Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Emerson C. Harrington (1864-1945)
MSA SC 3520-1479

Governor of Maryland 1916-1920

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 251-254.

"EMERSON COLUMBUS HARRINGTON, the war governor of 1917-1918, and school teacher turned politician, was born on March 26, 1864, at Madison in Dorchester County, the son of John E. and Elizabeth (Thompson) Harrington. His father was a sea captain, merchant, farmer and prominent in the business and religious life of his section of the Eastern Shore.

"Like Governor Crothers, Harrington was reared on the farm. Until he was sixteen years of age, he attended the public school at Madison. He then went to St. John’s College in Annapolis, where he completed the five years’ course in four years, graduating with the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1884 and taking second honors in his class. During his collegiate days, he was catcher for four years on the St. John’s College baseball team. He received his Master of Arts degree from the same school in 1886.

"Following his graduation in 1884, Harrington was appointed a tutor in the preparatory department of St. John’s, teaching there for two years. In the last half of his second year, he filled the place of a tutor who was ill and at the close of that year, Harrington was elected Assistant Professor of Latin and Mathematics at the college. He accepted the position, but he resigned before he entered upon it, to become the principal of the Cambridge Academy, a position he was to hold for three years. When the Academy and the Female Seminary were merged to form Cambridge High School, Harrington was elected principal, holding that position for nine additional years.

"On June 27, 1893, Harrington married Gertrude Johnson of Cambridge. They had three children, two sons Emerson C., Jr., and William and a daughter, Mrs. Reginald V. Truitt.

"While he was teaching, he began the study of law and was admitted to the Bar. In 1898, he resigned as principal to commence practice. In 1899, he was elected State’s Attorney for Dorchester County, serving until 1903, when he was defeated in his bid for re-election. He was a vigorous prosecutor of all offenses, especially violations of liquor and oyster laws, and these, together with party friction, brought about his defeat.

[p. 252] "Between 1903 and 1910, he practiced law in Cambridge, until he was appointed Insurance Commissioner, an office he held for one year. In November 1911, he was elected Comptroller of the Treasury, defeating his Republican opponent, John A. Cunningham of Carroll County, by 7,800 votes. He was re-elected in 1913, defeating Oliver Metzerott of Prince George’s County by a wide margin. He continued as Comptroller until he was elected Governor of Maryland on November 2, 1915.

"His primary campaign in 1915 against Senator Blair Lee for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination was one of the most bitter political contests in the history of the State. It was a fight that eventually was to center around Baltimore’s stormy Mayor, James H. Preston. Senator Lee charged that the poor financial condition of the State during the administration of Governor Goldsborough was the result of poor management on Harrington’s part. The latter leaped to his own defense and a fiery debate soon followed. Mayor Preston, who had been demanding that the Pennsylvania Railroad electrify its right-of-way through Baltimore before it could be given any further privileges entered the fight to charge that Harrington was siding with the railroad in the controversy. Harrington denied the charge, but Mayor Preston doggedly kept the argument going, adding that Harrington, a county man, was trying to curry favor with Baltimore County voters by opposing Preston’s annexation plans. Harrington made his political peace with Preston after the primary by announcing that the Mayor would preside at a mass meeting for the Harrington ticket to be held at the Lyric Theatre. Both factions of the party, consequently, were able to reconcile their differences and avoid a serious party split and defeat.

"When Harrington entered the gubernatorial race in 1915, he had for his running mates Albert C. Ritchie for Attorney General, and Hugh A. McMullen, for Comptroller. In the ensuing general election, Harrington defeated Ovington E. Weller, the Republican candidate, by a plurality of 3,181 votes, while both Ritchie and McMullen won by greater margins. Harrington was inaugurated as Governor of Maryland on January 12, 1916. During the second part of his term, that of the Legislative Session of 1918, he became the only Democratic governor to serve with a Republican majority in the General Assembly. The Republicans secured control of the House of Delegates by a small majority, but the Democrats captured the Senate.

"Early in the first year of his administration, Harrington signed the Collier Bill, which appropriated $50,000 for the establishment of ferry service between Claiborne and Annapolis, providing the State Roads Commission thought that the undertaking would be advisable. Although the ferry, among other things, was boomed as something that would bring the Eastern Shore and Baltimore City more closely together, Governor Harrington was repeatedly charged with not being in sympathy with the best interests of Baltimore City and its growth. The Claiborne-Annapolis ferry started in June of 1919, when a ferry boat named for Governor Harrington opened the service, with a lunch for 1,000 persons aboard for the inaugural trip.

[p. 253] "In 1917, after the declaration of war, he toured the State in the interest of greater food production as a war measure, emphasizing wherever he went that all Marylanders had either to work or to fight. Governor Harrington was instrumental in organizing the Council of Defense which left its mark permanently upon the State. Not only did the Council deal with such wartime problems as housing accommodations and food production, but it also assisted in the building of Camp Meade (later Fort George G. Meade) and facilities at State fish hatcheries, armories, the Agricultural College and the House of Correction. Finally, it arranged for a compilation of the service records of Marylanders who served in World War I.

"Governor Harrington appointed the Commission on Economy and Efficiency in the State Government, commonly known as the Goodnow Commission, named after its chairman, Dr. Frank Goodnow, President of The Johns Hopkins University. The purpose of the commission was to report to the Governor on what form the executive budget would take and to make recommendations concerning efficiency and economy in the administration of the State government. The resulting Budget Bill Amendment 'atracted wide attention . . . and the plan has been more than favorably mentioned by expert economists or fiscal authorities of the country, and many states are preparing to adopt [it],' he reported with pride to the 1918 Legislature.1

"Harrington’s administration resulted in accomplishments in other areas. In 1915, the Legislature created the State Law Department and the Conservation Commission. It also adopted a State parole system. In the same year, that body abolished all continuing appropriations so that 'for the first time the people of the State by reading these bills, could see what it costs to run the State Government.'2

"Harrington opposed suffrage for women, but he was impressed by the role Maryland women had played during the war. He surprised his listeners when he lent his support to the suffrage proposal, but he remarked that he could not fear “the effect upon politics for women have always bettered and favorably influenced everything with which they have ever been connected.”3

"As a former school teacher, Harrington favored increased teachers’ salaries. He asserted that 'the school teachers of the state should receive larger salaries' a fact that everyone accepted. 'They must be prepared to teach true Americanism and true citizenship, and their reward should be in some proportion, at least, to the great service rendered.'4

"Harrington threw 'wet' Maryland into an uproar when he announced his support of the prohibition movement. 'The whole nation recognizes the importance of [prohibition] . . .  from national necessity during the continuance of the war . . . ,' he told the Legislature in 1918. 'In my opinion, the national necessity should not be overlooked . . . . Private pleasure or indulgence must always in the end give way to the common welfare, the State’s or the Nation’s necessity.'5

"When his term ended on January 14, 1920, Harrington returned to his law practice. He still retained his interest in politics and 'he loved it as a game.'In the 1926 election, he was an unsuccessful candidate for a judgeship from the First Judicial Circuit. Throughout the remainder of his life he quite frequently visited Baltimore to hold conferences with local and State Democratic leaders. At one time, he was considered for his party’s nomination to Congress from the First District, but again he was unsuccessful. He was President of the People’s Loan, Savings and Deposit Bank of Cambridge, and was President of the Annapolis-Claiborne Ferry Company until it was taken over by the State.

"Harrington died at his home in Cambridge after a short illness on December 15, 1945. After funeral services in the Christ Protestant Episcopal Church in that city, he was buried in the churchyard where he lies at rest in the company of other Governors of Maryland.

"At his death, The Sun extolled him as a good governor. 'Politics was the breath of his life. When Mr. Harrington turned over the Government of Maryland to the late Albert C. Ritchie, in January, 1920, affairs were in order. Thereafter, his days were spent in Dorchester, where the game was as fascinating as ever. Looking back, we may say that Mr. Harrington knew how to take the pleasures of politics and yet to discharge the responsibilities of office in a blessedly simple day.'”7

Notes on sources

Harrington as Comptroller

Return to Emerson C. Harrington's introductory page

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