Copyright © by Toucan Valley Publications, Inc. | Source Citation


28th Governor of
California, June 2, 1934 - January 2, 1939

Born:  December 22, 1865, in Hopkinton, Iowa

Died:  April 25, 1955, in Long Beach, California

Marriage:  Nellie Day (1901); Jessie Lipsey (1936)


Frank Merriam was the first California governor to be married while in office. His first wife, Nellie, died in 1931 and he married Jessie Lipsey in 1936.


Early Life

Frank was born in Hopkinton, a small town near Dubuque, Iowa. He went to school there, including Lennox College where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree. He was a school principal and then superintendent of schools before becoming the editor of the Hopkinton Leader newspaper.



Merriam became active in politics in Iowa in the 1890s, serving as a representative in the Iowa legislature for two terms and as state auditor for two terms. He returned to newspaper publishing in 1904 in the Oklahoma Indian Territory. When he and his wife moved to California in 1910, he worked for the Long Beach Press. He entered the California political scene in 1916 and served five terms in the State Assembly and one term in the State Senate. In 1930 he was elected as lieutenant governor and when Governor Rolph died in office, Merriam took over.



As governor, Merriam first faced labor disputes in San Francisco. Longshoremen were striking and violence had broken out. Merriam called out the national guard. He gained popularity in his firm handling of the strike, and this led to his election for a full term as governor in 1934.

This was a difficult time for the state. The economy was still depressed, and Merriam asked the legislature to institute a state personal income tax. This they did, plus enacting a package of other new taxes to increase state revenue. Labor disputes continued to erupt, however, and unemployment was high. Conditions in the prisons and state hospitals were poor, with overcrowding and lack of building maintenance. Merriam tried to get federal funds through President Roosevelt’s New Deal relief programs, but satisfaction with Merriam’s leadership dropped. He was an unsuccessful candidate for re-election in 1938.


Later Years

Merriam then moved back to Long Beach where he bought a ranch and peach orchard. He worked in real estate for a time. His health failed during the last years of his life, and he died at the age of 89 following a lingering illness.


Go to Top