In 1930, John Garland Pollard, a popular professor at William & Mary was elected governor of the commonwealth of Virginia. A progressive Democrat interested in reform, his administration as governor was marred by dealing with the country's worst economic crisis. From King and Queen County, Va. he combined a strong sense of public service with a firm belief in the separation of church and state and a whimsical sense of humor. Trained in law, he was elected to the Constitutional Convention of 1901 where he made his mark by opposing in the revised constitution, the use of phrase describing Virginia citizens as only Christian; his strong belief in the Baptist faith prompted his speech.
He rose to be elected in 1913 to be Virginia's attorney-general on a reform platform which included initiative and referendum, the short ballot, etc. In 1922 he was appointed William & Mary's director of the School of Government and Citizenship (School of Law) where he excelled as a teacher and was also elected Mayor of Williamsburg. He served as a Sunday School teacher at the Williamsburg Baptist Church.
His run for the gubernatorial seat had the approval of Harry Byrd, leader of the Virginia Democratic machine (called the Byrd Organization) and he worked with Byrd during his term as a maverick governor. One of his chief accomplishments by far during the Great Depression was the founding of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the first state-supported art museum in the United States. Unfortunately, the Byrd mandate of fiscal integrity and balanced budgets did not permit much help to the suffering citizens of the commonwealth. State salaries were cut ten percent including the salary of the governor.
His personal and professional papers are in the Special Collections Research Center in the Earl Gregg Swem Library and cover his interests from politics to religious liberty to art. A full discussion of his political career can be found in John Stanley Hopewell's "An Outsider Looking In : John Garland Pollard and Machine Politics in Twentieth-Century Virginia." Dissertation (Ph.D.)University of Virginia, 1976.
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- John Garland Pollard in the SCRC Collections Database.