Thursday, November 9, 2017

Boise Mayor, Attorney, and Earthquake Witness Joseph Pence [otd 11/09]

Mayor Pence.
On November 9, 1869, Boise Mayor Joseph Thomas Pence was born in Ottuma, Iowa. He graduated from Parsons College (Fairfield, Iowa) in 1892. Pence then taught at another small Iowa college, serving four years as Chair of its Department of Classical Languages.

After studying law for a year at Georgetown University, he transferred to Drake University Law School. He received his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1900.

Pence moved to Boise immediately after graduation and opened a practice there. His experience in educational matters was soon recognized: The governor appointed Joseph as one of the Trustees of the Albion State Normal School. He held that position for over a decade. Throughout that period, his reputation grew, both as a public-spirited citizen and as an intelligent, hardworking, and resourceful attorney.

At one point, he got his name in the newspapers for an usual reason. The Idaho Statesman reported (November 12, 1905) that a slight earthquake had hit Boise the day before. The quake struck in the afternoon, and ground-level pedestrians hardly noticed it. The motion did, however, startle people working on the higher floors of the downtown buildings. Attorney Pence felt his desk lurch and watched a hanging overcoat swing back and forth. The newspaper report went on, “ A sectional bookcase full of books was noticed by him to sway fully three or four inches, as did also a hanging electric light globe.”

Pence took an active interest in politics, working diligently for the Democratic Party. Still, only once could supporters persuade him to run for office himself: Boise voters handily elected him as Mayor in 1909. His administration completed or initiated “many excellent public improvements,” including substantial developments at Julia Davis Park.
Boise, ca. 1918. J. H. Hawley photo.

However, during his term he found himself the lead defendant – along with the city council – in a suit brought by a firm that applied for a liquor license. Judging them to be “not suitable” proprietors of such a business, the council had denied the license. In the end, the suit went all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court, which upheld the council’s position.

Reports from the period indicate that his performance pleased most Boiseans, who might well have elected him for another term. Possibly the liquor store litigation reinforced his reluctance to pursue public office; he never ran again. He did stay active in the Democratic Party, serving as a Delegate to the 1916 National Convention that nominated Woodrow Wilson for the U. S. Presidency.

During World War I, Pence held several positions on the Idaho Council of Defense, a “home front” support organization. The Council helped sell war bonds, addressed critical manpower shortages, and advanced “other matters calculated to bring the war to a successful conclusion.”

A few years after the war, the Salt Lake Telegram announced (May 26, 1922) that Pence had formed a partnership with a Salt Lake lawyer. They opened an office in the three-year-old Clift Building in Salt Lake City. (The Clift Building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.) Pence lived in Utah until his death in 1941.
References: [French], [Hawley]
I. W. Hart (ex officio reporter), “Darby et. al. vs Pence, Mayor, et. al.,” Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho, Bancroft-Whitney Company, San Francisco (1910).

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