Joseph E. Ransdell

Joseph Eugene Ransdell
United States Senator
from Louisiana
In office
March 4, 1913  March 4, 1931
Preceded by Murphy J. Foster
Succeeded by Huey Pierce Long, Jr.
Member of the United States House of Representatives from Louisiana's 5th congressional district
In office
August 29, 1899  March 3, 1913
Preceded by Samuel Thomas Baird
Succeeded by James Walter Elder
Personal details
Born (1858-10-07)October 7, 1858
Alexandria, Rapides Parish
Died July 27, 1954(1954-07-27) (aged 95)
Lake Providence
East Carroll Parish
Resting place Lake Providence Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Olive Irene Powell Ransdell (married 1885-1935, her death)

Brother, Francis Xavier Ransdell
Nephew-by-marriage, Frank Voelker, Sr.

Nephew-by-marriage, John Martin Hamley
Occupation Attorney; farmer
Religion Roman Catholic

Joseph Eugene Ransdell (October 7, 1858  July 27, 1954) was a seven-term United States representative from Louisiana's 5th congressional district who subsequently served for three terms in the United States Senate from Louisiana.


Born in Alexandria in Rapides Parish in central Louisiana, Ransdell attended public schools. In 1882, he graduated from Union College in Schnectady, New York. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1883 and practiced from 1883 to 1889 in Lake Providence in East Carroll Parish in far northeastern Louisiana. Ransdell's law partner during the 1880s was his younger brother, Francis Xavier Ransdell, judge of the Louisiana 6th Judicial District Court. Joseph Ransdell was district attorney for the 8th Judicial District of Louisiana from 1884 to 1896. He was a planter of cotton and pecan groves. From 1896 to 1899, he served on the Fifth Levee District Board. In 1898, he was a member of the state constitutional convention.

House and Senate

In 1899, Ransdell was elected as a Democrat to the Fifty-sixth Congress to fill the vacancy created by the death of Samuel Thomas Baird. He won his first full term in Congress in 1900, having defeated the Republican businessman Henry E. Hardtner of Urania in La Salle Parish, 6,172 votes (90.8 percent) to 628 (9.2 percent). Hardtner was the last Republican to contest the seat until 1976, when Frank Spooner of Monroe waged a strong but losing challenge to the Democrat Jerry Huckaby of Ringgold in Bienville Parish. By 1910, Hardtner had switched to Democratic affiliation and served for two years in the Louisiana House of Representatives as the first member ever from La Salle Parish. From 1924 to 1928, Hardtner was a state senator.

Ransdell served in the House from August 29, 1899, to March 4, 1913. He was not a candidate for renomination in 1912, having instead been elected by the Louisiana State Legislature to the United States Senate, prior to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In 1918, he defeated future U.S. Senator John H. Overton of Alexandria in a disputed vote. Ransdell won his third term in the Democratic primary election in 1924, having defeated Lee Emmett Thomas, the mayor of Shreveport, 104,312 (54.9 percent) to 85,547 (45.1 percent).

He served from March 4, 1913, to March 4, 1931, but he was denied renomination in 1930 by then Governor Huey Pierce Long, Jr. Long received 149,640 votes (57.3 percent) to Ransdell's 111,451 (42.7 percent). Long was then elected without Republican opposition in the general election. Ransdell may have sown the seeds of his own defeat. He had appeared in 1927 at a Long political rally in Lake Providence, where Judge Francis Ransdell introduced Long, and District Attorney Jefferson B. Snyder, another long-term advocate of the planter interests, sat on the stage. Snyder had not really favored Long so much as he was convinced that Long would defeat his chief opponent, U.S. Representative Riley J. Wilson, the favorite of most planter interests, and Snyder wanted to influence the new governor. At the rally, Huey Long began "a harangue that castigated their closest friends and political allies and the old establishment itself, of which these men were a part."[1] Particularly outraged at Long's treatment of the Randsdells was state Senator Norris C. Williamson of East Carroll Parish, who would not seek compromise with the Longs and retired to private life in 1932, rather than face likely defeat himself.[2]

While in Congress, Ransdell was chairman of the Committee on Public Health and National Quarantine (Sixty-third through Sixty-fifth Congresses) and a member of the Committee on Mississippi River and Its Tributaries (Sixty-sixth Congress). It was in this capacity that Randsell sponsored the Ransdell Act, which created the National Institutes of Health.

Later years

In 1920, Ransdell founded a printing firm in Washington, D.C., at a time when members of Congress could run businesses while serving in office. When his Senate tenure ended in 1931, Ransdell returned to Lake Providence to engage in the real estate business, cotton planting, and pecan growing. He was a member of the board of supervisors of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge from 1940 to 1944 during the administration of Governor Sam Houston Jones. Ransdell died in Lake Providence and is interred there at Lake Providence Cemetery.

Ransdell was a great-uncle of Frank Voelker, Jr., a Lake Providence attorney who chaired the former Louisiana Sovereignty Commission during the administration of Governor Jimmie Davis and then ran unsuccessful for governor in the 1963 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Frank Voelker, Sr., judge of the Sixth Judicial District from 1937 until his death in 1963, was married to Ransdell's niece, Isabel, and was hence a son-in-law of Judge Francis Ransdell.[3]

Ransdell's great-great nephew was the New Orleans entrepreneur and philanthropist David Ransdell Voelker. Following Hurricane Katrina, Democratic Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco named David Voelker to the Louisiana Recovery Authority. Blanco's successor and past opponent, Republican Bobby Jindal, elevated Voelker as chairman of the authority.[4] In 2008, though he had been identified previously as a "longtime, diehard Republican", David Voelker was the largest donor in Louisiana to Democrat Barack H. Obama of Illinois, having given the then neophyte presidential candidate $80,000, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.[5]

Ransdell named the community of Elmwood southwest of Lake Providence, where he owned much of the land, for his boyhood plantation in Rapides parish. In 1976, more than thirty years after Ransdell's death, St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Lake Providence moved into a new building on a lot which the former senator had willed to the congregation. The new location at 207 Scarborough Street, is directly across the street from the earlier structure where Ransdell and his family had long worshiped.[3]

The definitive biography of Ransdell was written in 1951 by Adras LaBorde, long-time managing editor of the Alexandria Daily Town Talk.

See also


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Samuel Thomas Baird
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 5th congressional district

August 29, 1899 – March 4, 1913
Succeeded by
James Walter Elder
United States Senate
Preceded by
Murphy J. Foster, Sr.
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Louisiana
March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1931
Served alongside: John Thornton, Robert F. Broussard, Walter Guion, Edward Gay, Edwin Broussard
Succeeded by
Huey Long
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Robert Owen
Oldest living U.S. Senator
July 19, 1947 July 27, 1954
Succeeded by
Lawrence Phipps
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