Over the last two centuries, Delaware County has produced a remarkable set of individuals who have led lives of discovery. This “Delaware County Roots” series reveals short insights into the lives of the well-known and less commonly known people born here, or who lived here, and then went on to make significant contributions to state, regional, or national history.
Today’s subject, Joseph B. Foraker, is one of many who came to Delaware to study at Ohio Wesleyan University. He may be the only one who ended up with a prominent mountain named after him – Mount Foraker, the second highest peak in the Alaska Range, and the third highest peak in the United States, was named for him in 1899.
Born in Hillsboro County, Foraker came to Delaware in 1866 after service in the Union Army during the US Civil War. He had enlisted at the age of 16 and had fought for almost three years, ending with the rank of Captain.
Foraker’s two years in Delaware proved to be a turning point in his life. During his studies at Ohio Wesleyan, he studied with well-known professors of the day, including Professor William G. Williams, who taught Greek, and Astronomy Professor Hiram Perkins, for whom the Perkins Observatory is named.
It was the friendships he gained in Delaware, however, which stuck in his mind as he penned his autobiography in his later years, “Notes of a Busy Life.” Those included lifelong friends Capt. Peter F. Swing (later Judge) and William J. White. Chiefly, though, it was someone studying at the Ohio Wesylvan Female Collage that caught his particular attention. “[A]mong all the pleasing memories that attach to Delaware,” he would write, was a co-ed named Julia Bundy, daughter of a US Congressman.
Foraker “read law” with Delaware attorney Brigadier General John S. Jones, who was serving as Mayor of Delaware. After leaving Ohio Wesleyan to finish his collegiate career, he became part of the first graduating class at Cornell University in New York. Two other members of that first class were Ohio Wesleyan students John A. Rea and Morris L. Buchwalter.
When he graduated, he gave a speech on the Cornell Commencement ceremony. He was described this way – 23 years old, 6 feet high, 163 pounds, gray eyes, and with a mustache and whiskers.
His political career was extraordinary, and included a just-missed opportunity for nomination for US President. Foraker was Governor of Ohio from 1886 to 1890, and then had a remarkable stint as US Senator from Ohio from 1897 to 1909.
As Governor, two key issues for Foraker were amending Ohio’s liquor laws and following through on his staunch abolitionist views by eliminating remaining laws that allowed for racial discrimination in Ohio.
In the Senate, he supported the Spanish–American War and the annexation of the Philippines and Puerto Rico; the Foraker Act gave Puerto Rico its first civil government under American rule.
Photo: Foraker’s birthplace as promoted during one of his campaigns – Public Domain