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Michael Joseph Kirwan (December 2, 1886 – July 27, 1970) was a United Statesmarker Democrat from Ohiomarker who served as a Representative to the United States Congress from 1937 to 1970 elected in the 19th electoral district of Ohio. At the peak of his long congressional career, Kirwan was hailed as one of the most influential Democratic members of Congress, particularly on matters related to conservation.

Early years

Kirwan was born in Wilkes-Barremarker, Luzerne County, Pennsylvaniamarker, a manufacturing town in northeastern Pennsylvaniamarker. In 1907, he relocated to Youngstown, Ohiomarker, a center of steel production located just west of the Pennsylvania border. During the First World War Kirwan served overseas as a sergeant in the Three Hundred and Forty-eighth Machine Gun Company with the Sixty-fourth Artillery, United States Army. Records indicate he served between 1917 and 1919.

Political career

Upon his return to Youngstown, Kirwan established himself as an outspoken proponent of a plan to construct a Lake Eriemarker to Ohio River canal – a proposal for which he would lobby tirelessly as Congressman from the 19th Congressional District of Ohio. Despite his later occupancy of important committee positions, however, Kirwan was unsuccessful in his efforts to achieve his most cherished goal as a lawmaker.

Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, Kirwan was successful in garnering substantial federal support for a variety of public works projects including dams, reservoir, public swimming pools, and public park facilities. In 1940, he also helped to secure government funding for the nation's first major housing project, Westlakes Housing Village (later known as Westlakes Terrace), which was situated west of downtown Youngstown. The housing project comprised 618 units capable of sheltering 2,500 people. Erected under government financing, the project received 90 percent of its funding ($2,862,000) on a 60-year loan basis. Upon its completion, Kirwan lauded the housing project as a welcome alternative to what had been a dilapidated residential district, and further declared that it would serve as a model for the nation.

In later years, Westlakes Terrace, like other low-income housing projects, yielded mixed results. The provision of cheap housing proved to be inadequate compensation for the loss of thousands of urban jobs, the decline of public transportation, the advent of suburbanization, and a host of other trends that adversely affected urban dwellers. Westlakes Terrace was recently converted to other purposes.

Powerful testimony to Kirwan's growing influence in the U.S. Congress came in 1948, when he was unanimously elected chairman of the National Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the first time a Northern Democrat had been named to that important post. In 1954, Kirwan was widely credited among Democratic Congressional leaders as the architect of the party's success in the November congressional elections. Despite his advancing years, he announced on December 3, 1957 (his 71st birthday) that he would seek a 12th term in Congress. The following year, Kirwan was among scores of Mahoning Valley Democratic candidates who secured sweeping victories; and in 1959, he was elected to his seventh term as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Final years

Among the highlights of Kirwan's later career was an event held in his honor at Youngstown's Idora Parkmarker Ballroom. The keynote speaker at that event was U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, who would run successfully as the Democratic presidential candidate the following year. In 1968, after being elected to his 17th term as a congressman, Kirwan announced that he would retire from public office at the close of his term. The following year, he was injured in a fall at the University Club at Washington, D.C., and was confined to Bethesda Naval Hospitalmarker. Kirwan experienced failing health for the next several months and died in Bethesda in 1970. His funeral was attended by more than 600 people, including a delegation of 50 members of Congress. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery, in Youngstown, Ohio.


While aspects of Kirwan's legacy have proved durable, the constituency he served was adversely affected by deindustrialization, which swept through much of northeastern Ohio starting in the late 1970s.

Election results

Year Democratic Republican Other
1968 'Michael J. Kirwan: 101,813 Donald J. Lewis: 44,363  
1966 'Michael J. Kirwan: 86,975 Donald J. Lewis: 34,037  
1964 'Michael J. Kirwan: 111,682 Albert James: 34,654  
1962 'Michael J. Kirwan: 75,967 William Vincent Williams: 46,200  
1960 'Michael J. Kirwan: 102,874 Paul E. Stevens: 46,537  
1958 'Michael J. Kirwan: 93,660 Loren E. Van Brocklin: 31,192  
1956 'Michael J. Kirwan: 92,924 Ralph E. Turner: 42,293  
1954 'Michael J. Kirwan: 81,304 David S. Edwards: 33,352  
1952 'Michael J. Kirwan: 91,074 Allen Russell: 46,202  
1950 'Michael J. Kirwan: 119,245 Henry P. Kosling: 67,661  
1948 'Michael J. Kirwan: 134,408 William Bacon: 63,079  
1946 'Michael J. Kirwan: 88,872 Norman W. Adams: 59,607  
1944 'Michael J. Kirwan: 120,191 Herschel Hunt: 69,403  
1942 'Michael J. Kirwan: 60,248 James T. Begg: 46,567  
1940 'Michael J. Kirwan: 122,075 Charles H. Anderson: 75,016  
1938 'Michael J. Kirwan: 76,268 William P. Barnum: 69,214  


  1. Aley (1975), p. 446.
  2. Aley (1975), p. 218.
  3. Aley (1975), p. 372.
  4. Aley (1975), p. 413.
  5. Aley (1975), p. 437.
  6. Aley (1975), p. 445.
  7. Aley (1975), p. 449.
  8. Aley (1975), p. 488.
  9. Aley (1975), p. 497.
  10. Aley (1975), p. 506.


  • Aley, Howard C. (1975). A Heritage to Share: The Bicentennial History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. Youngstown, OH: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County.

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