Foster Furcolo

Foster Furcolo

Furcolo as Governor, 1958
60th Governor of Massachusetts
In office
January 3, 1957  January 5, 1961
Lieutenant Robert F. Murphy
Preceded by Christian Herter
Succeeded by John A. Volpe
Treasurer and Receiver-General of Massachusetts
In office
July 5, 1952  January 1955
Preceded by John E. Hurley
Succeeded by John Francis Kennedy
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1949  September 30, 1952
Preceded by Charles R. Clason
Succeeded by Edward Boland
Personal details
Born (1911-07-29)July 29, 1911
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
Died July 5, 1995(1995-07-05) (aged 83)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Yale University
Yale Law School
Profession Lawyer

John Foster Furcolo (July 29, 1911 – July 5, 1995) was a Democratic Party lawyer, politician, and writer from Massachusetts. He was the state's 60th governor, and also represented the state as a member of the United States House of Representatives. He was the first Italian-American governor of the state, and an active promoter of community colleges.

Born in New Haven, Connecticut and educated at Yale, Furcolo practiced law before serving in the United States Navy during World War II. He first won election to Congress in 1948, and served most of two terms, resigning after being appointed Massachusetts Treasurer in 1952 by Governor Paul A. Dever. He won two terms as Governor, serving from 1957 to 1961. In addition to supporting community colleges, as governor he also furthered the redevelopment of parts of Boston, including development of the Prudential Center and Government Center. His administration was overshadowed by corruption scandals. He was twice an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate. He was the author of several books, including a novel set amid events surrounding the World War II Katyn massacre.

Early years

John Foster Furcolo was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on July 29, 1911.[1] His father, Charles Furcolo, was an Italian immigrant and a doctor,[2] and his mother was an Irish immigrant.[3] Furcolo attended public schools in Longmeadow, Massachusetts and New Haven. He then attended Yale University, where he graduated in 1933, and finally Yale Law School, where he received his LL.B. in 1936.[1] At Yale he played a variety of sports, serving on both the boxing team (as a welterweight) and the baseball team, where according to his brother Charles he played second base. He was undefeated as a boxer and was encouraged to turn professional, but chose not to. He also engaged in literary pursuits, writing short stories and plays that were produced locally.[4][5] Furcolo dropped use of his first name when he entered politics.[6]

In 1937 Furcolo moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he opened a law practice.[7] He specialized in criminal and civil trial work, and quickly rose in prominence, the quality of his legal preparation and trial work receiving favorable notice from others in the legal community.[7][8] After a few years he moved his growing family to neighboring Longmeadow. He made his first run for public office in 1942, an unsuccessful run for district attorney. During World War II he served in U.S. Navy as a lieutenant (junior grade) aboard USS Kershaw, a transport vessel in the Pacific, which participated in the Invasion of Okinawa.[6][7]

House of Representatives

A mass grave at Katyn Forest, 1943

In 1946 Furcolo stood for election as a Democratic Party candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat, running against incumbent Charles R. Clason. He lost by 3,000 votes, a narrow margin, in an election dominated in the state by Republican victories.[9] In 1948, he again ran against Clason, and won by a comfortable margin, buoyed by the support of war veterans and organized labor.[5][10] In 1950, Furcolo was challenged by Polish-American Republican Charles Skibinski, who sought to capitalize on the large number of Polish-Americans in the district in a campaign in which there were no major issues.[11] Furcolo retained his seat, winning by more than 10,000 out of over 130,000 votes cast.[12]

Furcolo served in the House of Representatives from January 3, 1949 until his resignation on September 30, 1952.[1] He drew national attention when he was the first freshman representative to be invited to the White House by President Harry S. Truman to discuss legislative matters.[3] He innovatively introduced the idea of a "people's council", composed of individuals from a cross-section of his district's interests, which he could consult to gauge opinion on legislative matters.[13] His major legislative proposal, introduced early in his first term, was for a scholarship loan program to help needy high school graduates attend college.[14]

In 1951 Furcolo was appointed to a special committee established to investigate reports of mass killings during World War II in the Katyn Forest of eastern Poland.[15] The committee concluded that the killings had been perpetrated by Soviet secret service (NKVD), and sought to bring a case before the International Court of Justice.[16] Furcolo used what he learned from the committee's investigations to write a novel, Rendezvous At Katyn.[17]

Massachusetts Treasurer

Paul A. Dever, 1939 photo

On July 5, 1952, Furcolo was appointed by Governor Paul A. Dever to be the Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,[18] to replace John E. Hurley, who had resigned to accept a position as clerk of the Boston Municipal Court.[3] Dever made the appointment in part to break up what was seen as Irish-American domination of the government.[19] Congress was in recess at the time of the appointment, so Furcolo did not formally resign his Congressional seat until September.[3] In November 1952, Furcolo was elected in his own right to the Treasurer's office despite Dever's loss of the governor's seat; he held that position until January 1955.[20][21]

In 1954 Furcolo ran for the U.S. Senate, but was narrowly defeated by incumbent Republican Leverett A. Saltonstall. The election exposed a personal dispute between Furcolo and fellow Democrat John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Furcolo and Kennedy had served together in Congress, and the two reportedly had not gotten along. In the 1954 campaign Kennedy refused to endorse Furcolo publicly,[6] and Saltonstall recounted in his memoir that Kennedy's campaign staff worked with his in opposition to Furcolo, and that Saltonstall regularly announced legislation he and Kennedy had cosponsored.[22]

Massachusetts Governor

Furcolo ran for Governor of Massachusetts in 1956, easily winning the Democratic party nomination and primary.[23][24] The campaign against Republican Lieutenant Governor Sumner G. Whittier was vitriolic, with each accusing the other of distorting his legislative record. Furcolo was further characterized by Republicans as a part of the Dever political machine who would be beholden to Boston interests.[25][26] Senator Kennedy in this election specifically endorsed Furcolo for the office.[27] Furcolo won the election and was re-elected in 1958, defeating former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives Charles Gibbons, and served as Massachusetts governor from 1957 to 1961.[17]

Furcolo was a vigorous and active chief executive, working long hours in the office. He came to the office with large-scale visions and worked hard, sometimes stubbornly and against other party interests, to realize some of them. He was not always seen as a "team player" by members of his own party in the legislature whose backgrounds he did not generally share. This was particularly manifested in his push for a broad-based sales tax, opposition to which had been enshrined in the Democratic Party platform; the proposal went down to bipartisan defeat in the legislature.[19][28] During his administration, Furcolo established a network of regional community colleges throughout the Commonwealth and fought for state workers' salary increases, workmen's compensation and unemployment benefits.[17] He introduced income-tax withholding from payroll checks, leading to a significant increase in state revenue.[29] According to the state's 1960 report, it ranked first in the nation in education and at or near the top in other social programs.[8] He also appointed Massachusetts' youngest state purchasing agent, Bernard "Bunny" Solomon, who saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands annually.[30]

Furcolo was an influential figure in the development of Boston's Government Center area as a nexus of local, federal and state offices. He was the first to propose that a federal office building planned for the Back Bay area of the city instead become part of a major redevelopment effort in the declining Scollay Square neighborhood. The effort was primarily spearheaded by Boston Mayors John B. Hynes and John F. Collins, but Furcolo was a regular presence moving the Government Center proposals forward and supporting them at the state level.[31] Using the pseudonym John Foster, in 1957 Furcolo published a comic novel, Let George Do It!, about a campaign for a state legislature seat.[32]

John F. Kennedy, serving as a Congressman in 1947

In addition to Government Center, Furcolo was also instrumental in the development of Boston's Prudential Center. The site of an unused railyard in the Back Bay had for some years been the subject of development proposals. Prudential Insurance sought limitations on Boston's tax assessments on the proposed development, and portions of the site were also being considered for use as an extension of the Massachusetts Turnpike. Furcolo helped to broker the deal, making it possible for Prudential to begin construction. The Supreme Judicial Court struck down aspects of the deal regarding the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA, now the MBTA), leading to a work stoppage on the project in 1960.[33]

Furcolo's administration was marked by the continuing trend of corruption in state government that had been growing in prior administrations. One notable series of cases involved the construction of the parking garage under the Boston Common. Furcolo established the Massachusetts Parking Commission to oversee the effort, but did not place it under any sort of oversight. The commission was self-financed by floating bonds, and a number of actors were later documented to extract more the $800,000 from the commission's construction funds by a variety of schemes. Four people were convicted and served prison time for these acts.[34] A second major scandal, involving collusion between state public works officials, appraisers and landowners along planned interstate highway routes, took place in the 1950s. Details of the scams, described by politicians at that time as "the granddaddy" of highway-related malfeasance, were squelched by a Democratic-controlled Congressional investigation until after the 1960 election, apparently to avoid embarrassing Kennedy in his run for president. The scandal resulted in the conviction of several Massachusetts highway officials.[35]

Second run for Senate

In 1960 Furcolo again ran for the U.S. Senate, and was widely expected to gain the Democratic Party nomination easily. However, former Springfield mayor Thomas O'Connor capitalized on the corruption scandals during Furcolo's administration and defeated him in the primary.[36] Furcolo attributed his defeat to his support for the sales tax proposal.[6]

During Furcolo's lame-duck period, John F. Kennedy resigned his Senate seat in December 1960 after winning the presidential election, putting Furcolo in position to appoint a temporary replacement. He initially sought to appoint himself, but was pressured by the Kennedys to appoint Benjamin Smith (a college roommate of Kennedy's brother Joseph) instead. The Kennedys wanted the seat to go to younger brother Edward (as it eventually did in the November 1962 special election), but he was ineligible due to age at the time of the appointment.[37]

Later years

Furcolo took the loss badly, and decided to leave politics. He returned to private practice, moving to Needham and his law firm to Newton.[6][8] Four years after leaving office, he was indicted on charges of arranging for a bribe to be paid to members of the Governor's Council (while he was still governor) in order to secure an appointment for a supporter. The indictment against him was eventually dismissed for lack of evidence, but four councilors were convicted on a variety of charges.[38]

In 1966, Furcolo sought the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts attorney general but lost the nomination to former Lieutenant Governor Francis X. Bellotti in September.[39] He worked from 1967 to 1972 as an assistant district attorney for Middlesex County.[8] In 1969, he served on the U.S. Attorney General's Advisory Committee on Narcotics.[17]

Furcolo also began teaching law in 1969. Over the next five years he taught legal ethics at Portia Law School (now the New England School of Law), criminal law at Massachusetts Bay Community College and government at a number of the state's community colleges.[8] He was selected as an administrative law judge with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission in 1975, a post he held through 1989.[17]

Furcolo maintained an interest in higher education after his departure from elective politics. While a United States Representative he secured the passage of legislation offering loans to needy students, and while governor he enacted significant reforms in the state's university system, granting the individual schools in the system fiscal autonomy. In 1973 he was hired as a full-time professor of public service, working across the entire state college system.[40] He served for many years on the state's Board of Regents, which was responsible for overseeing the state-run institutions of higher learning. In this capacity, he was often a minority voice in seeking to improve the state's colleges and universities. Because he was dissatisfied with that body's work, in 1981 he supported the formation of an advocacy group to lobby for improvements.[41]

Furcolo died of heart failure at the age of 83 on July 5, 1995 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is buried in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts.[1][17]

Family, awards, and legacy

Furcolo was married three times. His first wife Kay, with whom he had five children, died in 1964. In 1967 he married Lucy Carra; they had no children.[42][43] Estranged from Lucy in 1972, he became embroiled in legal disputes with her relatives after her death in 1979.[44] He was survived by his third wife, Constance Gleason.[6]

In 2009 Furcolo's support of community colleges was commemorated when the state formally named its network the Governor Foster Furcolo Community College System.[45] He was awarded the Order of Polonia Restituta by the government of Poland for his role in the investigation of Katyn, and he also received the Italian Star of Solidarity.[8] He was awarded honorary degrees from Boston University, Portia Law School, Suffolk University, the University of Massachusetts, and a number of other schools.[8]


In addition to books, Furcolo wrote articles, stories and essays for a wide variety of publications.[8] His books include:


  1. 1 2 3 4 United States Congress. "Foster Furcolo (id: F000431)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved January 24, 2008.
  2. "Dr. Furcolo Urged for Hampden Post". The Boston Globe. March 15, 1934.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Collins, Russ (July 6, 1952). "Furcolo Switch Seen as Stride to Governor's Chair or Senate". The Boston Globe.
  4. "Congressman Furcolo's Brother Says He Is No Gravy Seeker". The Boston Globe. November 7, 1946.
  5. 1 2 Collins, Russ (November 7, 1948). "New Congressman Can Box, Play Ball and Write Novels". The Boston Globe.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Driscoll, Edgar (July 6, 1995). "Foster Furcolo, Two-Term Mass. Governor, Dies at 83". The Boston Globe.
  7. 1 2 3 Mackinnon, George (January 4, 1957). "Our New Governor Wins His Law Spurs". The Boston Globe.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Foster Furcolo, Former Governor". The Needham Times. July 6, 1995.
  9. Harris, John (November 8, 1946). "Ballots Guarded for Recount". The Boston Globe.
  10. Harris, John (September 15, 1946). "1st, 2d Districts Focus of Congressional Battles". The Boston Globe.
  11. "Legislative Sway Issue in Bay State". New York Times. October 12, 1950.
  12. "Bay State's 14 Congressmen Keep Seats". The Boston Globe. November 9, 1950.
  13. "Furcolo's Innovation Interests Congress". The Boston Globe. January 16, 1949.
  14. "How Uncle Sam Would Send 5000 to College". New York Times. January 12, 1950.
  15. "Polish Exiles Honor Katyn Investigators". The Boston Globe. March 29, 1953.
  16. "The Katyn Controversy". United States Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 van Gelder, Laurence (July 6, 1995). "Foster Furcolo, 83, Governor, Legislator and Sometime Writer". The New York Times.
  18. "Dever Picks Furcolo As Treasurer". The Boston Globe. July 5, 1952. p. 14.
  19. 1 2 Hogarty, p. 37
  20. Hogarty, p. 36
  21. Mackinnon, George (January 6, 1957). "Our New Governor: From An Obscure Lawyer To Governor In Only 10 Years". The Boston Globe.
  22. Savage, pp. 23-24
  23. Lewis, William (June 9, 1965). "Democrats Indorse Furcolo on First Worcester Ballot". The Boston Globe.
  24. Harris, John (September 19, 1956). "Furcolo-Murphy Ticket Wins". The Boston Globe.
  25. Lewis, William (October 24, 1956). "Furcolo Sees Housing Gap; Whittier Hits Drastic Draft". The Boston Globe.
  26. Snow, C. R (October 21, 1956). "Politics & Politicians: Furcolo-Whittier Spat May Be Tipoff to One Of Liveliest Windups". The Boston Globe.
  27. Savage, p. 28
  28. O'Connor, p. 146
  29. Michelson, A. A (January 19, 1980). "State of State: A case of mistaken envy and a big chance". The Boston Globe.
  30. Gallagher, T. 20 Nov 1960. Suggest Solomon for Senate. Lowell Son.
  31. Hodgkinson, H. D (1972). "Miracle in Boston". Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Third Series, Vol. 8): 71–81. JSTOR 25080730.
  32. Furcolo, Foster (1957-10-21). "Fiction by a Governor on a Rowdy Campaign". Life. p. 118. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
  33. O'Connor, pp. 120–123
  34. Cutler, pp. 95–107
  35. Lewis, pp. 165-166
  36. Farrell, David (September 20, 1978). "1960, 1962 contests were bitter battles: Primary fights often toughest". The Boston Globe.
  37. Hogarty, p. 38
  38. Cutler, pp. 104–105
  39. Hanron, Robert (September 14, 1966). "Bellotti Bounces Back With Ease". The Boston Globe.
  40. Cohen, Muriel. "Foster Furcolo given $29,500 teaching job". The Boston Globe.
  41. Kindleberger, R. S (December 13, 1981). "Citizen lobby being formed for higher education". The Boston Globe.
  42. "Lucy C. Furcolo, was federal law judge, Mass. state official". The Boston Globe. July 5, 1979.
  43. Cullen, John (February 20, 1975). "Furcolo named a HEW judge". The Boston Globe.
  44. "Furcolo sues in-laws to recover property". The Boston Globe. August 23, 1979.
  45. Viser, Matt (September 17, 2009). "After 50 years, state gives back to a former governor". The Boston Globe.


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Charles R. Clason
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 2nd congressional district

January 3, 1949 – September 30, 1952
Succeeded by
Edward Boland
Political offices
Preceded by
John E. Hurley
Treasurer and Receiver General of Massachusetts
July 5, 1952 – January 1955
Succeeded by
John Francis Kennedy
Preceded by
Christian Herter
Governor of Massachusetts
January 3, 1957 – January 5, 1961
Succeeded by
John A. Volpe
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