James Benjamin Aswell

James Benjamin Aswell

James Benjamin Aswell, Sr. (December 23, 1869 – March 16, 1931) was a prominent educator and a Democratic U.S. representative from Louisiana, who served from 1913 until his death, which occurred twelve days into his tenth term.

Aswell was born in the Vernon community in rural Jackson Parish in north Louisiana to Benjamin W. Aswell and the former Elizabeth A. Lyles. He attended local schools and graduated with teaching credentials in 1892 from Peabody College, a division of Vanderbilt University, (then Peabody Normal College) in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1893, he received the bachelor of arts degree from the former University of Nashville. In 1894, he received his Master of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; in 1907, he obtained his law degree from the same institution. He was twice married: (1) to the former Mary Lee Wright by whom he had his daughter Corinne, and (2) to the former Ella Foster of Mineral Wells, Texas, and thereafter Shreveport, by whom he had his son, James B. Aswell, Jr. (1906-1955), an author based in Natchitoches.

He began his career in education as a teacher in country schools and high schools. He was a state school administrator before he was tapped to be the president of Louisiana Tech University (then Louisiana Polytechnic Institute) in Ruston, the seat of Lincoln Parish, from 1900-1904. Thereafter, he was the Louisiana state superintendent of education from 1904-1908. As superintendent, he worked to reorganize public schools. He was then the president of Northwestern State University (then Louisiana State Normal School) in Natchitoches from 1908-1911.

Aswell resigned as the Northwestern president to run unsuccessfully for governor in the 1911 Democratic primary. He was defeated by Luther E. Hall, who served in the state's highest office from 1912-1916.

Thereafter, he was elected to the U.S. House in 1912 from the Natchitoches and Alexandria-based District 8 and was reelected nine times. He served during the administrations of Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert C. Hoover. During the 1920s, he was the ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee. He worked with the Louisiana naturalist Caroline Dormon to establish the Kisatchie National Forest in his district. He was a strong opponent of Republican President Hoover, whom many Democrats blamed for the Great Depression, which had barely begun when Aswell died. Hoover nevertheless signed Aswell's legislation to designate the Kisatchie Forest. Aswell tried to pass various "drought-relief" measures in the House even before the Dust Bowl engulfed many Great Plains states.

At the time of his death, Aswell was the dean of the Louisiana congressional delegation. He left an unfinished novel "White Sheep" based on the politics of Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Pierce Long, Jr.He died in Washington, D.C., and is interred there in Rock Creek Cemetery. Aswell Hall on the Louisiana Tech campus honors his memory. His papers are in the archives of Northwestern State University.

References

*"James Benjamin Aswell, Sr., "A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography", Vol. 1 (1988), p. 22
*CongBio|A000321|name=ASWELL, James Benjamin|inline=1
* [http://www.nsula.edu/watson_library/cghrc_core/aswell_james.htm Library Home NSU Home ] at www.nsula.edu
* [http://www.lib.lsu.edu/special/guides/long.html LSU Libraries -- Long Family Manuscripts ] at www.lib.lsu.edu
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6416965 James Aswell] at Find-A-Grave


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