Orville Freeman

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Person.png Orville Freeman  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Orville L. Freeman, Secretary of Agriculture (1961-1969).jpg
BornOrville Lothrop Freeman
May 9, 1918
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
DiedFebruary 20, 2003 (Age 84)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Minnesota
Parents • Orville Freeman (merchant)
• Frances Schroeder Freeman
Children • Michael Orville Freeman
• Constance Jane Freeman
SpouseJane Shields Freeman
PartyMinnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party
Governor of Minnesota 1955-1961, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1961-1969.

Employment.png U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

In office
January 20, 1961 - January 21, 1969

Employment.png Governor of Minnesota

In office
January 5, 1955 - January 2, 1961

Orville Lothrop Freeman was an American Democratic politician who was the 29th Governor of Minnesota from January 5, 1955, to January 2, 1961, and as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1961 to 1969 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He was one of the founding members of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and strongly influential in the merger of the pre-DFL Minnesota Democratic and Farmer-Labor Parties. Freeman nominated Kennedy for president at the 1960 Democratic Party national convention.

Early life

Freeman was born on May 9, 1918, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of Orville and Frances (Schroeder) Freeman.[1] He attended Central High School in Minneapolis.[2] Freeman then went on to attend the University of Minnesota, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1940 and met his lifelong friend and political ally, Hubert Humphrey. He also met his wife, Jane Charlotte Shields (May 25, 1921 – March 23, 2018),[3] in college. They married on May 2, 1942. They had two children: Michael Orville and Constance Jane Freeman.

Military service

Figuring that the United States would eventually become involved in the war, Freeman signed up for the Marine Reserves in late 1940 with the understanding he could finish law school before he fulfilled his required service. The attack on Pearl Harbor ended that arrangement, and on December 31, 1941, he received orders to report to Officer Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico.[4]

After graduating and following training to be an infantry officer, he reported to Camp Elliot, just outside San Diego, California. He was soon assigned to the 9th Marine Regiment, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines. His unit eventually shipped out overseas for periods of training in New Zealand and Guadalcanal.[4]

On November 1, 1943, he saw his first combat when his unit came ashore at Torokina on Bougainville in what were the first battles of the Bougainville Campaign. A few days later, while he was leading a patrol, he encountered a group of five or six Japanese soldiers in a clearing. An exchange of gunfire followed, and Freeman was wounded in the jaw and left arm. Eventually, he was evacuated to a US Army hospital on New Caledonia and then to a Naval hospital on Nouméa. He returned to the United States in 1944 but never recovered enough movement in his arm to pass a US Marine Corps physical to return to combat.[4]

Political career

He earned his LL.B. from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1946. Freeman went on to practice law in Minneapolis.[5] He ran unsuccessfully for attorney general of Minnesota in 1950 and for governor in 1952.[5]

Freeman was elected governor in 1954, and was re-elected in 1956 and 1958. He took the unusual action of declaring martial law in the city of Albert Lea on December 11, 1959, to maintain law and order during a strike at the Wilson Packing Company. After twelve days, a federal court ruled that the imposition of martial law was inappropriate.[6]

In July 1960, Freeman nominated U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts for president at the Democratic National Convention.

Following his defeat for re-election as governor in 1960, Freeman was appointed as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture by the newly elected President Kennedy, and he was retained in that post by President Lyndon B. Johnson following the Kennedy assassination. Freeman served until January 21, 1969.

Later life

Later, Freeman headed two consulting businesses and practiced law in Washington, DC.[5]

Freeman died from complications of Alzheimer's disease on February 20, 2003, in Minneapolis.[5] He was buried in that city's Lakewood Cemetery.


Freeman is remembered for submitting proposed legislation to establish the Food Stamp Program for the poor, which is still in use today.[7]

His son Mike Freeman ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1998 and has served non-consecutive terms as County Attorney for Hennepin County, Minnesota (1991 to 1999, and 2007 to the present).

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