Joseph W. Fifer

Governor of Illinois, 1889-1893.
Lyman B. Ray, Lieutenant Governor.

Joseph W. Fifer was born at Staunton, Virginia, October 28, 1840; in 1857 he accompanied his father to McLean County, Illinois, and worked at the manufacture and laying of brick. At the outbreak of the Civil War he enlisted as a private in the Thirty-third Illinois Infantry, and was dangerously wounded at the assault on Jackson, Mississippi, in 1863, on the healing of the wound, disregarding the advice of family and friends, he rejoined his regiment. At the close of the war, when about 25 years of age he entered the Wesleyan University at Bloomington, where by dint of hard work and frugality, while supporting himself in part by manual labor, he secured his diploma in 1868. He at once began the study of law, and, soon after his admission, entered upon a practice which proved both successful and lucrative. He was elected corporation counsel of Bloomington in 1871 and State’s Attorney for McLean County in 1872, holding the latter office, through election until 1880, when he was chosen State Senator, serving in the Thirty-second and Thirty-third General Assemblies. In 1888 he was nominated and ejected Governor on the Republican ticket, but, in 1892 was defeated for re-election by John P. Altgeld, the Democratic nominee, though running in advance of the National ticket and the other candidates on the State ticket.

Governor Fifer was married to Miss Gertrude Lewis, June 15, 1870.

He resides with his family at Bloomington.

Source: "The Governors of Illinois, 1818-1918"; Issued by the Illinois Centennial Commission

JOSEPH W. FIFER—1888-l892.

JOSEPH WILSON FIFER, or better known by his host of loving friends as “Private Joe” was the twenty-second governor of Illinois. He was born in Stanton, Va., Oct. 28, 1842. In his youth he came with his father and the other eight children to McLean County, in Illinois. His education was limited to the district school.

When the Civil War broke out he, at the age of twenty, together with his brother George, walked a dozen miles barefooted to enlist in Company C, 33rd Illinois Infantry. The regiment was sent to Missouri, and later sent down to Milliken’s Bend, and “Private Joe” worked on Grant’s famous ditch for some weeks. The regiment then joined the forces operating against Port Gibson and Vicksburg. “Private Joe” was on guard duty in the front ditches when the flag of surrender was run up on the fourth of July, and he stuck the bayonet of his gun into the embankment and went into the city with the vanguard of Union soldiers.

The day following, the 33d joined the force after Johnson, and in an assault at Jackson, Miss., “Private Joe” fell, terribly wounded, having been shot completely through his body. He was thought to have been mortally wounded. The surgeons gave no hope of his recovery, saying nothing but ice could save his life and — there was no ice to get nearer than fifty miles away! It was through the efforts of his brother George that the ice was procured. After a few months careful nursing "Private Joe" rejoined his regiment, for he was determined to finish the term for which he enlisted. He was mustered out in October, 1864.

He at once entered the Illinois Wesleyan University at Bloomington, from which school he was graduated in 1868. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1869, and immediately began practice in Bloomington. He was corporate counsel of Bloomington, state’s attorney two terms, and was elected to the state senate in 1880. In 1888, he was elected governor on the Republican ticket. After his term as governor, he returned to the practice of his profession in Bloomington.

In personal appearance, Mr. Fifer is tall—six feet-spare, with swarthy complexion, keen black eyes, and quick motions. He is popular wherever he goes. He is a pleasant speaker and always wins friends.

The chief events of the Fifer administration may be briefly summed up as follows: Legislative Acts—Establishing Asylum for Insane Criminals at Chester; also state Horticultural Society and Chicago Sanitary district; a general school law with compulsory clauses; Anti-trust law, legal rate of interest reduced to five percent; Child Labor Law, and the Australian Ballot System adopted. The World Columbian Exposition was decided upon, Chicago selected as the site and special session of the Legislature made provision for it. October 1, 1891, Chicago University opened. October 21, dedication of World’s Fair Buildings; on November 25, 1889, the Illinois State Historical Society was organized.

Source: Decisive Dates in Illinois History, A Story of the State, By Lottie B. Jones. Danville, Illinois: Illinois Printing Company, 1909.

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