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Lester Callaway Hunt


In office
January 3, 1949 – June 19, 1954
Preceded by Edward V. Robertson
Succeeded by Edward D. Crippa

In office
1943 – 1949
Preceded by Frank E. Lucas
Succeeded by Arthur G. Crane

Born July 8, 1892(1892-07-08)
Isabel, Illinois
Died June 19, 1954 (aged 62)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic

Lester Callaway Hunt (July 8, 1892–June 19, 1954) was a Democratic politician and dentist from the U.S. state of Wyoming. He served as the 19th Governor of Wyoming from 1943 to 1949 and as United States Senator from January 3, 1949 until his suicide on June 19, 1954.[1]

Hunt was born in Isabel, Illinois and worked as a switchman on a railroad to put himself through dental school at St. Louis University. Prior to dental school, Hunt attended and graduated from Wesleyan University. Upon graduation from dental school in 1917, he moved to Lander, Wyoming, where he briefly established a dental practice before joining the United States Army Dental Corps when the United States entered World War I. Hunt served in the Dental Corps from 1917 to 1919 and rose to the rank of major. After postgraduate study at Northwestern University in 1920, Hunt resumed his practice in Lander and served as president of Wyoming State Board of Dental Examiners from 1924 to 1928.[2]

Hunt was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives from Fremont County in 1933. He subsequently served two terms as Wyoming Secretary of State from 1935 to 1943, and two terms as governor from 1943 to 1949. He is credited with the idea for the Bucking Horse and Rider that has been featured on the Wyoming license plate since the 1930s.[3]

Hunt was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1948, taking office on January 3, 1949. During his tenure in the Senate, Hunt became a bitter enemy of Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, and his criticism of McCarthy's anticommunist tactics marked him as a prime target in the 1954 election.[1]

Blackmail and death

In July 1953, Hunt's twenty-year-old son was arrested for soliciting prostitution from a male undercover police officer in Lafayette Square. Republicans learned of this and delivered a blackmail demand in early 1954:[4] Hunt was to retire from the Senate and not run for re-election. Furthermore, he was to resign from the Senate immediately, so the Republican governor could appoint a Republican to run as an incumbent. If Hunt refused, Wyoming voters would be informed of the arrest of Hunt's son. On June 8, 1954, after some vacillation, Hunt announced that he would not seek reelection, citing a kidney ailment.[5] Eleven days later, he shot himself in his Senate office.[1] Although The New York Times attributed Hunt's suicide to "apparent despondency over his health",[6] journalist Drew Pearson published a column stating that Senators Styles Bridges (R-NH) and Herman Welker (R-ID) had delivered the ultimatum to Hunt.[7][8]

Some prominent Wyoming historians also cite as a possible tipping point to Hunt's suicide a second issue. Hunt's suicide was on the Saturday following an incident where Senator Joseph McCarthy accused Hunt of defrauding his state's government of royalty monies from a Works Project Administration project. The issue arose from Hunt copyrighting the Wyoming Guidebook on his own after the Governor and Legislature failed to act to preserve Wyoming's intellectual property. Records indicate that all of the quarterly checks of $3.50 issued to Hunt were endorsed and turned over to the state treasurer.

Republican Edward D. Crippa was appointed to fill the remainder of Hunt's Senate term.[9] Democrat Joseph C. O'Mahoney won the seat in the general election of November 1954,[10] which tipped the Senate to a one vote Democratic majority.

This blackmail and eventual suicide in a Senator's office was fictionalized by Allen Drury in his 1959 best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Advise and Consent. Drury transferred the homosexual incident of Hunt's son to Senator "Brigham Anderson" from Utah, with the blackmailing Senator "Fred Van Ackerman" from Wyoming. In 1962 the novel was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda.

Hunt's anti-McCarthyism and his son's homosexuality are mentioned in Thomas Mallon's 2007 novel Fellow Travelers. The novel examines the government's attitude towards homosexuality in the 1950s. Mallon uses Hunt's suicide to reflect the damage that could result from the persecutions.

References

Political offices
Preceded by
Nels H. Smith
Governor of Wyoming
1943 – 1949
Succeeded by
Arthur Griswold Crane
United States Senate
Preceded by
Edward V. Robertson
United States Senator (Class 2) from Wyoming
1949 – 1954
Served alongside: Joseph C. O'Mahoney, Frank A. Barrett
Succeeded by
Edward D. Crippa
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