[Calif. State Library, Jan. 29, 2015] — "Governor Culbert Levy Olson — Past, Present and Future: A Statesman Ahead of His Time." A Special Appreciation By His Granddaughter, Debra Deanne Olson.
Debra Deanne Olson recounts the remarkable story of her grandfather, former Gov. Culbert Levy Olson, as part of a special collaboration between the California State Archives and the California State Library.
Elected in 1938, Olson was the 29th governor of California — the first Democrat to hold the office in the 20th Century. He served one term from 1939-1943. As a loyal supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Upton Sinclair's failed "End Poverty in California" campaign, Olson hoped to implement similar liberal reforms. He was only able to enact a few programs before being defeated by Republican Attorney General Earl Warren in 1942. Olson's controversial pardoning of labor radical Tom Mooney may have contributed to his being a one-term governor. Born in Utah and raised Mormon, Olson became an atheist at age 10. He served as president of the United Secularists of America from 1957 until his death in 1962.
About Gov. Culbert Olson (1939-1943)
(From California State Library)
Born: November 7, 1876 in Fillmore, Utah
Died: April 13, 1962 in Los Angeles, California
Married: Kate Jeremy in 1905
Political Party: Democrat
Father: George Daniel
Mother: Delilah King
Wife: Nellie E. Boronson-Day (1st wife) and Kate Jeremy
Children: Richard, Dean and John
Culbert Levy Olson was born on a farm near Fillmore, Utah. Olson was introduced to politics early in his life; his mother was a suffragette and the first female elected official in Utah, serving as Treasurer and Recorder of Millard County. Olson graduated from Brigham Young University in 1895 after studying law and journalism, and earned a law degree from Columbian University Law School in Washingtonm D.C. (now George Washington University School of Law). He was admitted to the Utah Bar in 1901.
Olson practiced law in Utah and entered politics after being elected to the Utah State Senate, where he served from 1916 to 1920. Olson declined to run again for the State Senate in the 1920 general election, and instead relocated to Los Angeles, California. There Olson opened a law practice and gained a reputation for investigating corporate fraud. During this time, Olson remained active in public service and was named as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1920. He ran for and was elected to the California State Senate in 1934, was Chairman of the California Democratic Party in the same year, and was Assistant U.S. Attorney General from 1936 to 1937. On November 1938, Olson was elected Governor of California and was sworn in January 2, 1939. He was the first Democrat elected to the governorship of California in 40 years.
Olson was a loyal supporter of Roosevelt's New Deal. Many Californians hoped that the new governor would create programs for the state similar to those being enacted by Congress. Olson was able to accomplish a few modest reforms, primarily in the state's penal system and in provisions for the care of the mentally ill. Early in his administration, Olson fulfilled his campaign promise to pardon labor radical Tom Mooney; the Mooney Case had been the subject of intense controversy for decades.
Olson ran unsuccessfully ran against Earl Warren for reelection as governor and left office on January 4, 1943. He remained active in politics by serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1944 and 1948. A committed atheist, he became President of the United Secularists of America (USA) in 1957, and remained in that position until his death on April 13, 1962. He is buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Glendale, Calif.