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This Day in Georgia History

March 20, 1907

Ellis Arnall Born

To view an image of Ellis Arnall with his family, see the Digital Library of Georgia.

Politician Ellis Gibbs Arnall was born in Newnan, Georgia. He attended Mercer University and the University of the South before graduating from the University of Georgia Law School in 1931. The following year he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives at the age of twenty-five, becoming the youngest legislator ever to serve in the General Assembly up to that time. He served two terms in the legislature before being appointed assistant attorney general in 1937, then attorney general in 1939. Arnall decided to run for governor in 1942 because of the furor over then Governor Eugene Talmadge’s dictatorial treatment of the Board of Regents over the matter of firing two professors, allegedly for supporting integration in public schools. Ten state universities and colleges would lose their accreditation over this matter. In the aftermath Arnall defeated Talmadge in the gubernatorial race, once again becoming the youngest person to hold that office for his time. Because the Georgia constitution prohibited successive terms, Arnall only served one term as governor (1943-1947) - but it was a term noted for reform and progressive legislation. Under his leadership Georgia adopted a new state constitution, created a constitutional Board of Regents, State Board of Education, State Board of Pardons and Paroles, State Game and Fish Commission, and State Ports Authority. State appropriations were increased for education, and a teachers’ retirement system was begun - all while erasing the state’s debt without raising taxes. Reforms were initiated in the penal system; Georgia became the first state to lower the voting age to eighteen; the poll tax was abolished, and Georgia won a major U.S. Supreme Court case (with Arnall arguing for the state) allowing the state to sue railroads over rate-fixing practices. Arnall’s term ended with the “Three Governors Affair.” Arnall went on to serve as director of the Office of Price Stabilization in the Truman administration. He unsuccessfully ran for governor again in 1966, before retiring from political life. Arnall died in 1992.