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22nd Governor of
California, January 8, 1907 - January 3, 1911

Born:  September 20, 1860, in Viroqua, Wisconsin

Died:  April 20, 1937, in Oakland, California

Marriage:  Adelaide Pratt (1886), 3 children; Elizabeth Erzaber (1898), 1 son


California’s 22nd governor was described as a large man with a friendly manner and a quiet voice. He was a successful rural lawyer when he was elected as governor.


Early Life

James Gillett grew up in Sparta, Wisconsin. He attended public schools there before studying law and being admitted to the Wisconsin bar in 1881. Gillett’s route west to California took him through Bozeman, Montana, where he worked in a sawmill, and to Seattle, where he worked in another mill.



Gillett landed in Eureka, California, in 1884. He worked in the lumber industry to earn money to open a law partnership with Judge Fletcher A. Cutter. Gillett entered politics in 1888 as Eureka’s city attorney, and in 1896 became the state senator from Del Norte and Humboldt counties. He then served as a representative in the U.S. Congress for two terms. When Gillett received the Republican nomination for governor in 1906, some felt that it was the Southern Pacific Railway “machine” that made it happen. He was elected by a narrow margin.



As governor, Gillett tried to show that he was not bound by the railroads to do their will. He vowed that he had made no promises to the railroads, and would be honest in his duties. However he favored having more railroads in California and said that the railroads must be treated fairly.

Among his accomplishments were the enactment of an insurance code designed to protect the public, pure food and drug regulations, and direct primary elections. Direct primary elections would insure that the railroads no longer manipulated the candidates for public office. He also furthered the creation of the state highway system. Under orders from President Theodore Roosevelt, Gillett worked to prevent the California legislature from passing anti-Japanese bills.


Later Years

Leaving the governor’s chair in 1911, Gillett established a law practice in San Francisco where one of his clients was the Northwestern Pacific railroad. Gillett was 76 years old when he died of heart disease.


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