, Oregon.
Sources The only secondary sources available on Thomas Martin are his wife's memoir, Dorris Brownlee Martin, Can This Be Washington? (1984); and Dorris B. Martin, "A Congressional Wife in Wartime Washington," Palimpsest 64 (1983), 34–44. See also Iowa City Press Citizen, 4/4/1933, 3/23/1935, 3/26/1935, 4/24/1939, and 3/10/1953; Des Moines Register, 4/19/1953, 11/4/1954, 11/7/1954, 6/12/1955, 2/25/1959, 2/26/1959, and 1/7/1960; and Des Moines Tribune 12/5/1938 and 6/28/1971.
Contributor: David Holmgren

Cite as: Holmgren, David. "Martin, Thomas Ellsworth" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 December 2017