James Michael Curley: Wikis


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James Michael Curley

In office
January 3, 1935 – January 7, 1937
Lieutenant Joseph L. Hurley
Preceded by Joseph B. Ely
Succeeded by Charles F. Hurley

In office
March 4, 1911 – March 3, 1913
Preceded by Joseph F. O'Connell
Succeeded by William Francis Murray

In office
March 4, 1913 – February 4, 1914
Preceded by John W. Weeks
Succeeded by James A. Gallivan

In office
January 3, 1943 – January 3, 1947
Preceded by Thomas A. Flaherty
Succeeded by John F. Kennedy

In office
1914 – 1918
Preceded by John F. Fitzgerald
Succeeded by Andrew James Peters

In office
1922 – 1926
Preceded by Andrew James Peters
Succeeded by Malcolm Nichols

In office
1930 – 1934
Preceded by Malcolm Nichols
Succeeded by Frederick Mansfield

In office
1946 – 1950
Preceded by John E. Kerrigan
Succeeded by John Hynes

Born November 20, 1874(1874-11-20)
Boston, Massachusetts
Died November 12, 1958 (aged 83)
Boston, Massachusetts
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mary Curley
Gertrude Curley
Religion Roman Catholic

James Michael Curley (November 20, 1874-November 12, 1958) was an American politician who served in the United States House of Representatives, as the mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, and as Governor of Massachusetts.


Early Life

Curley was born to immigrants from County Galway, Ireland. His father Michael Curley (1850-1884) settled in Roxbury in 1864 and worked as an unskilled laborer. He died after lifting a heavy object and spending three days in a coma. His mother Sarah (née Clancy in 1851), who also arrived in 1864, scrubbed floors for a living. His parents married in 1870. He had two brothers: John (1872) and Michael (1879), who died at 2½. James married Mary Emelda Herlihy (1884-1930) in 1906 and Gertrude Casey Dennis in 1937, on his last day as governor.

He served in various municipal offices and one term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1902-1903). He is noted for having been elected to the Board of Aldermen in 1904 while in prison, having been convicted of fraud. Curley and an associate, Thomas Curley (no relation) took the civil service exams for postmen for two men in their district to help them get the jobs with the federal government. Though the incident gave him a dark reputation in respectable circles, it aided his image in working class or poor circles because they saw him as a man willing to stick his neck out to help a poor man. [1]

First Election to the U.S. House

James Michael Curley in his first term as a Member of Congress in 1912.

In 1910 while a Member of the Board of Aldermen for the City of Boston, Curley decided to run for the 10th District Congressional seat then occupied by Joseph F. O'Connell. (In the previous general election O'Connell won by a four vote margin over his Republican opponent[2], Ex-City Clerk J. Mitchel Galvin.)[3] In a three way primary between Curley, O'Connell and O'Connell's predecessor William S. McNary, Curley defeated O'Connell[4] and McNary. After winning the nomination of the Democratic party Curley went on to win the general election.[5] by a substantial plurality.[6]

Mayor of Boston

Curley served four terms as Mayor of Boston: 1914-1918, 1922-1926, 1930-1934 and 1946-1950.[7] During his second term in the House of Representatives, Curley's popularity in Boston remained high, even in the face of a felony indictment in 1943 for influence peddling, which stemmed from his involvement with a consulting firm seeking to secure defense contracts. On the slogan "Curley Gets Things Done" he won an unprecedented fourth term as mayor of Boston in 1945. A second indictment by a federal grand jury, for mail fraud, did not harm his campaign and Curley won the election with 45% of the vote.[8] In June 1947, he was sentenced to 6-18 months in a federal prison in Connecticut. John B. Hynes, who would defeat Curley for re-election, served as acting mayor during his absence. Curley spent five months in prison before being pardoned by President Truman, under pressure from the Massachusetts congressional delegation. A crowd of thousands greeted Curley upon his return to Boston, with a brass band playing "Hail to the Chief".[8] After his first day back in office, Curley told reporters, "I have accomplished more in one day than has been done in the five months of my absence."[8] Hynes, the city clerk, had intentionally held many large items in limbo until Curley's release from prison so the mayor could handle them himself. Insulted by Curley's remark, Hynes decided to run for mayor in the 1949 election.[8]

Governor of Massachusetts

James Michael Curley in his second term as Mayor of Boston, in 1922.

Curley ran for Governor of Massachusetts in 1934, and this time he won, having lost in 1924. Over the course of his term, Curley's extravagant personal spending and expensive vacations showed, however, that he had lost touch with his constituents. A series of scandals rocked his administration, including the involvement of his state limousine in several traffic accidents, the alleged sale of pardons to state convicts, and the appointment of scores of poorly qualified individuals to public offices.

In the late 1930s Curley's political fortunes began to ebb. Denied Franklin Delano Roosevelt's endorsement in the 1936 senatorial election, he lost against a moderate Republican, Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr. In 1937 and 1940 one of Curley's former political confidants, Maurice J. Tobin, twice defeated him for the Boston mayoralty, and in 1938 Leverett Saltonstall turned back Curley's attempt to recapture the Massachusetts governorship. After leaving the office of governor, he squandered a substantial sum of money in unsuccessful investments in Nevada gold mines; then he lost a civil suit brought by the Suffolk County prosecutor that forced him to forfeit to the city of Boston the amount of money he received from General Equipment Company for "fixing" a damage claim settlement.

In 1942, however, Curley managed to revive his faltering career by returning to Congress, serving from 1943 to 1947, this time in the 11th district. In defeating Thomas H. Eliot, a former New Deal attorney with an exemplary voting record on behalf of the Roosevelt administration, Curley based his campaign on appeals to ethnic and religious prejudice. Once back in Congress, he compiled a voting record that matched his former opponent's in support of the Roosevelt administration's social agenda.

Democratic National Convention

Denied a place in the Massachusetts delegation to the 1932 Democratic National Convention, Curley managed to be chosen a delegate from Porto Rico (the name was changed to "Puerto Rico" later in 1932). Some say his support was instrumental in winning the presidential nomination for Franklin D. Roosevelt, but he broke with Roosevelt after the President refused to appoint him Ambassador to Ireland. [9]

End of career

Statues of Curley near Boston City Hall.

A failed mayoral bid in 1951 marked the end of his serious political career, although he continued to support other candidates and remain active within the Democratic Party, and even ran for mayor one last time in 1955. That was his 10th time running for Boston's mayor. His death in Boston led to one of the largest funerals in the city's history.

Curley had an unusually tragic personal life. He outlived his first wife Mary Emelda (née Herlihy) who died in 1930 after a long battle with cancer, and seven of his nine children. Twin sons John and Joseph died in infancy. Daughter Dorothea died of pneumonia as a teenager. His namesake, James Jr., who was being groomed as Curley's political successor, died at 21 following an operation to remove a gallstone. Son Paul, who had a drinking problem, died while Curley ran for mayor in 1945. His remaining daughter Mary died of a stroke in February, 1950 and when her brother Leo was called to the scene he became so distraught that he, too, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died the same day, at age 34. Two remaining sons George (1919-1983) and Francis X. (1923-1992) outlived Curley.

Curley is honored with not one, but two statues at Faneuil Hall, across from Boston's new City Hall. One shows him seated on a park bench, the other shows him standing, as if giving a speech, a campaign button on his lapel. A few feet away is a bar named for one of his symbols, The Purple Shamrock.

His house, known in his time as "the house with the shamrock shutters," located at 350 The Jamaicaway, is now a city historical site.

In popular culture

  • Curley is considered the inspiration for the protagonist Frank Skeffington in the novel and film The Last Hurrah by Edwin O'Connor. When asked his favorite part of the book, he responded "The part where I die."
  • Curley was the inspiration for the song The Rascal King on the album Let's Face It by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
  • Since Curley, every Boston Mayor has been driven in a car with the license registration 576 - which were the corresponding numbers for his first, middle, and last name. James (5) Michael (7) Curley (6).[10][11]
  • The Curley family still holds Massachusetts auto registration number 5.[12]

Curley appeared at the Harvard University commencement ceremony in 1935 in his role as Governor wearing silk stockings, knee britches, a powdered wig, and a three-cornered hat with flowing plume. When University marshals objected to his costume, the story goes, Curley whipped out a copy of the Statutes of the Massachusetts Bay Colony which prescribed proper dress for the occasion and claimed that he was the only person at the ceremony properly dressed.


  1. ^ Who's who in State Politics, 1912, Boston, MA: Practical Politics, (1912), p. 17.  
  2. ^ Foss Wins By 22,000 In Massachusetts; But the Rest of the Democratic State Ticket Has Probably Been Defeated., New York, NY: The New York Times, November 9, 1910, p. 2.  
  3. ^ Galvin May Contest It; Recount Shows O'Connell Elected by Four Votes. Appeal to Congress Suggested By Republican's Lieutenants. McGonagle Displaces Pettiti as Representative in Ward 6. ORIGINAL RECPOUT Contest May Go to Congress. Tie Feared Till the Last. Down to Last Precinct, Boston, MA: The Boston Globe, November 11, 1908, p. 11.  
  4. ^ Both Lose Renomination: Keliher and O'Connell Defeated in Massachusetts Primaries. Majority of the Delegates to Democratic State Convention Will Go Uninstructed., Washington, DC: The Washington Post, September 28, 1910, p. 3.  
  5. ^ Beatty, Jack (2000), The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1874-1958), Cambridge, MA; New York, NY: Da Capo Press, pp. 114–117.  ISBN 0306810026
  6. ^ Foss Wins By 22,000 In Massachusetts; But the Rest of the Democratic State Ticket Has Probably Been Defeated., New York, NY: The New York Times, November 9, 1910, p. 2.  
  7. ^ Municipal Register For 1922, Boston, MA: City of Boston Printing Department, (1922), p. frontpiece  
  8. ^ a b c d O'Connor, T.H. (1997). Boston Irish: A Political History. New York: Back Bay Books.
  9. ^ http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404701607.html
  10. ^ http://www.thingstodo.com/states/MA/facts.htm
  11. ^ http://www.funtrivia.com/en/History/Massachusetts-3980.html
  12. ^ http://www.jphs.org/people/2005/4/14/james-michael-curley-and-the-5-license-plate.html


  • Beatty, Jack.: The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley, 1874-1958. (1992). 571 pp.
  • City of Boston Statistics Deptartment Municipal Register for 1922 (1922) Frontpiece.
  • Connolly, Michael C. "The First Hurrah: James Michael Curley Versus the "Goo-goos" in the Boston Mayoralty Election of 1914." Historical Journal of Massachusetts 2002 30(1): 50-74. ISSN 0276-8313.
  • Connolly, James J. "Reconstituting Ethnic Politics: Boston, 1909-1925." Social Science History (1995) 19(4): 479-509. ISSN 0145-5532.
  • Curley, James Michael, I'd Do It Again autobiography.
  • Dineen, Joseph F., The Purple Shamrock (1949), an authorized biography
  • Kenneally, James. "Prelude to the Last Hurrah: the Massachusetts Senatorial Election of 1936." Mid-America 1980 62(1): 3-20. ISSN 0026-2927.
  • Lapomarda, Vincent A. "Maurice Joseph Tobin: the Decline of Bossism in Boston." New England Quarterly (1970) 43(3): 355-381. ISSN 0028-4866.
  • Lennon, Thomas, producer, Scandalous Mayor. Film. 58 min.; Thomas Lennon Productions, 1991. Distrib. by PBS Video, Alexandria
  • Luthin, Reinhard H., American Demagogues: Twentieth Century (1954) ch. 2.
  • Piehler, G. Kurt. "Curley, James Michael" in American National Biography, 2000, American Council of Learned Societies.
  • Steinberg, Alfred. The Bosses: Frank Hague, James Curley, Ed Crump, Huey Long, Gene Talmadge, Tom Pendergast - The Story of the Ruthless Men who Forged the American Political Machines that Dominated the Twenties and Thirties Macmillan, 1972.
  • Who's who in State Politics, 1912 Practical Politics (1912) p. 24.
  • Zolot, Herbert Marshall. "The Issue of Good Government and James Michael Curley: Curley and the Boston Scene from 1897-1918." Ph D Dissertation State U. of New York, Stony Brook 1975. 635 pp. Citation: DAI 1975 36(2): 1053-A.

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Joseph F. O'Connell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 10th congressional district

March 4, 1911–March 4, 1913
Succeeded by
William Francis Murray
Preceded by
John W. Weeks
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 12th congressional district

March 4, 1913–February 4, 1914
Succeeded by
James A. Gallivan
Preceded by
Thomas A. Flaherty
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 11th congressional district

January 3, 1943–January 3, 1947
Succeeded by
John F. Kennedy
Political offices
Preceded by
John F. Fitzgerald
Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Andrew J. Peters
Preceded by
Andrew J. Peters
Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Malcolm Nichols
Preceded by
Malcolm Nichols
Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Frederick Mansfield
Preceded by
Joseph B. Ely
Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Charles F. Hurley
Preceded by
John E. Kerrigan
Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts
Succeeded by
John Hynes


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