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David Ignatius Walsh (1872-1947) was a United Statesmarker politician from Massachusettsmarker. He was a member of the Democratic Party.

Youth and education

Walsh was born in Leominstermarker, Worcester Countymarker, Massachusettsmarker, on November 11, 1872, the ninth of ten children. He attended the public schools there and later in Clinton, Massachusettsmarker. His parents were poor Irish Catholic immigrants. His father, a comb maker, died when Walsh was twelve. Thereafter, his mother ran a boarding house. He graduating from Clinton High School in 1890. He then graduated from Holy Crossmarker in 1893 and from Boston University Law Schoolmarker in 1897. He was admitted to the bar and commenced the practice of law in Fitchburg, Massachusettsmarker in 1897, later practicing in Bostonmarker.

Political career

Walsh was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives for two terms in 1900 and 1901. Right from the start of his political career, he trumpeted his anti-imperialist and isolationist sympathies by opposing America's authority over the Philippinesmarker as part of the settlement of the Spanish-American War. His vote to restrict the hours that women and children could work to fifty-eight led to his defeat when he sought another term.

He next lost the race for Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in 1910, but ran again and won in 1912. He became the first Irishmarker and the first Catholic Governor of Massachusetts in 1914, serving two one-year terms.

As Governor, he fought hard for a Women's suffrage Amendment to the Massachusetts constitution, but this effort failed. He also led the way toward establishing stricter film censorship in Massachusetts after large protests were mounted against the racial depictions in D. W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation.

He was a delegate at large to the Massachusetts constitutional convention in 1917 and 1918.

He was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1919, to March 3, 1925. He was first Irish-Catholic Senator from Massachusetts. A noted orator especially early in his career, his finest moment may have come when he introduced Éamon de Valera at Fenway Parkmarker on June 29, 1919.

He failed to win reelection in 1924, the year of the Coolidge landslide, and briefly resumed the practice of law in Boston.

In 1926 he won election to the United States Senate once more to complete the two years remaining in the term of Henry Cabot Lodge, whose seat had been filled upon his death on Nov. 10, 1924 by the gubernatorial appointment of Republican William Butler. He took his seat on December 6, 1926. He won reelection in 1928, 1934 and 1940, failing in his final bid for reelection in 1946. During his Senate service, he held the posts of chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor (Seventy-third and Seventy-fourth Congresses) and of the Committee on Naval Affairs (Seventy-fourth through Seventy-seventh and Seventy-ninth Congresses).

He was a notable voice for civil rights and labor. He objected to Justice Hugo Black's membership in the Ku Klux Klan in his youth and promoted the appointment of Jews to the judiciary when that was novel, notably that of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.

In the Senate, he was an isolationist, opposing an American alliance with the United Kingdommarker up to the attack on Pearl Harbormarker. Walsh was a leading member of the America First movement, opposing U.S. involvement in WW II.

On May 7, 1942, the New York Post, which had long favored U.S. involvement in the European conflict, implicated Walsh in a sensational sex and spy scandal uncovered at a Brooklyn male brothel for U.S. Navy personnel that had been infiltrated by Nazi spies. The charges went unreported by the rest of the press, but word of mouth made it, according to Time magazine, "one of the worst scandals that ever affected a member of the Senate."

President Roosevelt assumed there was truth to the charges since, as he told Vice President Henry Wallace, "everyone knew" about Walsh's homosexuality. An FBI investigation produced no evidence to support the Post's specific charges, though there was much "derogatory information" that could have been used against Walsh.

Walsh himself called the Post story "a diabolical lie" and demanded a full investigation. On May 20, 1942, with a full report from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in hand, Sen. Alben W. Barkley, the Senate majority leader addressed the Senate at length on the irresponsibility of the Post, the laudable restraint of the rest of the press, the details of the FBI's report, and the Senate's affirmation of Walsh's "unsullied" reputation.Isolationists senators promptly denounced the charges as an attack on their political position. Senator Bennett Clark even asserted that Morris Ernst, attorney for the Post had contacted the White House trying to engage the administration in efforts to smear FDR's opposition. Senator Nye contended this was part of a larger effort on the part of a "secret society" that for two years had been trying to discredit him and his fellow isolationists.

Those senatorial speeches gave the press permission to cover the affair at last. Time magazine, another opponent of Walsh's foreign policy positions, devised an inconclusive summary: "The known facts made only one thing indisputable: either a serious scandal was being hushed up or a really diabolical libel had been perpetrated."

While the truth of the Post's specific allegations appears doubtful, no one disputes the underlying fact that Walsh was homosexual. Yet no one in politics or the press, the Post excepted, was prepared to make an issue of it against the aged senator.As late as 1962, FDR's Attorney General Francis Biddle addressed the subject discreetly. He described Walsh in the mid-1930s as "an elderly politician with a soft tread and low, colorless voice...whose concealed and controlled anxieties not altogether centered on retaining his job." (emphasis added). Biddle, 202

Walsh had not been enthusiastic about FDR running for a third term and was even less favorably disposed to a fourth term. Given his poor relationship with the White House, Walsh anticipated that the administration might even support an opponent in a Democratic primary when he next ran for reelection. He faced no such primary challenge, but was soundly defeated in his 1946 race for reelection by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr..

Personal Life

Walsh never married. He and his brother Thomas (deceased 1931) supported their four unmarried sisters, two of whom outlived the Senator.

Upon his retirement from political office he resided in Clinton, Mass.marker, until his death following a cerebral hemorrhage in Boston on June 11, 1947.


Walsh is buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Clinton, Mass.

A bronze statue of Walsh by Joseph Coletti was erected near the Music Oval on Boston's Charles River Esplanade in 1954. It bears the motto: "non sibi sed patriae," a tribute to his service to the U.S. Navy while in the Senate.



  • Biddle, Francis, In Brief Authority, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1962)
  • Charles, Douglas M., J. Edgar Hoover and the Anti-interventionists: FBI Political Surveillance and the Rise fof the Domestic Security State, (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2007)
  • City of Boston: "Charles River Esplanade Study Report as amended June 23, 2009"
  • Fleming, Thomas, The New Dealers' War: F.D.R, and the War within World War II (Basic Books, 2001) ISBN 0465024653
  • Gentry, Curt, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, (NY: W.W. Norton, 1991)
  • Hanify, Edward B., Memories of a Senator: The Honorable David I. Walsh (Boston, MA?, 1994?)
  • Irish Heritage Trail: Irish Heritage Trail, Boston
  • Mallan, John P. Review of Dorothy G. Wayman's David I. Walsh: Citizen-Patriot, The New England Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 1. (March 1953), 126-128
  • New York Times: Ex-Senator Walsh Dies at Age of 74, June 12, 1947
  • New York Times: FBI Clears Walsh, Barkley Asserts, May 21, 1942
  • O'Toole, David Outing the Senator: Sex, Spies, and Videotape (privately published, 2005) ISBN 097719700X
  • TIME: The Press: The Case of Senator X, June 1, 1942, accessed Dec. 1, 2009
  • Wayman, Dorothy G. David I. Walsh: Citizen-Patriot (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1952)

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