James B. Aswell

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James Benjamin Aswell​

U.S. Representative for Louisiana's 8th congressional district, disbanded​ 1992
In office
March 4, 1913 ​ – March 16, 1931​
Preceded by New 8th district created ​
Succeeded by John Holmes Overton​

In office
1900​ – 1904​
Preceded by W. C. Robinson​
Succeeded by W. E. Taylor​

Louisiana Superintendent of Education​
In office
1904​ – 1908​
Succeeded by T. H. Harris

In office
1908​ – 1911​

Born December 23, 1869​
Vernon, Jackson Parish, Louisiana​
Died March 16, 1931 (aged 62)​
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.​
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) (1) Mary Lee Wright Aswell (married 1893-1898, her death)​

(2) Ella Foster Aswell​ (married 1901-1931, his death)

Children Corinne Aswell Cantrill​

James B. Aswell, Jr.
​Benjamin W. and Frances Elizabeth Lyles Aswell

Alma mater Peabody College​

University of Nashville (defunct)
University of Arkansas
​ UA School of Law

Occupation Educator, Attorney, Politician

James Benjamin Aswell, Sr. (December 23, 1869 – March 16, 1931), was a prominent educator, the president of two colleges, and a Democratic U.S. Representative from Louisiana, who served from 1913 until his death, which occurred twelve days into his tenth term.[1]


Aswell was born in the rural Vernon community near Jonesboro in Jackson Parish in north Louisiana to Benjamin W. Aswell (1830-1909) and the former Frances Elizabeth Lyles (1847-1908). He attended local schools and graduated with teaching credentials in 1892 from Peabody Normal College, a division of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1893, he received the Bachelor of Arts degree from the former University of Nashville. In 1894, he received his Master of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; in 1907, he obtained his law degree from the same institution. [2]

Aswell was twice married: (1) the former Mary Lee Wright (1868-1898) by whom he had his daughter Corinne Aswell Cantrill (1895-1976), born three years before her mother's death, and (2) the former Ellen "Ella" Foster (1868-1937) of Mineral Wells, Texas, and thereafter Shreveport, by whom he had his son, James B. Aswell, Jr. (1906–1955), an author based in Natchitoches.​[2]


Aswell began his educational career as a teacher in country schools and high schools. He was a state school administrator before he was tapped from 1900 to become the third president of Louisiana Tech University.[3] W. E. Taylor, a biology professor, succeeded Aswell as the Louisiana Tech president. Aswell was superintendent for one term until 1908, during which time he worked to reorganize public schools. From 1908 to 1911, Aswell was the president of Northwestern State University, when that institution was known as the Normal School in Natchitoches.​[2]​Aswell resigned as the Northwestern president to run for governor of Louisiana in the Democratic primary held on April 16, 1912, but was defeated by Luther E. Hall (1869-1921), who served in the state's highest office from 1912 to 1916.

Thereafter, Aswell was instead elected later in 1912 to the U.S. House from the newly created 8th congressional district, based about Natchitoches and Alexandria. The district was abolished effective with the 1992 congressional elections. Its last representative was Republican Clyde Holloway of south Rapides Parish, Aswell was reelected nine times. He served during the administrations of U.S. Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. During the 1920s, he was the ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee. He worked with the Louisiana naturalist Caroline Dormon to establish the Kisatchie National Forest in his district. He was a strong opponent of President Hoover, whom many Democrats blamed for the Great Depression, which had barely begun when Aswell died. Hoover nevertheless signed Aswell's legislation to designate the Kisatchie Forest. Aswell tried to pass various "drought-relief" measures in the House even before the Dust Bowl in the Great Plains states.​[2]

Aswell spoke on W. K. Henderson's high-powered KWKH radio in Shreveport against Hoover's support for desegregation of the southern states. The speech was prompted by allegations made by Governor Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, later a U.S. Senator, that Hoover in 1927 had danced with Mary Booze (1877-1948) while examining the damage from the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Bilbo referred to Booze as "a negress."[4] Hoover's southern supporters, most of them business-oriented Democrats, pointed in reply to racial intermarriage which occurred in Smith's New York.[5][6]

At the time of his death, Aswell was the dean of the Louisiana congressional delegation.[2] He left an unfinished novel White Sheep based on the politics of Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Pierce Long, Jr.

Aswell died in Washington, D.C., and is interred there in Rock Creek Cemetery, along with his second wife, Ella.[3] The first wife, Mary Lee, is interred at Longstraw Cemetery in Jackson Parish. Daughter Corrine is buried at Georgetown Cemetery in Georgetown in Scott County, Kentucky. Son James, Jr., is at Memory Lawn Cemetery in Natchitoches.[1] Aswell Hall on the Louisiana Tech campus honors his memory. His papers are deposited in the archives of Northwestern State University. Monnie T. Cheves, an NSU professor who served in the Louisiana House of Representatives for Natchitoches Parish from 1952 to 1960, wrote in 1936 The educational and political career of James Benjamin Aswell, a master's thesis through Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 James Benjamin Aswell. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on May 3, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Aswell, James Benjamin. A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography: Louisiana Historical Association. Retrieved on May 3, 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Aswell, James Benjamin. bioguideretro.congress.gov. Retrieved on May 3, 2020.
  4. Theodore G. Bilbo of Mississippi. San Jose State University. Retrieved on May 3, 2020.
  5. Stephen D. Zink, "Cultural Conflict and the 1928 Presidential Campaign in Louisiana," Southern Studies (Summer 1978), p. 180.
  6. Billy Hathorn, The Republican Party in Louisiana, 1920-1980, (Natchitoches: Northwestern State University, 1980), p. 15.
  7. Monnie T. Cheeves (1902-1988). The educational and political career of James Benjamin Aswell. worldcat.org. Retrieved on May 3, 2020.