Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

BELLMON, HENRY (b. 1921)

Henry Bellmon, governor and U.S. senator from Oklahoma, was the pivotal figure in creating Oklahoma's modern two-party politics. Bellmon was born on September 3, 1921, on a farm near Billings, Noble County, Oklahoma. He graduated from Oklahoma A&M University (now Oklahoma State University) in 1942 and served with distinction in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. After the war ended, he returned to the family farm and became active in local politics. He was elected to the Oklahoma legislature in 1946 but was defeated for reelection in 1948.

In 1947 Bellmon married Shirley Osborn, and for the next fifteen years he concentrated on farming and raising his three daughters. In 1960 he was elected as chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party and in that capacity worked to make the party competitive at the state and local level. Two years later he announced his candidacy for governor of Oklahoma. He defeated Democrat Bill Atkinson, and in doing so became the first Republican governor of Oklahoma and the first Republican to be governor of any southern state since Reconstruction.

Bellmon was ineligible to succeed himself as governor and left office in 1967. The following year, he ran for the U.S. Senate and defeated incumbent Democrat Mike Monroney. Despite his close association with President Richard Nixon, Bellmon was reelected over Democrat Ed Edmondson in 1974 by a narrow margin. During his two terms in the Senate, Bellmon rose to become ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee. He voted a generally conservative line but angered doctrinaire conservatives with his support for the Panama Canal treaty and school integration.

Bellmon declined to run for a third term in 1980 and returned to Oklahoma. He served as a member of the faculty at the University of Oklahoma before running for a second term as governor in 1986. By winning the election, Bellmon became Oklahoma's first Republican to win a second term as governor. During his second term Bellmon presided over the centennial of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. He continued to steer a moderate course and implemented important budgetary and educational reforms. Bellmon retired after completing his term in 1991, but he remained active in local and state political activity. Henry Bellmon will be remembered as the architect of modern two-party politics in Oklahoma and as a governor and senator of independence and integrity.

Fred M. Shelley Southwest Texas State University

Bellmon, Henry. The Life and Times of Henry Bellmon. Tulsa OK: Charter Oak Press. 1992.

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