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Famous UC alumni political figures, government leaders


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U.S. president, vice president

William Howard Taft (1857-1930), Law 1880, HonDoc ’25, 27th U.S. president, 1909-13; chief justice, 1921-30; U.S. solicitor general, 1890-92

Charles Dawes (1865-1951), Law 1886, 30th U.S. vice president, 1925-29;  Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1925.



U.S. vice presidential nominees

Samuel Fenton Cary (1814-1900), Law 1837, U.S. vice presidential candidate in 1876, prohibitionist author and lecturer, anti-slavery leader

George Hunt Pendleton (1808-64),  att. UC 1840s, the Democratic nominee for U.S. vice president in 1864; married Alice Key, the daughter of Francis Scott Key.



Speakers of the House

Joseph "Uncle Joe" Cannon (1836-1926), att. Law 1858, 40th speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1903-11; cumulatively served 48 years in Congress; cover subject of the first issue of Time magazine in 1923. The Cannon House Office Building, named for him, is the oldest congressional office building in Washington, D.C. (See his picture in Time magazine at right.)

James Beauchamp "Champ" Clark (1850-1921), Law 1875, 41st Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1911-19. Clark's Speakership is memorable for his skill in maintaining party unity to block legislation from UC alumnus William Howard Taft and for splitting of the party in opposition to Woodrow Wilson's decision to bring the United States into World War I.

Nicholas Longworth IV (1869-1931), Law 1894, 43rd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1925-31. After receiving his bachelor's degree from Harvard, he attended Harvard Law School for one year, but transferred to and received his law degree from Cincinnati Law School in 1894. A gifted musician, he was considered one of the most talented amateur violinists in the United States.



Key federal administrators

Caleb Blood Smith (1808-64), att. UC 1820s, U.S. Secretary of the Interior under Abraham Lincoln, 1861; influential in securing Lincoln's nomination for the president at Chicago Republican National Convention, 1860; an American journalist and newspaper editor. When Smith died in 1864 from ill health, President Lincoln ordered that government buildings be draped in black for two weeks in a sign of mourning.

< At left is part of an 1864 painting (15 feet wide) by Francis Bicknell Carpenter, showing the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the president's office. Tooday it hangs in the U.S. Capitol's Senate wing, over the west staircase. Click on image to see entire painting.

James William Denver (1817–92), Law 1844, was Commissioner of Indian Affairs, appointed by U.S. President James Buchanan in 1857-59, with an intermediary lapse to be Kansas territorial governor. He was also an American politician, a soldier in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War, a trader, a lawyer and an esteemed actor who played leading roles in California productions of “Macbeth” and “Hamlet.” Denver, Colo., and the Devner omelet were named in his honor.

Judson Harmon (1846-1927), Law 1870, U.S. attorney general, 1895-97; Ohio governor, 1909-13.

William Lawrence (1819-99), Law 1840, first comptroller of the U.S. Treasury (1880-85), chairman of the Committee on War Claims arising from the Civil War and influential in creating the U.S. Department of Justice, helping to create the American Red Cross and ratifying the Geneva Convention.

Lawrence Maxwell Jr. (1853-1927), Law 1875, U.S. solicitor general, 1893-95.

Charles Sawyer (1887-1979), Law '1911, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, 1948-53 (See "Embassies" listing below.)

John "Jack" Gilligan (1921-2013) Law '47, administrator of U.S. Agency for International Development, 1977-79; director of the U.S. Institute for Public Policy, 1979-86. (See governor listing below.)

John Altenburg, Law '73, U.S. Army major general, military lawyer and appointing authority for military commissions covering detainees at Guantanamo, 2003-06

Barbara Poppe, M (Med) ’87, has been executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness since October 2009. With the goal of evenutally ending homelessness in the nation, she works with 19 federal agencies to create national partnerships at every level of government and with the private sector. In June 2010, Poppe and four Cabinet Secretaries announced “Opening Doors,” the nation’s first comprehensive federal plan to prevent and end homelessness. Poppe has dedicated more than the last 25 years to working on homelessness issues with nonprofit organizations, serving as executive director for Friends of the Homeless from 1990-95, then as executive director for the Columbus, Ohio-based Community Shelter Board (CSB) from 1995-2009.



Ohio governors

Robert Taft II, JD '76, HonDoc '00, 67th governor of Ohio, 1999-2007. (Yes, it’s the same family as President William Howard Taft, listed above.)

Edward Noyes (1832-90), Law 1858, governor of Ohio, 1872-74 (See ambassador listing below.)

John "Jack" Gilligan, Law '47, governor of Ohio, 1970-75 (See national listing above.)



Nationally known Cincinnati mayor

Theodore "Ted" Berry (1905-2000), A&S ’28, Law '31, first African-American mayor of Cincinnati, pivotal attorney in the Civil Rights Movement for the NAACP. After obtaining a law degree from UC, he served as president of the Cincinnati branch of the NAACP and was appointed the first black assistant prosecuting attorney for Hamilton County. During WW II, he worked in Washington, D.C., as a morale officer at the Office of War Information. After the war, he defended three Tuskegee Airmen, winning acquittal for two and the Air Force pardoning the third later. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed him to head the Office of Economic Opportunity’s Community Action Programs. Then in 1972, he was elected Cincinnati's first African-American mayor. (Read more in UC Magazine.)



U.S. embassies and foreign service with alumni

Pamela Bridgewater, MS (A&S) ’70, HonDoc ’06
Currently the U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica and was previously the ambassador to Ghana, until July 2008 at which time she became the longest-serving diplomat in South Africa. She also worked closely with Nelson Mandela as apartheid came to an end and was also a Special Coordinator for Peace in Liberia at the height of the most recent civil war in that country. (See her government bio here.)

  • 2012 — U.S. ambassador to Jamaica
  • 2005-08 — U.S. ambassador, Republic of Ghana, first African-American woman to that post
  • 2004-05 — Diplomat-in-residence, Howard University, Washington, D.C.
  • 2003 — U.S. deputy assistant secretary, African Affairs, managing the African bureau's relationships with 16 countries in West Africa
  • 2000-02 — U.S. ambassador to Benin, West Africa
  • 1999-2000 — president of the 42nd Senior Seminar, U.S. Department of State's most prestigious professional development program
  • 1996-99 — Deputy chief of Mission, Nassau, Bahamas
  • 1993-96 — Consul general, Durban, South Africa, first African-American woman appointed
  • 1990-93 — Political officer at Pretoria, South Africa
  • 1980 — entered the Foreign Service after a collegiate teaching career 
  • Labor attache/political officer in Kingston, Jamaica
  • Vice-consul in Brussels, Belgium

Thomas Mefford, JD '73

  • 2003-09 — Deputy assistant administrator, Bureau for Europe & Eurasia at USAID (U.S. Agency of International Development, an independent federal government agency that provides economic and humanitarian assistance around the globe). In working with 23 countries across Europe and Eurasia, he assisted the transition of former Eastern Bloc and Balkan countries into prosperous market-oriented democracies rather than aid recipients.
  • 2002-03 — Senior adviser at U.S. Department of State’s International Information Programs.
  • 1985-89 — Deputy assistant secretary of U.S. Foreign Commercial Service at U.S. International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.
  • His related international humanitarian work
    • Co-founder and president — Lifeline Humanitarian Organization, a non-governmental organization that provides care within the Balkans and Eastern Europe to persons, particularly children, suffering hardships from political diversity, civil conflict or natural disaster. Accomplishments included generating more than $1 million annually for projects, immunizing 53,000 children against major childhood diseases and establishing Poland's first free women's breast-cancer screening.
    • Public Affairs Consultant — Scott/Prenn. Managed UK-based relations and fundraising for the Republic of Bosnia. Successfully lobbied the UK government to officially recognize the sovereignty of Macedonia and raised $75,000 for Action for Bosnia from international organizations interested in ending the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Jill Rhodes, JD '93
A former Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development, Rhodes is an international expert who has lived and worked in Russia, Bolivia, France and Africa. More recently, she was senior legal adviser for Homeland Security Programs with SRA International. She has been on faculty and one-time acting chancellor for the National Intelligence University, a federal degree-granting institution that educates and prepares intelligence officers to meet challenges to the national security of the United States. In 2008, she was the keynote speaker at the annual International Association for Intelligence Education Conference.


Ana Klenicki, A&S '63, M (A&S) '65
Senior democracy and governance adviser from 1989-07 at USAID (U.S. Agency of International Development, an independent federal government agency that provides economic and humanitarian assistance around the globe). She worked in Latin America and Nepal.


Kate Pongonis, JD '97, is a deputy political counselor in Pretoria, South Africa. After joining the U.S. State Department in 1999, she served as a Foreign Service political officer in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Beijing; Chengdu, China; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In Washington, D.C., she was posted in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Prior to that, she was a Hispanic Outreach attorney with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society in Georgia and served as a Peace Corps agricultural extension volunteer in Ecuador. (Read more.)


Steve Schotte, A&S ’09, foreign Service specialist, U.S. Department of State, since 2011.


Charles Sawyer, 1911 degree unknown, ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg from 1944-45. Then U.S. Secretary of Commerce, 1948-53. Previously Ohio lieutenant governor, 1933-35 (See national listing above.)


Edward Noyes, 1858 degree unknown, ambassador to France from 1877-81 (Also see Ohio governor listing above.)



LINK: Read article on two alumni and a professor who have promoted Lincoln and his memory.



All Famous Alumni categories …

-- page compiled by Deborah Rieselman / updated 1-14