About John Barton Payne
John Barton Payne (January 26, 1855 – January 24, 1935) was United States Secretary of the Interior from 1920 through 1921 under Woodrow Wilson.
Life and career
Payne was born in Pruntytown, in what is now West Virginia, the son of Elizabeth Barton (née Smith) and Amos Payne. Payne was an attorney and longtime Chicago Democratic politician. Admitted to the bar in 1876 in West Virginia, Payne entered politics five years later as the chairman of the Preston County Democratic Party. He moved to Chicago in 1883, and was elected as a local judge in 1893. After resigning from that post in 1898, he was a senior partner in Winston, Payne, Strawn and Shaw. (A successor firm still exists today.) He was president of Chicago's South Park Board from 1911 to 1924, when Edward J. Kelly, later mayor of Chicago, succeeded him. He married Jennie Byrd in 1913. (She died in 1919.) After the outbreak of World War I, Payne went to Washington, D.C., to act as counsel for the Emergency Fleet Corporation and the national railroad administration. From 1919 through his appointment to Wilson's cabinet in February 1920, Payne was chairman of the U.S. Shipping Board. From October 1921 until his death, Payne was chairman of the American Red Cross. In May 1921 he pledged funds for a permanent structure for the [Warrenton Library] in Fauquier County, Virginia. He died of pneumonia, following an operation for an appendicitis at 1:06 a.m. January 24, 1935, two days before his 80th birthday — just early enough for an Associated Press obituary to run in the Chicago Tribune.
Known for his work for the Red Cross, Payne's use of the South Park Board to solidify the position of the Chicago Democratic Party has much less noted. Payne tried to bring volunteers and paid staffers of the American Red Cross, and also sent the organization in a new direction, organizing it to support local welfare efforts during both the deflationary period after World War I and the early years of the Depression.
Payne's donation of 50 paintings in 1919 and $100,000 in 1932 led to the founding of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia. Some of his personal papers were given to the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William & Mary.
In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS John Barton Payne was named in his honor.