Gov. George Herbert Utter

Inducted: 1969
Born: 1854 - Died:

George Herbert Utter was born July 24th, 1854, in Plainfield, New Jersey, to parents George Benjamin Utter and Mary Starr Maxon. Utter’s father was a respected academic and Seventh Day Baptist minister, who, prior to starting a family, had spent time in England studying the history of Sabbatical discourse in both London and Oxford. Upon his return to the U.S., George Sr. began publishing a weekly Baptist periodical entitled The Sabbath Recorder, which he continued to run at the time of, and after, his son’s birth. Before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1860, George Sr. decided to uproot his printing business and relocate it to Westerly, Rhode Island, for safety, and in 1861, Mary and seven-year-old George Jr. followed suit.

During the war years, Utter completed his primary and middle school education in Westerly, before attending Alfred University in New York, where he enrolled in two years of college preparatory school. However, he moved back to Rhode Island in 1870 and completed his education at Westerly High School, then moved on to Amherst University in Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1877. After completing college, Utter was taken under his father’s tutelage and trained in the business of printing, assisting his father and uncle, John Utter, in the publication of the Rhode Island Newspaper, The Narragansett Weekly. It was also during this period that he met his wife, Elizabeth Lovina Brown, whom he married in 1880. Together, the couple raised four children: George, Henry, Mary, and Wilfred. Upon George Sr.’s death in 1892, George Jr. assumed sole ownership of his father’s printing company, and went on to found the wildly successful newspaper The Westerly Sun in 1893. The Sun was distinguished from other newspapers of the time because it was published on Sunday evenings, and had no Saturday issue—as Seventh-Day Baptists observe the Sabbath on Saturdays, not Sundays.

In addition to his printing business, George Utter also enjoyed a prolific political career in local government, serving as a Rhode Island state representative from 1885-1889, Speaker of the House in 1899, state senator from 1889-1891, and Rhode Island Secretary of State from 1891-1894. At this time, following the death of his father, Utter went on an extended hiatus from politics to focus on his newly-inherited printing business. During this decade off, The Westerly Sun acquired the largest circulation of all the newspapers in southern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut. Utter made his return to political life in 1904, when he was elected to serve as Rhode Island’s Lieutenant Governor. The following year, he was elected as Governor of Rhode Island, serving from 1905-1906. After another professional respite, Utter returned to the political arena for a final time in 1911, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives representing Rhode Island’s second district. Unfortunately, this era of Utter’s career was to be short-lived, as he died in office in 1912.

A staunch Republican throughout his career, Utter was well-respected by his peers and party members for his intelligence, eloquence, and leadership capabilities, earning him the nickname of “Little Giant”—a play on his short stature. An ardent proponent of political and industrial reform within the Ocean State, Governor Utter sought to fight against corruption within the Republican party, often butting heads with the infamous lobbyist and party boss Charles R. Brayton. Following his sudden death in 1912, he was interred in Riverbend Cemetery in Westerly, and remains, to this day, one of few men in Rhode Island history to have held such a wide array of prestigious political offices.

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