Governor J. Lindsay Almond Jr. and Charles Fenwick

Charles R. Fenwick (1900–1969)

Charles R. Fenwick served as a Democratic member of the House of Delegates (1940–1945) and the Senate of Virginia (1948–1969) and played a key political role in the development of Northern Virginia after World War II (1939–1945). Fenwick entered politics in the 1930s as a member of the Byrd Organization and represented Arlington County for three terms in the House of Delegates. After an unsuccessful attempt to secure the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, Fenwick was elected to the Senate of Virginia in 1947. During the 1950s he opposed the statewide program of Massive Resistance to public-school desegregation, instead supporting local-option plans. He served as the University of Virginia's rector and helped to establish the branch of the university that in 1972 became George Mason University. Fenwick led efforts to regulate the region's public transportation, develop a regional subway system, and establish an authority to build airports in the state. Fenwick died in 1969, while still serving n the Senate. The main library at George Mason University and the Washington, D.C., Metro's Fourteenth Street bridge across the Potomac River are named in his honor. MORE...

 

Early Years

Charles Rogers Fenwick was the son of Edward Taylor Fenwick, a patent attorney, and Clara Louise Gulager Fenwick. He was born on August 11, 1900, in East Falls Church, in Alexandria County (after 1920 Arlington County). After attending public schools in Washington, D.C., he served in the University of Virginia's Student Army Training Corps tank corps during the autumn of 1918, at the end of World War I (1914–1918), and then matriculated at the university in January 1919. He began his studies in the engineering school but transferred to the academic school in 1921 and then began studying law during the 1922–1923 academic year. Fenwick excelled in athletics, was named to several regional all-star football teams as a tackle, and fought as a heavyweight on the boxing team. He continued to display his enthusiasm for sports later in life by serving as a line coach at the University of Virginia and at the University of Maryland in the 1920s, as a member of the State Wrestling and Boxing Commission (later the State Athletic Commission) from 1934 until his death, and as president of the Washington Touchdown Club. He also served as president of the University of Virginia Alumni Association.

Fenwick passed the Virginia bar examination in 1924. Having undertaken additional studies at the George Washington University, he received an LLB from the University of Virginia in 1927. Fenwick specialized in patent and trademark law and became a senior partner of Mason, Fenwick, and Lawrence, one of the nation's oldest patent law firms and one that his grandfather had helped found. On December 10, 1929, he married Eleanor Russell Eastman. They had no children.

Early Political Career

Fenwick became involved in politics in the 1930s as a leader of the local chapter of Young Democrats. During that decade he chaired the Arlington County Democratic Committee and the congressional district committee and also sat on the Democratic State Central Committee. Fenwick generally supported the Democratic Party organization of Harry F. Byrd Sr. and in 1939 won election to the House of Delegates from Arlington County. In three consecutive two-year terms he served on the Committees for Courts of Justice, Federal Relations and Resolutions, Finance, Interstate Cooperation, Militia and Police, and Rules. During World War II he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel while serving as chief of the Royalty Adjustment Branch at an Army Air Forces base in Ohio.

While still in uniform in 1945, Fenwick sought the Democratic Party nomination for lieutenant governor against Lewis P. Collins, of Marion, another Byrd Organization supporter, and Leonard G. Muse, of Roanoke, an opponent of the organization. Byrd chose not to endorse either of his political allies, which split the organization vote. Fenwick won a close primary by a margin of 572 votes out of more than 135,000 cast, with Muse finishing a distant third. Some unusual voting patterns suggested that the friends of each candidate, not knowing what Byrd had wanted, went out of their ways to ensure victory. Fenwick won Wise County with a vote of 3,307 to 122, and Collins won Appomattox County with an equally suspicious total of 1,610 to 25. When Collins challenged the Wise County returns, investigators found that twenty-five of the twenty-seven poll books had disappeared. Judge Julien Gunn, of Richmond, in whose court Collins filed his challenge, threw out all the Wise County returns and declared Collins the victor. Fenwick, who had raised issues of irregularities in several other counties, magnanimously accepted the decision.

In the Senate of Virginia

Two years after relinquishing his seat in the House of Delegates to run for lieutenant governor (the attempt was unusuccessful), Fenwick won the seat representing Arlington County in the Senate of Virginia and served until his death. He became the dependable representative from Northern Virginia who brought recognition and rewards to that often-neglected area. But reflecting the region's distinctiveness, he also developed a reputation for independence and progressivism that precluded his winning Byrd's support for higher office. In 1953 Fenwick challenged Byrd's favored candidate, Thomas B. Stanley, in the gubernatorial primary but lost after a lackluster campaign.

During his career in the Senate of Virginia, Fenwick served on the committees for Courts of Justice; County, City and Town Organizations (later Counties, Cities and Towns); Finance; Roads and Internal Navigation (which he chaired in 1966 and 1968); Moral, Social and Child Welfare (later Welfare, which he chaired in 1962 and 1964). He sat on several legislative councils and commissions, including the Virginia Advisory Legislative Council from 1942 to 1946 and again from 1958 until his death. Fenwick became known for his advocacy of health and education legislation, improvements in mental hospitals and clinics, and annual rather than biennial legislative sessions.

Following the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that mandatory racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, Fenwick served on the two State Commissions on Public Education, one formed in 1954 (known as the Gray Commission) and the other in 1959 (known as the Perrow Commission), that called for a relatively moderate response. He opposed the school-closing bills that the General Assembly passed as part of its Massive Resistance program in 1956 and that the governor employed in 1958 to close schools in several cities and counties when federal courts ordered them to desegregate. In 1956 Fenwick helped draft legislation passed at an extra session that was designed to impede the work of attorneys for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in challenging Virginia's segregation laws. During the extra assembly session in April 1959, he voted with the narrow majority requiring the State Board of Education to adopt a pupil placement plan.

In 1958 Fenwick was appointed to the board of visitors of the University of Virginia and served as rector from 1964 to 1966. He helped establish the branch of the university in Fairfax County that became George Mason University and sat on its advisory committee from 1966 to 1968. The main research library at George Mason University bears his name.

Fenwick helped found and from 1961 to 1962 chaired the Washington Metropolitan Regional Conference (later the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments), which tackled issues of land use, sanitation and water supply, and transportation in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Concerned with mounting traffic problems facing his constituents, he represented Virginia on the regional Joint Transportation Commission, established in 1954. He helped negotiate the interstate compact that in 1960 created the Washington Metropolitan Transit Commission to regulate the region's public transportation. Building on this success, Fenwick and others developed a second agency to construct and operate a regional subway system, and in 1966 he oversaw passage in the General Assembly of an act creating the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). As chair of Virginia's Airport Facilities Study Commission in 1956 and 1957, Fenwick recommended establishing an authority to build and operate airports in the state. He chaired the Virginia Airports Authority from its creation in 1958 and in 1968 joined the Dulles International Airport Development Commission.

Fenwick died in an Arlington hospital on February 22, 1969, of complications after surgery for diverticulitis and was buried at Oakwood Cemetery, in Falls Church. In 1983 the WMATA named its Potomac River bridge at Fourteenth Street for him.

Time Line

  • August 11, 1900 - Charles R. Fenwick is born in East Falls Church, the son of Edward Taylor Fenwick and Clara Louise Gulager Fenwick.
  • Autumn 1918 - Charles R. Fenwick serves in the University of Virginia's Army Training Corps tank corps.
  • 1921 - Charles R. Fenwick transfers from the engineering school to the academic school at the University of Virginia.
  • 1922–1923 - Charles R. Fenwick studies law at the University of Virginia.
  • 1924 - Charles R. Fenwick passes the Virginia bar examination.
  • 1927 - After undertaking additional studies at George Washington University, Charles R. Fenwick receives an LLB from the University of Virginia.
  • December 10, 1929 - Charles R. Fenwick and Eleanor Russell Eastman marry. They will have no children.
  • 1934–1969 - Charles R. Fenwick serves as a member of the State Wrestling and Boxing Commission (later the State Athletic Commission).
  • 1939 - Charles R. Fenwick wins election to the House of Delegates as a Democrat representing Arlington County.
  • 1942–1946 - Charles R. Fenwick sits on the Virginia Advisory Legislative Council.
  • 1945 - Charles R. Fenwick wins a close Democratic primary race for lieutenant governor, defeating Lewis P. Collins and Leonard G. Muse. Due to voting irregularities, however, a judge declares Collins the victor.
  • 1948–1969 - Charles R. Fenwick serves in the Senate of Virginia as a Democrat representing Arlington County.
  • 1953 - Charles R. Fenwick challenges Thomas B. Stanley for the Democratic nomination for governor and loses.
  • 1954 - Charles R. Fenwick serves on the Commission on Public Education, also known as the Gray Commission, called to formulate a response to court-mandated desegregation.
  • 1956 - Charles R. Fenwick helps draft legislation, which passes at an extra session, that is designed to impede the work of NAACP attorneys challenging Virginia segregation laws.
  • 1956–1957 - Charles R. Fenwick chairs Virginia's Airport Facilities Study Commission and recommends establishing an authority to build and operate airports in the state.
  • 1958–1968 - Charles R. Fenwick chairs the Virginia Airports Authority.
  • 1958–1969 - Charles R. Fenwick sits on the Virginia Advisory Legislative Council.
  • 1958 - Charles R. Fenwick is appointed to the board of visitors of the University of Virginia.
  • 1959 - Charles R. Fenwick serves on the Perrow Commission, called to deal with the continuing problem of court-mandated desegregation.
  • April 1959 - Charles R. Fenwick votes with a narrow majority requiring the State Board of Education to adopt a pupil placement plan.
  • 1960 - As a member of the regional Joint Transportation Commission, Charles R. Fenwick helps negotiate the interstate compact that creates the Washington Metropolitan Transit Commission to regulate the region's public transportation.
  • 1961–1962 - Charles R. Fenwick chairs the Washington Metropolitan Regional Conference, which tackles issues of land use, sanitation and water supply, and transportation in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.
  • 1962–1966 - Charles R. Fenwick chairs the Senate of Virginia's Moral, Social and Child Welfare committee.
  • 1964–1966 - Charles R. Fenwick serves as rector of the University of Virginia.
  • 1966–1969 - Charles R. Fenwick chairs the Senate of Virginia's Roads and Internal Navigation committee.
  • 1966–1968 - Charles R. Fenwick serves on the advisory council of George Mason College of the University of Virginia (later George Mason University).
  • 1968 - Charles R. Fenwick joins the Dulles International Airport Development Commission.
  • February 22, 1969 - Charles R. Fenwick dies in an Arlington hospital of complications after surgery for diverticulitis. He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery, in Falls Church.
  • 1983 - The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority names its Potomac River bridge at Fourteenth Street for Charles R. Fenwick.

References

Further Reading
Banham, Russ. The Fight for Fairfax: A Struggle for a Great American County. Fairfax, Virginia: George Mason University Press, 2009.
Ely, James W., Jr. The Crisis of Conservative Virginia: The Byrd Organization and the Politics of Massive Resistance. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1976.
Heinemann, Ronald L. Harry Byrd of Virginia. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006.
Schrag, Zachary M. The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
Wilkinson, J. Harvie, III. Harry Byrd and the Changing Face of Virginia Politics, 1945–1966. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1968.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Heinemann, R. L., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Charles R. Fenwick (1900–1969). (2014, September 14). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Fenwick_Charles_R_1900-1969.

  • MLA Citation:

    Heinemann, Ronald L. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Charles R. Fenwick (1900–1969)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 14 Sep. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: March 4, 2014 | Last modified: September 14, 2014


Contributed by Ronald L. Heinemann and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Ronald L. Heinemann is a professor of history at Hampden-Sydney College.