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Robert B. Meyner

two-term Governor of New Jersey

Robert Meyner

Robert Baumle Meyner was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1908, the second of three children of Gustave Herman and Mary Sophie (Baumle) Meyner. The family moved to Phillipsburg, New Jersey, when he was eight. He graduated from Phillipsburg High School in 1926 and from Lafayette College in Easton in 1930. His interest in politics began at Lafayette, when in 1928 he became president of the Young People’s Al Smith for President Club. He subsequently attended Columbia University Law School (1930-1933), was admitted to the New Jersey Bar in 1934, and was admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court in 1940.

Meyner made his first bid for political office in 1941, but lost the primary for the Warren County seat in the State Senate. In August 1943 he enlisted as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, where he used his legal training to defend sailors in court-martial trials, and later became the commander of a gun crew on a merchant vessel; he was discharged with the rank of Lieutenant Commander in December 1945.

In 1946 Meyner made another bid for political office, this time for a seat in Congress; he lost by a significant margin. He finally achieved victory in 1947 with election to the State Senate. During his tenure in that body he criticized the Republican administration for failing to clean up the corruption in Bergen County. He also cast the sole dissenting vote against the creation of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, deprecating all such bodies because “they become grossly irresponsible to the will of the people.” He lost his bid for re-election in 1951.

In 1953 Meyner became the surprise Democratic nominee for Governor of New Jersey and then defeated a strong Republican candidate in the general election. In his inaugural address of January 19, 1954, he promised to rid the state government of corruption and he spent much of his first year in office exposing corruption in the Division of Employment Security. His term also saw the legalization of bingo and raffles, substantial increases in state aid to education, and the restructuring of Rutgers University to be “truly a state university.” Teachers’ salaries were increased, as was aid to children with mental and physical disabilities. All fourteen state departments were reorganized to provide more efficient and closer communication with the public, motor vehicle registration was centralized and mechanized, and the budget bureau was streamlined. Meyner also presaged the women’s liberation movement by appointing the first woman cabinet member in New Jersey history.

On January 19, 1957 Meyner married Helen Day Stevenson, cousin of two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, in Oberlin, Ohio. That same year he became the first New Jersey Governor to be reelected to a second four-year term, which began on January 21, 1958.Much of his attention during his second term was directed toward improving the state's roads and highways, as well as rail services and mass transit. Educational expansion continued with increased construction and appropriations for higher education. Notable advances were also made in mental health, treatment of juvenile delinquents, care of the aged, and consumer protection. The state’s economy prospered with heavy investments in new industrial plants and the extensive growth of New Jersey’s research facilities.

Governor and the new Mrs. Meyner leave their hotel room en route to Barbados on January 21, 1957
Governor Meyner and his new bride

Meyner being sworn in for his second term as Governor
Meyner being sworn in for his second term as Governor

At the 1960 National Democratic Convention, Meyner joined Stuart Symington and Lyndon B. Johnson in an attempt to block the nomination of John F. Kennedy and refused to allow the New Jersey delegation to vote for Kennedy on the first ballot.

After his term as Governor ended in 1962, Meyner returned to law and private industry, accepting accepting lucrative positions with banks and insurance companies and becoming the administrator of the cigarette industry’s code on fair advertising. He gained the Democratic nomination for another term as Governor in 1969 but fared very poorly in the general election. He spent his later years as a lawyer and businessman, and also supported his wife's political activities (she was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1974 and 1976). In declining health after suffering a stroke in 1986, Meyner died at his home in Captiva, Florida, on May 27, 1990; his cremains are interred at Phillipsburg Cemetery.

SOURCES
The Robert B. and Helen S. Meyner Center at Lafayette College meynercenter.lafayette.edu
Rutgers University Center on the American Governor
governors.rutgers.edu

SEE ALSO
Lyndon B. Johnson
John F. Kennedy

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> Middle Atlantic States >> New Jersey

This page was last updated on June 14, 2017.