About Ernest Whitworth Marland
Ernest Whitworth Marland, known as E. W. Marland (May 8, 1874 – October 3, 1941), was an American lawyer, oil businessman in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, and politician in Oklahoma. He was elected to the US Congress from northern Oklahoma in 1932 and as the tenth Governor of Oklahoma in 1934. As a Democrat, he initiated a "Little Deal" in Oklahoma during the Great Depression, working to relieve the distress of unemployed people in the state, and to build infrastructure as investment for the future.
Marland made fortunes in oil in Pennsylvania in the 1900s and in Oklahoma in the 1920s, and lost each in the volatility of the industry and the times. At the height of his wealth in the 1920s, Marland built a mansion known as the Palace of the Prairies in Ponca City, after introducing fox hunts (and red foxes) and polo games to the local elite society. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The Marland-Paris Mansion, his former home on Grand Avenue, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Marland and his first wife Virginia did not have any children. To share their wealth and help her sister Margaret Roberts and her family, in 1916 they adopted their two children, George and Lydie, who were then 19 and 16 years old. The Marlands sent them to private school and gave them other advantages. Two years after Virginia's death in 1926, Marland had Lydie's adoption annulled. He married Lydie Roberts that year, and she later accompanied him to Washington, DC and the governor's mansion.
Early life and education
Ernest Whitworth Marland was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 8, 1874. He did collegiate and law studies on an accelerated schedule, earning his LL.B. from the University of Michigan Law School at the age of nineteen in 1893.
Marriage and family
Unlike many men of the period, Marland waited to marry until he was well-established. He first married Mary Virginia Collins, known as Virginia, on November 5, 1903 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She went with him to Oklahoma, where they found renewed success. They had no children of their own.
In 1916, to help her sister Margaret Roberts and her husband George and share their wealth, they adopted the Roberts' two children: George and Lydie, then 19 and 16, respectively. They sent them to private schools and gave them other opportunities. The Marlands were together until Virginia's death on June 6, 1926, in Ponca City, Kay County, Oklahoma.
Two years later, E. W. Marland had Lydie Roberts Marland's adoption annulled. On July 14, 1928, he married Lydie Roberts in Philadelphia. She was 28 and he was 54. They were together until his death on October 3, 1941.
After law school, Marland returned to Pittsburgh where he started a private practice. Through his experiences as an attorney, he became interested in geology and entered the developing oil industry in Pennsylvania. He invested in new wells and companies and, by the age of 33, Marland had become a self-made millionaire.
That same year, Marland lost millions in the panic of 1907. By 1908, Marland was broke and without a job. Hoping to start their lives over, Marland and Virginia moved to the new state of Oklahoma. They settled in Ponca City, where he resumed his oil career.
He first founded the 101 Ranch Oil Company. Marland was successful in reestablishing his fortune and, by 1920, it was estimated at $85,000,000 (roughly $1,910,000,000 in 2012 dollars). That year he founded the Marland Oil Company in Ponca City (it was incorporated in Delaware on October 8, 1920) and served as its president. In 1928, the Marland Oil Company was taken over in a hostile bid process by J. P. Morgan, Jr. and was merged with Continental Oil and Transportation Company (CONOCO). Marland’s oil empire was destroyed and he was pushed out of the company. He lost all of his wealth for the second time.
Pioneer Woman statue
In the early 1920s while riding high with his wealth, Marland decided to commission a statue commemorating the Pioneer Woman for installation in Ponca City. Marland was asked, "E. W., why don't you have sculptor Jo Davidson make a statue to the vanishing American, a Ponca, Otoe, or an Osage – a monument of great size?" Marland answered, "The Indian is not the vanishing American – it's the pioneer woman."
Marland commissioned twelve miniature 3-foot (0.91 m) sculptures by US and international sculptors as models for the Pioneer Woman statue. The commission that Marland paid each sculptor has been variously cited as $10,000 and as $2,000 for each submission. The miniatures were shipped for exhibit in twelve cities, where they were viewed by a total of 750,000 people who cast votes for their favorite.
The twelve submissions included "Protective" by John Gregory; "Determined" by Maurice Sterne; "Challenging" by Hermon Atkins MacNeil; "Affectionate" by James E. Fraser; "Self-Reliant" by Alexander Stirling Calder; "Fearless" by Wheeler Williams; "Heroic" by Mario Korbel; "Adventurous" by F. Lynn Jenkins; "Sturdy" by Mahonri Young and "Faithful" by Arthur Lee; "Trusting" by Jo Davidson; and "Confident" by Bryant Baker. The New York Times reported on March 27, 1927 that the exhibition had arrived in New York City and that it had attracted "more interest than any exhibition of sculpture New York has known in a long while." After being exhibited for three weeks in the Reinhardt Galleries, Bryant Baker's model won first place in the New York balloting. The Times reported that "Baker not only won first honors, but was the last man to enter the contest having no more than a month to prepare his model and obtain a casting."
"I believe all of the sculptors have done well. We could select any one of the twelve figures and get an excellent interpretation of the frontier woman. The decision will be a hard one to make. I expect to be guided largely by public taste, but the final decision will be my own. This national vote is going to show exactly what the American people think about one of the greatest of their women," Marland added.
The exhibition touched a popular chord in American culture of the time. The New York Times reported on March 27, 1927 that among the visitors was 91 year old Betty Wollman who as a young bride had journeyed from St. Louis to Leavenworth, Kansas in 1855. She had once entertained Abraham Lincoln as a dinner guest in the Wollman household, long before he was a candidate for President. Wollman spoke about women's role during pioneer days in the Old West and congratulated Marland for his proposal to erect a statue in her honor.
The winning statue nationwide was Confident, which featured a woman and her son, by the British-born American sculptor Bryant Baker. Marland's personal favorite was said to be Trusting by Jo Davidson, who had already sculpted statues of Marland and his adopted children: George and Lydie.
On April 22, 1930, at a reception for 40,000 guests, Baker's sculpture was unveiled in Ponca City in a public ceremony; the guest speaker was Will Rogers, who paid tribute to Oklahoma's pioneers. President Herbert Hoover addressed the nation in a radio broadcast to commemorate the statue. He said,
"It was those women who carried the refinement, the moral character and spiritual force into the West."
The finished statue of the Pioneer Woman was 27 feet (8.2 m) high and weighed 12,000 pounds.
Despite his big business background, Marland was not a Republican. His treatment at the hands of Morgan and other eastern monopoly giants gave him a distrust of them, leading him to register as a Democrat. Marland supported Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs from the beginning of his presidency. Through association with FDR, Marland was elected to the United States House of Representatives to represent Oklahoma’s 8th Congressional District in 1932. Marland was the first Democrat to hold that seat in 15 years.
Marland served in Congress for a single term, from 1933 to 1935. He declined reelection after entering the Democratic primaries to succeed Governor William H. Murray. Marland won both the Democratic nomination and the election in November 1934 to serve as the tenth governor of the state.
Governor of Oklahoma
On January 15, 1935, Marland was inaugurated as Governor. Several years before, the widower had married Lydie Roberts Marland, his former adopted daughter. She was then 28 and he was 54. She became First Lady of the state.
Marland quickly instituted a program that would become known as the “Little New Deal.” From the start, the Oklahoma House and Oklahoma Senate were not in favor of his plans. The legislature was more concerned with reducing the state’s massive deficit (roughly a quarter of billion dollars in modern currency). Marland, an avid supporter of FDR, stressed the need for the state government to work with the federal government in creating jobs and support for families.
Despite Marland’s efforts, most Oklahoman politicians never fully embraced the New Deal. What the Legislature would accept was a homestead exemption provision to the state’s ad valorem taxes, increased school funds, and raising the state sales tax to two percent. Marland introduced legislation to appropriate funds raised by the sales tax for aid to the handicapped, the elderly, and dependent children.
At this time, Oklahoma had over 150,000 heads of families that were unemployed and 80,000 heads of families on relief. Marland asked the Fifteenth Legislature for a board to craft policy to develop the physical infrastructure of the state with investments to create a more diverse economy. The Legislature responded with the 15-member State Planning and Resources Board. The Board worked with FDR’s Works Progress Administration to create jobs through public works projects such as construction of dams and tree planting. The State Highway Department expanded its road work and created thousands of jobs. Historic properties and renovated, archeological excavations were undertaken to identify and preserve resources, and other resources were enhanced.
Though he did not balance the state’s budget, Marland created the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the Interstate Oil Compact. Through the Compact, six oil-producing states agreed to practice oil conservation and establish a fair price for petroleum. The governing body of the Compact was a commission, of which Marland was elected to serve as the first president.
Marland’s term as governor ended on January 9, 1939. Through more than 1,300 WPA projects, he had created jobs for more than 90,000 Oklahomans. After his term, he returned to Ponca City and tried to recreate the Marland Oil Company.
In 1940, Marland ran for the United States House of Representatives again but was unsuccessful against a Republican candidate.
Marland died of a heart condition on October 3, 1941 at the age of 67. He is buried in Ponca City.
His Italianate mansion in Ponca City, the 55-room E. W. Marland Mansion designed by John Duncan Forsyth, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
His previous home, known as the Marland-Paris Mansion, located on Grand Avenue with eight acres of formal gardens, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.