Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

MANSFIELD, MIKE (1903-2001)

Michael Joseph Mansfield was born in New York City on March 16, 1903. He was five years old when his mother died, and shortly thereafter he moved to Great Falls, Montana, to live with his father's aunt and uncle. His father remained in New York, where he was a hotel porter. Although his career took him to many other places, Mansfield once said that he always felt a homesickness when absent from Montana.

After serving in the navy (he enlisted at the age of fourteen), the army, and the marines, he returned to Montana in 1922 and worked in the Butte mines for the next eight years, first as a miner, then as a mucker and mining engineer. Although he had not even completed grade school, Mansfield gained admittance to the Montana School of Mines in Butte in 1927. After his first year, he transferred to Montana State University (later the University of Montana) in Missoula, where he received bachelor's and master's degrees in 1933 and 1934, respectively. His thesis, on Korean-American relations, anticipated a lifelong interest in Asia. He stayed at the university as an administrator and teacher of Latin American and Far Eastern history until 1942. After entering politics, he retained his position as professor of history at the university on permanent tenure.

Mansfield was elected to the U.S. Congress on the Democratic ticket in 1942, carrying eleven of seventeen counties in Montana's First District. He served five terms in Congress. Surviving attacks at the height of Mc- Carthyism for his views on China, he was elected senator from Montana in 1952. Although he won fewer counties than his opponent, Republican Zales Ecton, he was elected with a plurality of 6,600. Mansfield's support came mainly from a belt of counties in the northern half of the state, extending, with few interruptions, from its western to its eastern boundaries. He served in the Senate until 1977. In the early 1960s he was the leading advocate in Washington for stopping the war in Vietnam. As Senate majority leader from 1961 to 1977 (the longest any member ever held that position), Mansfield played a major role in the passage of landmark domestic legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, reduction in the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen, and Medicare, as well as sundry foreign policy landmarks, including the rapprochement between the United States and China. He held the post of American ambassador to Japan from 1976 to 1988 under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Mike Mansfield died in Washington dc on October 5, 2001, one year after the death of his wife, Maureen, to whom he was married for sixty-eight years.

Angela Unruh The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation

Mansfield, Mike, and Michael S. Sample. Mike Mansfield's Montana. Billings: Goatrock Productions, 1972.

Waldron, Ellis. An Atlas of Montana Politics since 1864. Missoula: Montana State Press, 1958.

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