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William Jason Fields (December 29, 1874 October 21, 1954) was a U.S. Representative and the forty-first Governor of Kentucky. An early defeat for a seat in the state legislature convinced Fields that a slow climb through the political ranks was not the way to attain his goal of becoming governor of his home state. Instead, he became a traveling grocery salesman, using his travels to meet and befriend citizens of the Commonwealth. Under the slogan "Honest Bill from Olive Hill," he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1911. He was the first Democrat to win Kentucky's Ninth district in two decades.

When the winner of the 1923 Democratic gubernatorial primary died unexpectedly, Fields was chosen to head the ticket. He won a landslide victory over his Republican opponent, and resigned his seat in the House to assume his duties as governor on December 11, 1923. Internal improvements and advancements in education were hallmarks of Fields' tenure as governor, though arguably his most significant accomplishment was preserving Cumberland Fallsmarker from development by utility companies.

Unable to reclaim his seat in the House following his term as governor, Fields was admitted to the bar and began a law practice. He was chosen to serve on administrative boards in the state government, but never again rose to high political prominence. Following a brief relocation to Florida, Fields returned to Kentucky, where he died in 1954.

Early life

William Jason Fields was born December 29, 1874 in Willard, Carter Countymarker, Kentuckymarker, the fourth of twelve children born to Christopher C. and Alice (Rucker) Fields. He was educated in the public schools of Carter County, then attended the University of Kentuckymarker. He studied law, owned a real estate business and engaged in agricultural pursuits in Olive Hill, Kentuckymarker.

On October 10, 1893, Fields married Dora McDavid. The couple had six children. At age 21, he was elected constable of Carter County, but was unable to win a seat in the General Assembly three years later. This caused him to abandon the idea of a slow climb up the political ladder. Instead, he began working as a salesman for a grocery company in Ashland, Kentuckymarker, a job that allowed him to travel the state and win many friends.

Political career

In 1911, Fields decided to run for a seat in the United States House of Representatives from Kentucky's Ninth District. During the campaign, he was given the nickname "Honest Bill from Olive Hill." Fields won the election, becoming the first Democrat the district had elected to the House in twenty years. He served seven consecutive terms, beginning March 4, 1911, eventually becoming the ranking minority member on the Military Affairs Committee and the ranking member of a subcommittee that handled appropriations needs during World War I.

In September 1923 J. Campbell Cantrill, the Democratic nominee for governor of Kentucky, died suddenly and unexpectedly. The runner-up in the primary, Alben Barkley, refused the nomination, so the Democratic Central Committee chose Fields to replace Cantrill. He defeated his Republican opponent, Charles I. Dawson, by almost 50,000 votes and resigned his seat in the House to accept the position of governor on December 11, 1923.

During his tenure, Fields oversaw saw many improvements in education, including the founding of a state trade school for blacks in Paducahmarker, the planning of two normal schools at Murraymarker and Moreheadmarker, consolidation of the schools in Mason Countymarker and authorization of the first phase of a plan for busing school children. He secured passage of an increase in the gasoline tax to fund a major highway system and a state purchasing commission and the state parks commission were created during his administration. Fields staved off an effort to utilize Cumberland Fallsmarker for hydroelectric power generation by availing himself of an offer by T. Coleman du Pont to purchase the land and donate it to the state. Fields also suggested the creation of Carter Caves State Resort Parkmarker in his home county.

A Methodist, Fields forbade alcohol and dancing from the Governor's Mansionmarker. His appointment of his sons to low-level government positions, however, drew charges of nepotism from political opponents. Political opposition arose from within his own party and he was eventually blamed for a number of corrupt practices, including the excessive issuing of pardons.

Later life and death

Following his term as governor, Fields' old seat in the House was vacated when President Franklin D. Roosevelt elevated Representative Fred M. Vinson to a federal judgeship. Fields launched a bid to return to his seat, but was defeated in the Democratic primary. After this defeat, he returned to Olive Hill where he was admitted to the bar in 1927. He served as the Commonwealth's Attorney for the thirty-seventh judicial district of Kentucky from July 1, 1932 to January 1, 1935. Later, he was appointed by Governor Happy Chandler to the State Workmen's Compensation Board, serving from January 20, 1936 until his retirement on August 8, 1944.

From 1940 to 1945, Fields was co-owner of an insurance agency in Ocala, Floridamarker. Returning to Olive Hill, he practiced law, farmed and worked as a realtor. He briefly returned to political life as a delegate to the 1952 Democratic National Convention. He died at Grayson, Kentuckymarker on October 21, 1954, and was buried in Olive Hill Cemetery at Olive Hill.

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