Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Cabell Bruce (1860-1946)
MSA SC 3520-1602


Born in Staunton Hill, Charlotte County, Virginia, March 12, 1860.  Son of Charles (d. 1896) and Sarah Alexander (Seddon) Bruce (d. 1907).  Attended Pampatike School, King William County, Virginia, 1872-75; Norwood High School and College, Nelson County, Virginia; University of Virginia at Charlottesville, 1879-80; University of Maryland Law School, LL.B., 1882.  Admitted to the Maryland bar, 1882.  Married Louise Este Fisher on October 15, 1887; children  James Cabell (b. 1892), William Cabell, Jr. (1895-1910), and David Kirkpatrick Este (b. 1898).  Died of myocarditis at his home in Ruxton, Baltimore County, on May 9, 1946.  Buried in St. Thomas Episcopal Church Cemetery, Garrison, Maryland.

William Cabell Bruce was the sixth of eight surviving children and the fifth of six sons from a well-established Virginia family.  His two oldest brothers, Thomas and Albert, were businessmen in Richmond, Virginia.  Charles Morelle, the third son, was a secretary of the territory of Arizona and later an assistant land commissioner in Washington, D.C. by appointment of President Woodrow Wilson.  Dr. Philip Alexander, the fourth son, was an historian and author of the Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century and a History of the University of Virginia.  James Douglas, the youngest son, was also a scholar who wrote The Evolution of Arthurian Romance.  William's sisters were Ellen and Annie.

When William received his LL.B. in 1882 he immediately opened a practice in Baltimore, joining a partnership with Henry J. Bowdoin in 1886.  The following year he formed another partnership with William A. Fisher, then judge of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore, and Fisher's son, David Kirkpatrick Este Fisher.  The daughter of the latter partner became his wife in 1887.  He practiced law again between 1929 and 1937.

William was a Democrat who was active in the Baltimore Reform League, working for fair elections, honest government and punishment of official wrongdoing.  He was particularly active in support of civil service reform.  In 1893, Reform League supporters initiated a challenge to the local political machine and Bruce ran for the state senate and won representation from Baltimore City's second district, serving from 1894 to 1896.  In the state senate he worked on the Judicial Proceedings, Militia, Assessment, Chesapeake Bay Tributaries and Temperance Committees.  Two years later, the defeat of Arthur Pue Gorman's political machine led to Bruce's election as president of the senate, working for bills regarding reassessment of all property in the state, guarantees of purity of elections, and a merit system of appointment to government offices.  When the machine regained power in 1897, Bruce did not seek reelection, but returned to his private law practice.

From 1901 to 1903, Bruce was general counsel for Consolidated Gas & Electric Light and Power Company in Baltimore City.  When Robert McLane became mayor of Baltimore in 1903, he appointed Bruce to the position of city solicitor, where he remained until 1908.  By 1910 he was one of nine commissioners on the Baltimore Charter Commission, appointed to draft a new city charger which strengthened governmental power, increased efficiency, and enlarged services.  The following year he was named the first general counsel to the newly established Public Service Commission of Maryland, a post he held until 1922 when he resigned.

In 1922 Bruce made a successful bid for the United States Senate and served one term as a Democrat.  In the senate, he worked for individual rights while opposing prohibition, the Ku Klux Klan and the expanding powers of the federal government.  He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1928 in the wake of a Republican landslide.

Bruce was also a successful author.  In 1917 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Benjamin Franklin, Self-Revealed.  Other writings include John Randolph of Roanoke, 1773-1833:  A biography based largely on new material (1922), Seven great Baltimore lawyers ( c1931), Imaginary conversations with Franklin (1933), and Recollections (1936).   At the time of his death in 1946 he was working on a biography of Thomas Jefferson.

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