Biography

Hubert Horatio Humphrey

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice-President-Elect Hubert H. Humphrey at the LBJ ranch the day after Election Day.
Hubert Humphrey and LBJ at the ranch after Election Day, 1964
President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice-President-Elect Hubert H. Humphrey at the LBJ ranch the day after Election Day, Nov. 4, 1964.

The biography of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey

Hubert Horatio Humphrey

Hubert Horatio Humphrey Jr. was born on May 27, 1911, in Wallace, South Dakota.  His mother, Christine Sannes, (born Ragnild Kristine Sannes) was a teacher and had immigrated as a small child with her family from Norway.  Soon after coming to the United States her family moved west to Minnesota.  Humphrey’s father, Hubert Horatio Humphrey Sr. was raised on a Minnesota farm.  Humphrey Sr. was a pharmacist whose forebearers had arrived in the United States many generations before his birth.  Christine and Hubert Sr. married in 1906 and had four children; Hubert Humphrey Jr. was their second child.

When Hubert was four years old, his family moved to Dolan, South Dakota, a small town on the plains where his father owned the local drugstore.  His father became the town’s mayor and served as a town council member.  Hubert attended public school in Dolan, and after graduating from high school, he attended the University of Minnesota.  Early in the Depression, his father moved the struggling family drugstore to Huron, South Dakota.  Hubert left the University and returned home to help his father manage the drugstore in Huron.  He worked in the drugstore from 1931 to 1937, while also attending the Capitol College of Pharmacy in Denver, Colorado, and becoming a registered pharmacist in 1933.

On September 3, 1936, Hubert Humphrey married Muriel Fay Buck, a bookkeeper, from Huron. They were married over 41 years and had four children:  Hubert “Skip” Humphrey III, Nancy, Robert, and Douglas.

Unhappy working as a pharmacist, Humphrey returned to the University of Minnesota in 1937 and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1939.  He and his wife moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he earned a master's degree in political science from Louisiana State University while also serving as an assistant instructor of political science.  After finishing his coursework at LSU he returned to the University of Minnesota to teach and pursue doctoral studies.  During this period, he began working for the Works Progress Administration.  While at the WPA, he worked with war production training and reemployment programs.  When the United States entered World War II, he tried to join the military but was rejected three times from enlisting, twice by the Navy and once by the Army, due to color blindness and other physical ailments.

Humphrey became involved in Minneapolis city politics.  In 1943, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor and then accepted a position teaching at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Following his mayoral defeat, he also played a key role in uniting the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party with the Minnesota Democratic Party.  Today the party in Minnesota is still known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or the “DFL Party.”  Humphrey once told a reporter that he considered this his “greatest contribution to Minnesota politics.”  Between 1944 and 1945, he served as a radio news commentator, and ran again for mayor in 1945.  This time his campaign was successful, and Humphrey served as mayor of Minneapolis until 1948.

At the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Humphrey gained national attention when he delivered a stirring speech in favor of a strong civil rights plank for the party's platform.  In November 1948, voters in Minnesota elected Humphrey to the United States Senate. He was known as a Senate liberal, working on issues of civil rights, social welfare, public health, and fair employment. He served as the Senate Democratic Whip from 1961 to 1964 and was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In his Senate years, his political enthusiasm and outgoing ebullient nature earned him the nickname, “The Happy Warrior.”

In 1964, President Johnson asked Humphrey to join his ticket as the vice-presidential nominee and he accepted. Johnson and Humphrey were elected in November in a Democratic landslide. As Vice President, Humphrey was a strong advocate for President Johnson’s domestic legislative agenda.  Although initially expressing misgivings about U.S. involvement in the War in Vietnam, Humphrey also became a leading spokesman for the Johnson administration’s policies there.  In 1968, after Johnson decided not to seek re-election, Humphrey ran and was nominated as the Democratic Party's candidate for president. He was defeated by Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon.
After the defeat, Humphrey returned to Minnesota to teach at the University of Minnesota and Macalester College.  He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1970 and won re-election in 1976.  The Senate created the post of Deputy President pro tempore of the Senate for him, and he held the position from 1977 until his death.  He died January 13, 1978 of cancer, and following his death, he lay in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.  He is buried in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  In 1979 he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, and in 1980, President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

After Humphrey's death, the governor of Minnesota appointed Humphrey's wife, Muriel Buck Humphrey, to fill the vacant Senate seat. She served until November 7, 1978 and was not a candidate for the unexpired term.

Hubert Humphrey's papers are located at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Bibliography

Cohen, Dan. Undefeated: The Life of Hubert Horatio Humphrey. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1978.

Feerick, John D. The Vice Presidents of the U.S. 3rd ed. New York: Watts, 1977.

Garrettson, Charles Lloyd III. Hubert H. Humphrey: The Politics of Joy. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1993.

Griffith, Winthrop. Humphrey: A Candid Biography. New York: Morrow, 1965.

Humphrey, Hubert H. The Education of a Public Man: My Life and Politics. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976.

Lichtenstein, Nelson, editor. Political Profiles: The Johnson Years. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1976, pages 293-296.