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George Cooper Pardee

In office
January 7, 1903 – January 9, 1907
Lieutenant Alden Anderson
Preceded by Henry Gage
Succeeded by James Gillett

In office
March 13, 1893 – March 10, 1895
Preceded by Melvin C. Chapman
Succeeded by John L. Davie

Born July 25, 1857(1857-07-25)
San Francisco, California
Died September 1, 1941 (aged 84)
Oakland, California
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Helen N. Pardee
Profession Doctor, politician

George Cooper Pardee (July 25, 1857  – September 1, 1941) was an American doctor of medicine and politician. The 21st Governor of California, holding office from January 7, 1903 to January 9, 1907, Pardee was the second native-born Californian to assume the governorship.



George Pardee was born in mid-1857 in San Francisco, California, the only child of Enoch H. Pardee and Mary Pardee. The Pardee family was well known in the San Francisco Bay Area. His father was a prominent oculist in San Francisco and Oakland. Enoch's stature within the community helped him get elected to the California State Assembly in the early 1870s, and later as the Mayor of Oakland for a single term from 1876 to 1878.

Raised in the Pardee Home in Oakland, George Pardee closely followed in his father's medical background. He attended the nearby University of California, Berkeley, then studied medicine at the Cooper Medical College in San Francisco. In 1885, Pardee traveled abroad to receive his medical degree at the University of Leipzig in the German Empire.[1] After his return from Germany, Pardee joined his father's medical practice, specializing in eye and ear diseases.

Like his father, Enoch, Pardee also developed an early interest in politics. By the early 1890s, Pardee had become an active member of the Republican Party, and was elected to the Oakland Board of Health and the Oakland City Council. In 1893, following a successful election, Pardee became the 29th Mayor of Oakland, serving a single two-year term until 1895.[1] During his mayoralship, Pardee began a public battle with the Southern Pacific Railroad's ownership of the Port of Oakland. At one point, Pardee kicked down a piece of the port's fence erected by the Southern Pacific out of anger.[2]

Pardee's quick rise in East Bay politics was noticed by the state Republican leadership in the 1902 general elections. Deeply embarrassed and financially hurt by the denials of an ongoing bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco's Chinatown by Governor Henry Gage, Republicans withdrew their support of Gage during the state convention.[3] The party, divided by Railroad Republicans with the backing of the Southern Pacific Railroad and Reform Republicans of the growing Progressive movement, nominated Pardee, due to his municipal and medical background, as a compromise candidate.[1] Despite clashes in the past with their interests, Southern Pacific Republicans believed Pardee the better candidate against the Democratic contender Franklin K. Lane, a San Francisco City Attorney and an ardent anti-Southern Pacific campaigner.

In the 1902 general elections, Pardee faced a four-way race between the Democrats' Lane, Socialist Gideon Brower and Prohibitionist Theodore Kanouse. Pardee barely edged over Lane, winning the governorship with a plurality of 0.9%. Less than 3,000 votes separated the two leading candidates.


Assuming the governorship on January 7, 1903, Pardee began an immediate program to eradicate San Francisco's bubonic plague outbreak. The plague had been present in the city since 1900, yet was institutionally denied by the previous administration of Henry Gage. As both a medicial physician and politician, Pardee realized the dire consequences both to the city's population and the state's economy, now under threats of a nationwide boycott. Pardee permitted state health officials and federal authorities of the Marine Hospital Service to stamp out the plague. By the end of 1904, the plague had been brought under control.[3] Nearly 200 deaths were attributed to the outbreak.


Conservation and education

President Theodore Roosevelt and Governor George Pardee together in 1904.

During his medical studies in the German Empire, Pardee was greatly influenced by Germany's push for higher education and environmental conservation during its rapid industrialization. Throughout his administration, Pardee strongly supported irrigation projects and waterworks throughout the Central Valley with the desire of increasing the state's agricultural output and providing safe drinking water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Pardee's progressive ideas regarding conservation and distrust of corporate monopolies quickly placed him as an ally of President Theodore Roosevelt. Both the governor and President Roosevelt enjoyed a good working relationship during their respective terms of office on the state and federal levels. On a visit to California in 1903, Pardee was asked by Roosevelt if he would be his running mate as Vice President for the 1904 presidential election. Pardee declined, instead continuing to take an active role in state politics.[4] Both Pardee and Roosevelt remained political allies for the next decade.

Since 1901, proposals for a state agricultural school had undergone discussion within the California State Legislature, yet no proposal had gained a serious following. Most agricultural studies in the state during the period were concentrated at UC Berkeley, but due to the climate of Berkeley, most studies remained strictly limited to organic and soil chemistry study and analysis. In 1903, an agricultural bill sponsoring a state agricultural school to give first-hand experience for future farmers passed the Legislature. Pardee vetoed the bill, explaining that he was not hostile to the idea of an agricultural school, but wanted a less vague proposal.[5]

The Legislature drafted a more detailed bill, the University Farm Bill, in 1905. In it, the bill specified that a future state agricultural school would need a location already irrigated, with provisions for ideal soil and climatic conditions, as well as water and land rights. Pardee agreed, and signed the bill into law. For the next year, an agricultural commission sponsored by Pardee investigated more than fifty sites from Glenn County to Fresno. In 1906, Pardee announced that he decided upon Davisville in Yolo County, located nearly fifteen miles southwest of the state capital of Sacramento.[6] Opened to students in 1908, the School of Agriculture quickly became one of the premier centers of agricultural study in the state. In 1959, the Regents of the University of California granted the school campus autonomy, designating it UC Davis.

The state of California's forests also came under Pardee's agenda. Shortly after the beginning of his administration, Pardee, with the help of Gifford Pinchot, ordered a joint state and federal commission to inspect and survey California's forests. In 1905, a State Forestry Act was passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, creating a Board of Forestry to monitor and supervise logging, land usage, and forest fires. The act, along with Pinchot's advocacy, helped influence President Roosevelt to transfer federal forest land over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, later becoming the National Forest Service.[7] Pardee's own Board of Forestry would later evolve into the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake

In the early morning hours of April 18, 1906 a magnitude 7.7 to 8.3 earthquake struck along the San Andreas Fault, with an epicenter two miles (thee km) from San Francisco, near Mussel Rock in neighboring San Mateo County. While cities as spread as Santa Rosa, San Jose and Palo Alto suffered considerable damage, San Francisco remained hardest hit, with resulting fires destroying much of the central core of the city.

As telegraphed reports slowly filtered into the Governor's Office in Sacramento, Pardee mobilized the California Army National Guard to be dispatched to San Francisco, though Pardee was unaware that federal troops of the U.S. Army, under the command Brigader General Frederick Funston, were already patrolling the streets.[8]

Pardee sought to take command of the situation himself, traveling to his native Oakland in the later afternoon to oversee the state response to the disaster. Making his headquarters in Oakland Mayor Frank K. Mott's office, Pardee worked twenty hour days during the disaster, signing travel permission papers, coordinating state and federal relief funds and trains, and remaining in contact with the outside world through Oakland's undamaged telegraph lines.[8] In addition, Pardee also visited other afflicted cities such as San Jose and Santa Rosa to tour and coordinate their own disaster responses.


Despite being heavily praised by the public for his handling of the state bureaucracy during the 1906 disaster, Pardee continued to have a strained relationship with the Southern Pacific Railroad, one that had been ongoing since the 1890s while he was Mayor of Oakland. Pardee's role in the burgeoning Progressive movement which distrusted large corporate monoplies, as well as his efforts to conserve and protect state forests, remained a constant thorn for Southern Pacific executives. A lengthy bitter battle over the Port of Oakland, which Pardee argued on behalf of Oakland that the port was a municipal rather than private corporation, dragged out for much of his governorship. The case was decided upon by the California Supreme Court in 1906, ruling in Oakland's favor.[9] Pardee also encouraged creation of new railroad companies to break the Southern Pacific's monopolies.[10]

Pardee as depicted by cartoonist George Herriman in 1906.

At the state Republican convention in Santa Cruz to nominate the party's candidate for the governorship in the 1906 general elections, Railroad Republicans led by party machine boss Abe Ruef, sought to strip Pardee of the nomination. Southern Pacific interests within the Republicans believed Pardee as too independent and troublesome. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 1, 1906, Pardee commented that "[I]t is evident that the Railroad machine and [Abe] Ruef did not want me to be governor again, and as they were in control of the convention, what kick have I coming?"[10]

Railroad Republicans, now dominating the Santa Cruz convention due to intense lobbying by Ruef, denied Pardee the nomination. Instead, Republicans and Southern Pacific supporters nominated U.S. House Representative James Gillett, a pro-railroad supporter. Pardee's loss of the nomination sparked anger amongst many Progressive Republican circles, fueling desires for Progressives to reform the political nomination process or to break away from the Republicans altogether.[11] In 1912, a party split occurred with the creation of the Bull Moose Party, led by Theodore Roosevelt and California Governor Hiram Johnson, who himself would lead Progressives to control the Legislature and Governor's Office throughout much of the 1910s.

In his farewell address to the California State Legislature in January 1907, Pardee demanded that the Legislature take up calls for creating a direct primary law.


Leaving the governorship in 1907, Pardee remained publicly active, returning to his native Oakland to become a co-founder of the state Bull Moose Party in 1912. In 1920, he was invited to become Commodore of the Oakland Yacht Club, a position he would enjoy again between 1925 to 1928.[4] In years following his governorship, Pardee lobbied intensely for a water district specifically for the East Bay. In 1921, the Legislature passed the Municipal Utility District Act, and two years later, the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) was organized. Pardee would administer EBMUD from 1924 until shortly before his death in 1941.[12]

In 1927, Oakland citizens awarded Pardee as a founding commissioner to the Port of Oakland due to his lengthy battle to remove the Southern Pacific monopoly over the waterfront.

Pardee died in Oakland on September 1, 1941 at the age of 84.

The Pardee family


Pardee met his future wife Helen N. Pardee at Oakland High School in the 1870s, graduating together in 1875. Helen was a school teacher, photographer, and art collector.

The Pardees had four daughters, Florence, Caroline, Madeline and Helen. Florence Pardee was killed in a car accident in 1910. Caroline Pardee died from the Spanish Flu in 1920.[13] Surviving daughters Madeline and Helen would continue to own and live in the family's Pardee Home until Helen Pardee's death in 1981. The Pardee Home opened as a public museum in 1991.


Unlike his predecessor Henry Gage and his successor James Gillett, Pardee's governorship has been generally well regarded amongst historians. His efforts of conservation and education have proved to be long standing, such as the creations of bodies that would later become UC Davis and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Despite their initial suppot of his nomination in 1902, Pardee's near-constant resistance to the Southern Pacific Railroad has spared his reputation of criticism for being too close to rail monoplies. State historians from the California Secretary of State's office wrote that between Gage, Pardee and Gillett, "only Pardee can be considered an honest earnest administrator."[14]

Environmental historian Philip L. Fradkin has cited Pardee as one of the unsung heroes of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. "Pardee lacked a glamorous frontline role, and he was criticized for not dashing in the flame-licked streets. With a large staff imported from Sacramento, the governor was the expediter of paper; in every great disaster there needs to be at least one such competent bureaucrat."[8]

Pardee was also the first governor to reside in the California Governor's Mansion. The mansion would continue to be lived in by the state executive until the governorship of Ronald Reagan.

The Pardee Home, located in downtown Oakland, remains a tourist attraction in the center of the city, hosting tours and speaking events.

The Pardee Dam and the adjacent Pardee Reservoir along the Mokelumne River are named after the governor.

The old Governor's Office within the California State Capitol is refurbished to appear as it did during the time of George Pardee's governorship in 1906.


  1. ^ a b c "Governor George C. Pardee". Governor's Office, State of California. 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  2. ^ "The Port and You". Port of Oakland. 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  3. ^ a b "Public Health Politics and the San Francisco Plague Epidemic of 1900-1904". Mark Skubik, Department of History, San Jose State University. 2002. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  4. ^ a b "History". Oakland Yacht Club. 2005-02-03. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  5. ^ "University of California History. Davis: Historical Perspective". University of California. 2004-06-18. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  6. ^ "University of California History. Davis: Historical Perspective". University of California. 2004-06-18. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  7. ^ "CDF, A History". Mark V. Thornton, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. 2006-11-26. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  8. ^ a b c Philip F. Fradkin (2006) [2005]. The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0520248201.  
  9. ^ "The Port and You". Port of Oakland. 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  10. ^ a b "The Direct Primary, A Critical Step for California Progressivism". Steve Brady, San Francisco State University. 1995. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  11. ^ "The Direct Primary, A Critical Step for California Progressivism". Steve Brady, San Francisco State University. 1995. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  12. ^ "History". The Pardee Home Museum. 2003. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  13. ^ "History". Oakland Tribune. 2003-10-21. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  
  14. ^ "Turn of the Century California". LearnCalifornia.Org, California Secretary of State. 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-01.  

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Melvin C. Chapman
Mayor of Oakland
March 13, 1893 – March 10, 1895
Succeeded by
John L. Davie
Preceded by
Henry Tifft Gage
Governor of California
January 7, 1903 – January 9, 1907
Succeeded by
James Norris Gillett


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