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Barkley, Alben Williamlocked

(24 November 1877–30 April 1956)
  • Robert H. Ferrell


Barkley, Alben William (24 November 1877–30 April 1956), vice president of the United States, was born in a log cabin in a community named Wheel, between the villages of Lowes and Fancy Farm, in Graves County, Kentucky, the son of John Wilson Barkley and Electra Smith, tenant tobacco farmers. Named Willie Alben, the “Willie” for two uncles, he changed his name as soon as he could (as he put it, as soon as he was old enough to assert himself), letting it be known that he was Alben William “and no foolishness!” Barkley grew up in poverty, working on the farm. He did not graduate from high school but managed to enroll in a tiny Methodist institution, Marvin College, in Clinton, Kentucky. Upon graduation in 1897 he sold cookware to pay his way through law school. The crockery cracked upon use, and he was reduced to going back to purchasers and paying them for their losses out of his own pocket. He managed to borrow $200 to attend a year of law school, 1897–1898, at Emory College (now Emory University), then located in Oxford, Georgia. Lacking means to continue, he taught a few months at Marvin and thereupon moved to Paducah, where, with a few shirts, fifty cents in change, and a letter of introduction to a local lawyer, he began reading law. He was admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1901 and had his last formal instruction in law during a summer at the University of Virginia in 1902. The next year he married Dorothy Brower, with whom he had three children....

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