We were asked several weeks ago by someone observing our governor’s race if we’d ever had a divorced governor or if Missourians had ever elected a governor who had never held elective office. This year, Chris Koster fills the first category and Eric Greitens fills the first as well as the second. We are not aware of any of our governors who had gone through a divorce before becoming governor. But we have elected some governors who had no previous experience in elective office—not even local dog catcher.
The last time Missourians elected a governor who’d never held elective office appears to be Lloyd C. Stark, who served 1937-1941. He was with the famous Stark Nurseries family of Louisiana, in northeast Missouri. His only previous statewide effort had been chairing a highway bond campaign in 1928. Frederick D. Gardner, owned a coffin company in St. Louis and had never held any elective office before he became governor in 1917.
We have had bachelor governors, which might prompt a question about who would become First Lady if Koster wins, an answer that will not be timely for now. Jerena East Giffen wrote one of the books about First Ladies and later updated it to include Jean Carnahan, who wrote her own book about the Governor Mansion, which is considered the First Lady’s turf. Giffen notes Governor John S. Phelps (1877-81) was married but his wife might never have filled the traditional First Lady role because of reported ill health—although Giffen suggests the couple was estranged. The hostess role for Phelps was filled by his oldest daughter, Mary Phelps Montgomery.
John S. Marmaduke (1885-87, died in office), a former Confederate General, was the fourth and last (for now) bachelor governor. He also is the only son of a former governor (M. M. Marmaduke, who served briefly after Thomas Reynolds committed suicide in 1844) to reach that position (so far). His niece, a widow—Mrs. Lalla Marmaduke Nelson—presided at the house.
Before Marmaduke, there was Robert M. Stewart (1857-61), who was known for his enjoyment of the fruits of the corn and the company of female inmates of the state prison who were brought in as housekeepers.
John Miller (1826-32) was a bachelor governor when the seat of government was moved to Jefferson City. The first capitol in Jefferson City actually was designed as the governor’s house and included two rooms for the governor with space elsewhere in the building for the legislature to meet and for other state officials to have their offices until a real capitol could be built.
And the first bachelor governor was Abraham J. Williams (1825-26), a one-legged shoemaker from Columbia who was the President pro-tem of the Senate when Governor Frederick Bates died of pleurisy. Lieutenant Governor Benjamin Reeves had resigned to join a party surveying the Santa Fe Trail, so Williams became the governor—at a time when the seat of government was St. Charles. His main job was to serve until Miller could be elected.
So, yes, there have been times when Missouri had a novice governor and there have been times when there was no First Lady. But governors generally did not dine alone.