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Orville Lothrop Freeman

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Orville Lothrop Freeman

Orville Freeman
Orville L. Freeman Photograph in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
16th United States Secretary of Agriculture
In office
January 20, 1961 – January 21, 1969
President John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Ezra Taft Benson
Succeeded by Clifford M. Hardin
29th Governor of Minnesota
In office
January 5, 1955 – January 2, 1961
Lieutenant Karl Rolvaag
Preceded by C. Elmer Anderson
Succeeded by Elmer L. Andersen
Personal details
Born Orville Lothrop Freeman
(1918-05-09)May 9, 1918
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Died February 20, 2003(2003-02-20) (aged 84)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Resting place Lakewood Cemetery
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Political party DFL
Spouse(s) Jane Charlotte Shields
Children Michael O. Freeman
Constance Jane Freeman
Alma mater University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota Law School
Profession Marine, politician
Religion Lutheran
Military service
Service/branch USMC
Rank Major
Battles/wars World War II
* Battle of Bougainville

Orville Lothrop Freeman (May 9, 1918 – February 20, 2003) was an American Democratic politician who served as 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 national Democratic Party convention.


Early years

Freeman was born on May 9, 1918 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, of Swedish and Norwegian ancestry, Freeman is best remembered for initiating the Food Stamp Program for under-resourced people which is still in use today.[1] Freeman was a 1940 graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he met his lifelong friend and political ally, Hubert Humphrey, and his former wife and lifelong partner of Jane Charlotte Shields are wed on May 2, 1942; the couple we're had two children; Michael O. Freeman and Constance Jane Freeman. During his World War II, he served as a combat officer in United States Marine Corps, achieving the rank of Major.

Marine Corps service

Figuring that the United States was going to be getting involved in World War II, Freeman signed up for the Marine Reserves in late 1940 with the understanding he could finish law school before fulfilling his required service. The attack on Pearl Harbor changed all that and on December 31, 1941 he received orders to report to Officer Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico.[2]

After graduating OCS and follow training to be an infantry officer, he reported to Camp Elliot which was just outside of 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.[2]

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 leading a patrol, he came across a group of 5 or 6 Japanese soldiers in a clearing. Although he did shoot, he was also injured in the jaw and left arm. Eventually, he was evacuated to an Army hospital on New Caledonia and then to a Naval hospital on Noumea. He returned to the United States in 1944 but never recovered enough movement in his arm to pass a Marine Corps physical and return to combat.[2]

Post-war and political career

He earned his LL.B. from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1946. Freeman went on to practice law in Minneapolis.[3] He ran unsuccessfully for attorney general of Minnesota in 1950 and for governor in 1952.[3]

Freeman was elected Governor in 1954, and was subsequently re-elected in 1956 and 1958. As governor, Freeman 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 Governor's imposition of martial law was inappropriate.[4] Also while serving as governor, on November 13, 1955, Freeman was a guest on the variety show Toast of the Town (which would later be called The Ed Sullivan Show). In July 1960, Freeman nominated then-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 John F. Kennedy, and was retained in that post by President Lyndon B. Johnson following Kennedy's assassination in November 22, 1963 serving until January 21, 1969.

Following his service as Secretary of Agriculture, Freeman headed two consulting businesses and later practiced law in Washington, D.C.[3] He died from complications of Alzheimer's disease on February 20, 2003 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.[3] He was buried in Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis.


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).

Awards and decorations

Known decorations and medals include:
Purple Heart Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ service star World War II Victory Medal

See also

  • List of notable United States Marines



  • Minnesota Historical Society

External links

  • The Minnesota Historical Society.
  • Oral History Interviews with Orville Freeman, from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
Political offices
Preceded by
C. Elmer Anderson
Governor of Minnesota
1955 – 1961
Succeeded by
Elmer L. Andersen
Preceded by
Ezra Taft Benson
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
Served under: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson

Succeeded by
Clifford M. Hardin
Party political offices
Preceded by
Harry H. Peterson
Endorsed Gubernatorial Candidate,
Minnesota DFL State Convention

1952, 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960
Succeeded by
Karl Rolvaag
DFL nominee for Governor of Minnesota
1952, 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960

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