Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, March 16, 1999

The Farringtons,
fighters for statehood

Second of three articles

Last Thursday: Campaigners for Hawaii's statehood


IN 1918, Joseph R. Farrington, a student at the University of Wisconsin, bent on one knee to propose marriage to a classmate, Elizabeth Pruett. Her parents had been missionaries in Asia. Before she accepted, he cautioned, she should know he would dedicate his life to seeking statehood for Hawaii.

Joe and Betty Farrington both became delegates to Congress from Hawaii with the right to introduce bills in the House but no votes. They gave their all. They cleared the political path toward statehood, but had to leave the final push to their successor, John A. Burns. He beat Betty Farrington for re-election in 1956 and did something the Farringtons would have had a hard time doing.

After marriage, Joe seasoned himself as a journalist in the Washington bureau of the Philadelphia Public Ledger. He returned home to Hawaii in 1924 to be managing editor of the Star-Bulletin, his family's paper, under Editor Riley H. Allen, who was every ounce as committed to statehood as Farrington was.

Statehood was still distant enough that the public emphasis was on winning equal rights for the Territory of Hawaii. This was a program-by-program struggle for equal inclusion with the states on such things as federal highway aid and postal rules.

The push continued until events in the early 1930s dramatized the territory's vulnerability to federal discrimination -- the threat of a non-resident governor, a tariff on Hawaii sugar. The remedy of immediate statehood then became a high priority.

Farrington by 1934 had succeeded his late father as president of the Star-Bulletin. He nevertheless committed to run for the territorial Senate on a statehood platform while Honolulu City Supervisor Samuel W. King ran for delegate to Congress to fight for statehood in Washington.

Senator Farrington fathered legislation for a Hawaii Equal Rights Commission, later the Statehood Commission, to press for statehood and work to correct erroneous references to Hawaii in the press of the 48 states. By 1940 the number of incorrect characterizations to Hawaii as a foreign country, etc., was down from 85 percent to 39 percent.

Joe and Betty Farrington went to Washington in 1942 after King went on Navy duty. They used their wealth and energy to promote Hawaii any way they could. A highlight of their socializing with prominent figures: Vice President Harry Truman played their home piano the night before he suddenly became president. In 1946 he was the first president to urge statehood in a State of the Union address. The House in 1947 passed a first-ever statehood bill by 196-133.

Hopes were bright. Then the forces of delay moved in. The 80th Congress adjourned without Senate action. Questions were raised about whether Communists in Hawaii's labor movement posed a hazard.

With these questions answered (more on that Thursday), the U.S. Senate in 1951 found Hawaii had met all tests applied to 29 previous territories granted admission.

OPPONENTS (more on them Thursday) then adopted a strategy of linking Hawaii with Alaska, which had a much weaker case. A Hawaii-Alaska bill died 45-44 in the Senate in 1952. One passed 46-43 in 1954 but was stopped in the House by Republican Speaker Joseph Martin. He said only Hawaii merited statehood.

Joe Farrington died in his office of a heart attack that year. His elected successor through 1956 was his widow, Betty. She had been promoting Hawaii nationally as president of the National Federation of Republican Women.

No further statehood votes took place but she got Congress to reapportion Hawaii's territorial Legislature as recommended by a 1950 State Constitutional Convention. This gave Oahu control of the lower house. In 1956 Mrs. Farrington was defeated for re-election by John A. Burns.

THURSDAY -- Burns wins the victory.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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