Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission
Brough, born in Mississippi on July 9, 1876, spent the first six years of his life in Utah before returning to his native state. After acquiring a law degree from the University of Mississippi and a Ph.D. from the John Hopkins University, he became a professor of history and political economy at the University of Arkansas and was widely in demand as a speaker and lay minister. Brough married Anne Wade Roarke of Kentucky in 1908. They had no children.
In 1913, Brough made a bid to succeed Joe T. Robinson as governor, but withdrew before the election. Vowing to be better prepared for the next race; Brough resigned his job at the University so that he might run devote more time to the 1916 governor's race. His rivals were L.C. Smith and Secretary of State Earl W. Hodges. After a campaign of mudslinging in which the professor gave as good as he got, Brough emerged victorious.
Extremely knowledgeable with regard to reform legislation, Brough proved to be a model progressive governor. Among the reforms of his administration were increased funding for higher education, compulsory school attendance laws, anti-illiteracy campaigns, the state's first facility for the mentally handicapped, and the beginnings of a juvenile justice system. At Brough's urging the 1917 legislature enacted a law allowing women to vote in all primary elections. He also supported the enactment of the state's "bone-dry" prohibition measure in the same year.
Like many Southern political and intellectual leaders of his generation, Brough was a supporter of Woodrow Wilson's brand of progressivism. A champion of the war effort in World War I, he was also for the establishment of the League of Nations. After he left office, Brough often traveled the country delivering an anti-isolationist lecture entitled: "America's Leadership in the World."
Ironically, the Progressive Era was also a period of some of the worst racial demagoguery and violence in our nation's history. A series of race riots erupted throughout the country in the wake of World War I. One of the worst occurred in 1919, in the small east Arkansas community of Elaine in Phillips County where unrest among black agricultural workers resulted in an orgy of violence by a white mob. Governor Brough dispatched troops to the area to restore order, and later created a bi-racial commission to promote harmonious race relations.
After Brough left the governorship, he became the spokesperson for the Arkansas Advancement Association. The Chautauqua style lecture circuits gave Brough ample opportunity to deliver his discourse on the "wonders of Arkansas." Unfortunately this often repeated speech had the effect of transforming Brough into something of a joke. The speech was famous for its lists of dubious rankings - second in rice, third in cow peanuts, first in #2 grade knotty yellow pine. On hearing the speech, H. L. Mencken remarked that Arkansas should stick to categories where it was sure to excel, such as "crossroad preachers and lynchings per capita." Brough maintained his boosterism even in the face of the Depression. He even went so far as to object to Red Cross relief during the dust bowl drought on the grounds that it damaged Arkansas's image.
Brough ran in the U. S, Senate primary against Hattie Caraway. He finished fourth. Brough suffered a fatal heart attack on the day after Christmas in 1935.
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