Paul Douglas was an educator, economist, a decorated Marine Corps officer, and a Democratic U.S. senator. He was often called an unconventional or maverick liberal because he was an avocate of civil rights but also fought for fiscal spending controls. He was an internationalist in favor of liberal values and human rights but he was also a staunch anti-Communist who wanted to work through the UN to stop Communist expansion. Paul was born on March 26, 1892 in Salem, Massachusetts and mostly grew up in Newport, Maine. He graduated with honors from Bowdoin College in 1913 and later received both a Master's Degree and a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University. He married Dorothy Wolff in 1915 who was also a Ph.D. from Columbia. From 1915 to 1920, Douglas taught at different schools including the University of Illinois.
In 1921, Paul accepted a position with the faculty of the University of Chicago in the economics department. The Cobb-Douglas Function in economic theory was named for Douglas. Through meetings with social reformer Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, Douglas became interested in political activism. His teaching career at the University of Chicago was interrrupted in the late 1920s when his first wife Dorothy wanted him to teach near her in the East. They divorced in 1930 and in 1931 Paul married his second wife Emily Taft, who was from a socially prominent family in Chicago and was also a social reformer. She was also a distant cousin to President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft of Ohio.
By 1930 Douglas was involved in many political causes in Illinois and other states. He was a friend of Chicago attorney Harold L. Ickes (soon to be profiled) who would eventually become an advisor to Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York and Secretary of the Interior when FDR became president in 1933. In 1935, Douglas tried to put together a coalition ticket and wanted to get the Republican endorsement for mayor of Chicago. But the reform coalition was too diverse to work together.
In 1939, Douglas was elected as in independent reformer to the Chicago City Council from the 5th Ward. In 1942, he joined the Democratic Party and ran for and lost a primary race for the nomination for US Senator. Douglas resigned from the city council and joined the Marine Corps at the age of 50 in 1943. He used his political pull with Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox who was the publisher of The Chicago Daily News to get an assignment to the Pacific theater and was promoted to Captain. He won a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his actions in the Battle of Peleliu. He was wounded by Japanese machine gun fire seriously and lost the use of one arm to nerve damage. Doulgas spent 13 months reouperating at Bethesda Naval Hospital. His second wife, Emily Taft Douglas, served one term in Congress from 1945 to 1947.
Doulgas came out of the Marine Corps as a Lt. Colonel with full disability pay. When Douglas again tried for the U.S. Senate nomination in 1948, the remnants of the Kelly-Nash machine did not try to oppose him. Mayor Ed Kelly had died the year before and master machine strategist Jake Arvey reasoned that Douglas seeking the nomination was harmless because he had little chance of defeating Republican Sen. Curly Brooks. Among Democratic reformers, Douglas was a stern critic of President Harry Truman for being "incompetent."
But in three major upsets, Truman defeated New York Republican Gov. Tom Dewey, Adlai Stevenson defeated Republican Gov. Dwight Green, and Douglas defeated Sen. Brooks.
Early in 1952, it was Paul Douglas, rather than Gov. Adlai Stevenson, who was the Illinois Democrat with the most national support for the presidential nomination. But that changed very quickly. Some Truman Democrats could not forgive Douglas for his negative comments about Truman's administration and for his manuevers to get Gen. Eisenhower to run as a Democrat against Truman in 1948. Douglas even suggested that Eisenhower should be the candidate of both parties on a national unity ticket in 1952. The southerners in the party thought Douglas was too liberal and some liberals did not think he was liberal enough.
Doulgas served all but two of his 18 years in the Senate as the senior senator from Illinois and Ev Dirksen was the junior senator until 1967. Doulgas was reelected in 1954 defeating Illinois Retail Merchants Association lobbyist Joe Meek of Western Springs. He was reelected in 1960 defeating Sam Witwer who later chaired the 1970 Constitutional Convention in Springfield.
In 1966, Charles H. Percy, former chair of Bell and Howell, was endorsed in an unusal Republican state party convention for the office of U.S. Senator. Percy was a former student of Douglas when Douglas taught at the University of Chicago. Percy was giving Douglas a very strong race when suddenly all Illinois politics was frozen in time.
In September, less than six weeks before the election, someone invaded the home of Charles Percy on Lake Michigan in Kenilworth and brutally murdered his daughter Valerie Jeanne by stabbing her to death. Valerie was the twin sister of Sharon Percy who later married Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and became a public television executive. The murder of Valerie Percy was never solved. It put the senatorial campaign on hold and Percy defeated Douglas by a substantial margin on election day of 1966. To a lesser extent, the age of Percy at 47 and the age of Douglas at 74 also played some role in the voter's decision to retire Douglas. There was also an anti-LBJ tide that led to Republicans gaining 47 seats in the House.
After he left the Senate, Douglas taught at the New School for Social Research in New York and published his autobiography called In the Fullness of Time. He suffered a stroke in the early 1970s and died at the age of 84 on Sept. 24, 1976. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in Jackson Park. His second wife, former Congressman Emily Taft Douglas, died about a year later.