James H. Price (1878-1943)


James H. Price was a governor of irginia (1938–1942) who advocated for a series of progressive policies designed o help those hurt by the Great Depression of the 1930s. His most notable achievement came in 1938 ith the enactment of an Old Age Assistance Plan that enabled Virginians to eceive federal Social Security benefits. Throughout his term, Price battled ith United States Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. and members of his political machine over policy and atronage issues. While Price won some of these battles, by 1940 Byrd and the Byrd Organization had derailed his legislative agenda, leaving a defeated Price to spend most of is last two years in office helping to mobilize Virginia for war.

James Hubert Price was born in Organ Cave in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, on eptember 7, 1878. He grew up in Staunton, Virginia, and graduated from the Washington and Lee Law School in 1909. He moved to Richmond to practice law in 1910. His political career began in 1916 when he on the first of seven consecutive terms representing Richmond in the House of elegates. Two years later, he married Lillian Martin. The marriage produced two hildren. Price’s growing family coincided with a blossoming social and olitical life. Long active in fraternal organizations, Price served as Grand aster of the Grand Lodge of Virginia Masons from 1922 to 1924, and as Imperial ecorder for the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North merica (more commonly known today as the Shriners of North America) from 1927 ntil his death. These positions provided him with a wealth of social and olitical contacts. In 1929, Price was elected lieutenant governor of irginia.

Governors James H. Price and George Peery

Price’s differences with Byrd, the former overnor, became apparent as the Great Depression hit the nation in 1930. After overnor John Garland Pollard, a Byrd ally, failed to take decisive action, Price called nsuccessfully for a special legislative session to “provide [a] limited work elief program to reduce unemployment in rural areas” through highway onstruction. This idea ran counter to Byrd’s conservative pay-as-you-go hilosophy of highway construction. Lacking Byrd’s support for governor, Price gain ran for lieutenant governor and was reelected in 1933.

In July 1935, Price upended the normal selection process and announced his andidacy for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination two years ahead of the rimary. The Byrd Organization searched but failed to find as attractive an lternative. Price eventually gained the endorsement of a majority of rganization supporters in December 1936. He won the general election easily in ovember 1937. Price achieved the bulk of his legislative success in his first ession with the General Assembly in 1938. Most notably, the governor enabled lderly Virginians to receive Social Security benefits through the passage of he Old Age Assistance Plan. Other accomplishments included the establishment of forty-eight-hour work week for women, an increase in teachers’ salaries, and a aw that made Virginia localities eligible for federal funds for slum learance.

Governor James Price with Bette Davis

Price broke with the Byrd Organization hen he fired top Byrd lieutenant Everett R. Combs as comptroller and chairman of the Compensation oard. This breach was furthered by rumors that Price had been given veto power y President Franklin Delano Roosevelt over federal appointments in Virginia. his rumor gained traction when Price became involved in an attempt to appoint a udge to the federal bench to whom both of Virginia’s U.S. senators were pposed. These controversies set the stage for the 1940 session in which the yrd-dominated legislature stonewalled Price’s plan to reorganize the state’s overnment. Price thus spent the last two years of his term readying Virginia or World War II.

Price’s term as governor ended in 1942. He continued his work with the Shriners ntil his death on November 22, 1943 after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

September 7, 1878
James H. Price is born in West Virginia.
James H. Price graduates from Washington and Lee University Law School. He moves to Richmond to practice law in 1910.
James H. Price serves seven consecutive terms in the General Assembly.
October 2, 1918
James H. Price marries Lillian Martin.
James H. Price serves as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Virginia Masons.
James H. Price serves as Imperial Recorder for the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America (also known as the Shriners of North America).
November 1929
James H. Price wins election as lieutenant governor of Virginia.
November 1933
James H. Price wins reelection as lieutenant governor of Virginia.
July 1935
James H. Price announces his candidacy for Virginia governor two years before the primary.
December 1936
James H. Price receives the endorsement of a majority of Byrd Organization supporters in his bid for the Virginia governorship.
November 1937
James H. Price is elected governor of Virginia.
James H. Price passes a number of legislative bills, most notably the Old Age Assistant Plan that allows for Social Security benefits.
Following his failure to reorganize the state government in the wake of opposition from Harry F. Byrd Sr., James H. Price prepares Virginia for World War II.
November 22, 1943
James H. Price dies after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
  • Hall, Alvin Leroy. “Politics and Patronage: Virginia’s Senators and the Roosevelt Purges of 1938.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 82 (1974): 331-350.
  • Syrett, John. “The Politics of Preservation: The Organization Destroys Governor James H. Price’s Administration.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 97 (1989): 437-462.
APA Citation:
Tulli, Dan. James H. Price (1878-1943). (2021, December 22). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/price-james-h-1878-1943.
MLA Citation:
Tulli, Dan. "James H. Price (1878-1943)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (22 Dec. 2021). Web. 27 Jan. 2023
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