Edward Dunne is best known as the answer to a trivia question—Who is the only person to serve as both Mayor of Chicago and Governor of Illinois? He’s also known for being the father of thirteen children, though Mrs. Dunne should probably be the one celebrated for that.
The future mayor/governor was born in Connecticut in 1853, grew up in Peoria, and attended Trinity College in Dublin for a while. He didn’t move to Chicago until 1877, when he enrolled in law school. That also brought him into Democrat politics. In 1892 he was elected a judge on the Municipal Court.
He might have spent the next forty years on the bench, if it hadn’t been for Municipal Ownership—the idea that city governments should take over and run the privately-owned transit companies. M.O. was a hot issue in American cities in the first decades on the 20th Century. Judge Dunne was a true believer in the cause.
In 1905 he resigned from the court to run for Mayor of Chicago. Incumbent Carter Harrison Jr. had become unpopular, and Dunne basically scared him into retiring. Running on an M.O. platform, Dunne was easily elected.
Now he had to govern. And like many politicians, he found that was harder than campaigning.
Dunne came into office with an agenda of Progressive ideas. He tried to break the long-term leases tying up school board properties. He wanted to double the saloon licensing fee to hire more cops. He wanted open bidding on city contracts, and there were other grand plans. Still, if Chicago were going to become Utopia, the city had to first get control of its transit system.
M.O. was the overriding issue of Dunne’s two years as mayor. The city council wouldn’t go along with his plan. A public referendum on a watered-down version was inconclusive. When Dunne ran for re-election in 1907, he lost.
At this point in time, the mayoral term was lengthened from two years to four. Dunne had to wait until 1911 to try to get his old office back. But in the primary he was defeated by none other than Carter Harrison Jr, who went on to win the general election.
Dunne was still the darling of the reformers. In 1912 he secured the Democrat nomination for governor. Though Illinois was a Republican state, this was the year of Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose campaign. The split in the Republican vote swept Dunne into office.
Once again, Dunne’s great ideas ran into grim political reality. His most important act as governor was securing passage of a law giving women the vote in presidential elections, the first state east of the Mississippi to do this. Otherwise, his term in Springfield was mostly treading water. In 1916 he was defeated for re-election.
After leaving office, Dunne became active in the movement for Irish independence. In his later years he published a five-volume history of the state titled Illinois, the Heart of the Nation. He died in 1937.