Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wilbra Hamlin Swett (1860-1936)

Portrait from the "Manual of Legislative Procedure for the state of Montana", 1895.

   One of only five strange name political figures from Montana to receive a profile here on the site, Wilbra Hamlin Swett served two terms in the Montana Legislature in the mid-1890s, being elected as House Speaker during his second term. Wilbra H. Swett was born on October 17, 1860 in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, being the son of Eli Chamberlain (1826-1901) and Sarah Hersey Swett (born 1832). The first two decades of his life were spent in the town of his birth. He would attend the public schools of Wolfeboro and was later a student at the Friend's School in Providence, Rhode Island. In the mid-1880s he traveled west, eventually settling in South Dakota, where he would reside for about five years. Swett married in Davison County, South Dakota on June 19, 1888 to Ella Priscilla Stearns (born 1861), a native of Cleveland, Ohio. The couple is recorded as being childless throughout the duration of their marriage. 
   A few years following his marriage Wilbra H. Swett removed to Butte, Montana, where he would find work as an engineer with the Butte and Boston Mining Company. Aside from his mining interests, Swett also found time to tread the political waters, and in 1892 was nominated by the Republicans of Silver Bow County for a seat in the Montana State House of Representatives. He won the election that November with 2,679 votes and took his seat at the beginning of the 1893 term. As a first term legislator with no previous experience in public life, Swett proved to be no slouch during the 1893-95 session, being noted by the Anaconda Standard newspaper as a "workingman who works." This same paper also relates that Swett:
"Proved an earnest and convincing debater, and speedily became one of the leaders of the house. In an atmosphere of corruption there was never a breath of suspicion of the integrity of Mr. Swett as a citizen or of his loyalty as a party man" 
   After a successful first term Swett was renominated in 1894 and won a second term that November, garnering 3,406 votes. At the beginning of the 1895-97 session, Swett was selected by his fellow legislators as Speaker of the House,  serving in this capacity until the close of the session. 
   Despite his success in mining and politics in Montana, Wilbra Swett left the "Treasure State" in the late 1890s and returned to the place of his birth, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Here in 1904 he purchased a hardware business and later became one of the organizers of the Wolfeboro National Bank, entering into the position of bank cashier in 1906. In 1911 Swett and his wife removed from Wolfeboro to California, where they would reside for the remainder of their lives. Swett had a home in both Garden Grove and Long Beach, dying in the latter city on November 22, 1936 at age 76. A burial location for both Swett and his wife is unknown at this time.

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