John Purroy Mitchel

John Purroy Mitchel
John Purroy Mitchel
99th Mayor of New York City
In office
January 1, 1914 – December 31, 1917
Preceded by Ardolph Loges Kline
Succeeded by John F. Hylan
Personal details
Born July 19, 1879(1879-07-19)
Died July 6, 1918(1918-07-06) (aged 38)
Political party Fusion
Alma mater Columbia College, New York Law School

John Purroy Mitchel (July 19, 1879 - July 6, 1918) was the mayor of New York from 1914 to 1917. At age 34 he was the second-youngest ever; he is sometimes referred to as "The Boy Mayor of New York." Mayor Mitchel is remembered for his short career as leader of Reform politics in New York, as well as for his early death as an Army air officer in the last months of World War One. Mitchel's staunchly Catholic New York family had been founded by grandfather and namesake John Mitchel, an Ulster Presbyterian Young Irelander (Irish nationalist supporter) who became a renowned writer and leader in the Irish independence movement.



Purroy was born in New York City to James Mitchel, one of three brothers to fight for the Confederacy and the only to survive the War, despite multiple injuries including the loss of his arm.

Purroy graduated from secondary school at Fordham Preparatory School in the late 1890s. He obtained his bachelors degree from Columbia College of Columbia University in 1899 and graduated from New York Law School in 1901. His short career witnessed a turning point in New York State politics, in which the Democratic Party increasingly returned to positions of power after a long period of Republican dominance in many jurisdictions since the career of Grover Cleveland. Mitchel's success occurred as an older generation of Democrats, men like John Franklin Kinney, were returning to the private sector, having been eclipsed by Theodore Roosevelt and the progressive Republicans.

He rose to prominence just five years later, for leading the investigation of Manhattan Borough President John F. Ahern and Bronx Borough President Louis Haffin. Both of the Borough Presidents were ejected from their posts as a result of a full investigation, including the murder of a Manhattan gambler named Herman Rosenthal, allegedly on the orders of New York Police Lieutenant Charles Becker resulting in the controversial impeachment of William Sulzer, the Governor of New York State, after Sulzer fell out with Tammany boss Charles Francis Murphy. The young Purroy Mitchel's reputation as a reformer garnered him the support of the anti-Tammany forces. In 1909, Mitchel was elected President of the Board of Alderman (an organization similar to the current City Council).

Mayor Mitchel attending a baseball game at the Polo Grounds, 1916.

Four years later, at the age of 34, Mitchel was elected Mayor on the Fusion (Party) slate, an alliance of Republicans with Jewish and Protestant reformers. His progressive, reform agenda included appointing Henry Bruère Chamberlain of the City, with powers to investigate corruption and recommend reforms. Purroy Mitchel fell out with much of the Catholic hierarchy over positions in favor of ecumenism and his criticisms of the certain bishops' favoritism in municipal politics, although Mitchel was a devout Catholic and had his own Jesuit chaplain.[citation needed]

Mitchel's administration introduced widespread reforms, particularly in the Police Department, which had long been highly corrupt and which was cleaned up by Mitchel's Police Commissioner Arthur Wood. Mitchel's early popularity was soon dented, however, when Tammany Hall attacked a series of planned educational reforms, suggesting that they would make it impossible for poor Catholic children to receive a free education.

Mitchel advocated universal military training to prepare for war. In a speech at Princeton University on March 1, 1917, he described universal military training as "the [only] truly democratic solution to the problem of preparedness on land."[1]

Mitchel ran again for Mayor in the highly-charged wartime election of 1917. He narrowly lost the Republican primary to William Bennett after a contentious recount, but ran for re-election as a pro-war Fusion candidate against Bennett, the anti-war Socialist Morris Hillquit and the Tammany Hall Democrat John F. Hylan, who won the election without taking a clear position on the War. (Mitchel barely beat Hillquit for second place.)

After failing to get re-elected, Mitchel joined the Air Service. He died thirteen days short of his thirty-ninth birthday, in a training accident in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on July 6, 1918. Mitchel fell out of his aircraft at 500 feet and plummeted to the ground, dying instantly.[2] It was thought that he had forgotten to fasten his seat belt.


Philolexian Society (Columbia University); American Irish Historical Society.


John Purroy Mitchel memorial.

Mitchel Field (Mitchel Air Force Base) on Long Island was named for him in 1918.[citation needed] A bronze memorial plaque with Mitchel's likeness is also affixed between the two stone pylons at the western end of Hamilton Hall, the main college building at Columbia University.

See also

° William Brown Meloney (1878–1925), author of an unpublished manuscript on Mitchel's life


  1. ^ "Students Voice Approval of Mitchel's Plea for Universal Training". New York Times. March 2, 1917. Retrieved 2010-03-14. "The undergraduates of Princeton University who have already declared themselves in favor of universal military training vigorously voiced their approval when John Purroy Mitchel, Mayor of New York, made an urgent plea here tonight for immediate action toward greater military efficiency." 
  2. ^ "Belt Unfastened, Ex-mayor Mitchel Falls To Death. His Scout Plane 500 Feet From Ground When The Accident Happened. Find Body In Marsh Grass. Other Airmen Believe He Was Trying To Make Landing When He Fell. Wife Not On The Grounds. Bears Shock Bravely And Will Bring Body From Louisiana Field.To This City. Widow Hears The News. Joked About City Politics. Ex-mayor Mitchel Falls To Death.". New York Times. July 7, 1918. Retrieved 2010-03-14. "Major John Purroy Mitchel, former Mayor of New York City, and an officer in the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps, was instantly killed today when ..." 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Ardolph Loges Kline
Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
John F. Hylan

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