Museum logo
Museum logo

Object Record

  • Email This Page
Accession Number 1900.001
Catalog Number 1900.001.048
Object Name Painting
Title Portrait of Frank Willis
Description Portrait of Ohio's 47th governor, Frank Willis, who served from 1915-1917. He wears a navy blue suit with a white shirt and a blue and gray striped tie. He has short brown hair. The background is brown with green highlights.
Date Unknown
Artist Smart, Edmond Hodgdon, 1873-1942
Notes Frank Bartlett Willis was born in Lewis Center, Ohio, on December 28, 1871. He grew up on a farm. After attending the local public schools, Willis enrolled at Ohio Northern University. Coming from a relatively poor family, the young student had to work his way through college by doing odd jobs and teaching school. He received his degree from Ohio Northern in 1894 and then became a professor of economics and history there. While teaching at the university, Willis began to study the law. Willis gained admittance to the Ohio Bar in 1906. Rather than setting up a law practice, he began to teach legal courses at Ohio Northern.

A member of the Republican Party, Willis first entered politics when he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1900. Although he was still a young man, he quickly gained the respect of the citizens of his district and of his fellow politicians. He served from 1900 to 1904. Running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1904, Willis returned to Ohio Northern University after the end of his term in state government. In 1910, Willis was elected to Congress. He served as one of Ohio's representatives until January 1915, when he resigned to become Ohio governor. Willis became the first Ohio governor to be chosen under the new direct primary system. He defeated Governor James M. Cox by advocating a number of Progressive reforms, including workmen's compensation, an eight-hour work day, and other types of social legislation.

A number of important reforms were implemented during Willis' administration as governor. The state revamped its road laws, made revisions to civil service, and implemented new liquor control laws. He called out the Ohio National Guard in 1916 to stop violence resulting from a steel strike in Youngstown, Ohio, and he mobilized troops once again to support American efforts to deal with Pancho Villa along the Mexican border. Willis was unsuccessful in winning reelection in 1916, when former governor Cox defeated him. He attempted to return to the governorship in 1918, but was defeated once again.

Willis returned to Congress as a U.S. senator in January 1921, when Warren G. Harding resigned from his seat. As a senator, Willis was an outspoken isolationist. He opposed American membership in the League of Nations and supported a high tariff against exports into the United States. Willis was reelected as senator in 1926, but he also began to position himself to be a key player within the national Republican Party. Willis was still a senator when he died in Delaware, Ohio, on March 30, 1928. At the time of his death, the former governor was exploring the idea of running for president on the Republican ticket.

Willis died in office in 1928 at Gray Chapel, Ohio Wesleyan University, in Delaware, Ohio, during a Republican Party event involving a "favorite son" presidential bid for Willis. The Delaware County "Willis-for-President Club" had organized the event.
People Smart, Edmond Hodgdon, 1873-1942
Willis, Frank B. (Frank Bartlette), 1871-1928
Signed Name "E. Hodgdon Smart"
Image size 30" x 25"
Frame size 34" x 28-3/4"
Frame desc First-half twentieth century gilt molded frame with carved beaded liner
Material Oil Paint/Canvas/Wood
Provenance In 1867, the Ohio General Assembly passed a joint resolution relative to the governors of Ohio. The legislators resolved that "the secretary of state, on the first Monday of January next, whether the portraits of the governors of Ohio, state and territorial, can be procured, and if so, whether original portraits or copies, and the probable expense of procuring such portraits for the governor's office."

An inscription on the reverse reads:" The Late Senator Frank B. Willis by EHS from photographs." After his term as Ohio governor, Willis served in the U.S. Senate from Ohio from March 4, 1921 to March 30, 1928.

The Ohio House Journal for 1917 (p. 919) has an entry for "painting portrait of Governor Frank B. Willis now in the Governor's office. . .$500"

The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board took over the care of the Statehouse and its collections in 1988.
Search Terms Ohio Governor
Ohio Governor's Portraits
Subjects Governors
Portrait paintings
Collection Statehouse Artwork Collection/Governors' Portraits