October 21, 1940: Gov. William Conley Dies at 74
On October 21, 1940, former West Virginia Governor William G. Conley died at the age of 74. The Republican started his career as a schoolteacher and became superintendent of Preston County schools at age 25. After earning his law degree, he opened a legal practice in Tucker County and founded the Parsons Advocate newspaper. He also served as mayor of Parsons and Kingwood before being appointed West Virginia attorney general in 1908.
After a defeat for Congress in 1912, Conley focused on his legal work and became involved in the coal industry. In 1928, he returned to politics and won the governorship. But troubling times were just around the corner. The stock market crashed during his first year in office. Over the next three years, West Virginia lost more than 30,000 coal jobs. Despite his distrust of government intervention, Conley promoted efforts to distribute food and create jobs.
The Great Depression was a turning point for West Virginia politics. During Conley’s term, the state became solidly Democratic. Since Conley left office in 1933, only two Republicans, Cecil Underwood and Arch Moore, have served as West Virginia’s governor.