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Governor of Minnesota, U. S. Secretary of Agriculture
Orville Lothrop Freeman was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 9, 1918. He attended public schools in Minneapolis, received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota in 1940, and earned his law degree from the same university in 1946. During World War II, he served in the Marine Corps and rose to the rank of Major by the time he was discharged in 1945. While leading a combat patrol on Bougainville Island, a Japanese bullet shattered his jaw; he was hospitalized for eight months and had to undergo speech therapy in order to regain his voice.
Freeman's public service career began in 1945, when he became special assistant for veterans' affairs to Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey, whom he had met while at the University of Minnesota. The two men worked to strengthen the newly formed Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), and, as the party's leader, Freeman managed Humphrey's successful campaign for the U. S. Senate in 1948. He also served as a delegate to the 1948 Democratic National Convention. In 1950, Freeman ran unsuccessfully for State Attorney General. He ran for Governor in 1952, but was one of the many victims of the Republican landslide led by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1954, with Humphrey leading the DFL ticket in his successful campaign for re-election to the Senate, Freeman was elected Governor of Minnesota. He was re-elected in 1956 and 1958, but lost his 1960 bid for a fourth term. During his tenure, a water resource board was formed, the Seaway Port Authority was created, the state's health institutions were improved, a fair employment practice law was sanctioned, and educational funding was increased. Freeman laid much of the blame for his 1960 defeat on his decision to establish martial law in a town stricken by a meatpacking plant strike in 1959.
While Governor, Freeman was co-chairman (with Senator Eugene J. McCarthy) of Hubert Humphrey's 1960 presidential campaign. After Humphrey dropped out of the race, he supported Senator John F. Kennedy, and placed Kennedy's name in nomination at the Democratic National Campaign. When Kennedy's Roman Catholicism became an issue, Freeman, a Lutheran deacon, went on television to declare that religious bigotry did not belong in Minnesota politics.
In 1961 Freeman became the youngest Secretary of Agriculture ever, and served in that position until the end of Lyndon Johnson's presidency in 1969. When he assumed the post, American agriculture was suffering from chronic overproduction that resulted in low prices to farmers. To specifically address that issue, Freeman was able to establish a feed-grain reduction program, cut the amount of wheat grown, expand the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, forge a wheat deal with the Russians in 1963, and complete research on foodstuffs for survival after a nuclear attack. He also promoted loans and grants for water and sewer systems in rural areas, lobbied Congress to strengthen food-safety protections, and helped to establish food stamps and school-breakfast programs for the poor.
After leaving the Department of Agriculture, Freeman served as chief executive of EDP Technology, a consulting company, then headed Business International Corporation, a New York-based consulting firm. From 1985 to 1995, he worked for a Washington law firm. Upon his return to Minneapolis in 1995, he became a visiting scholar at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
Orville Lothrop Freeman died in Minneapolis on February 20, 2003, due to complications from Alzheimer's Disease. He was survived by Jane C. (Shields), his wife of 61 years; a son, Michael; a daughter, Constance; and three grandchildren.
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This page was last updated on May 17, 2018.