Friday, November 25, 2016

Devoe Pell Hodson (1856-1932)

Portrait from the 1916 New York Red Book.

   After a near month long break (in which there was ample time to process the results of the recent presidential election), the Strangest Names In American Political History returns with a post highlighting Buffalo, New York jurist Devoe Pell Hodson, who would go on to further political prominence as a New York State Public Service Commissioner (beginning service in 1913) and as an unsuccessful candidate for state Attorney General.
   Although a resident of distinction in Erie County for many years, Hodson was a native of Tompkins County, New York, being born in Ithaca on March 23, 1856. The son of Horatio and Harriet Ward Pell Hodson, Devoe Pell Hodson attended school in the city of his birth and also at the Ithaca Academy. He would later enroll at Cornell University, attending from 1873-1874. In the late 1870s he began reading law in the offices of Samuel Holliday and Marcus Lyon of Ithaca and in 1879 was admitted to the New York bar at Saratoga Springs. 
   Soon after his admittance Hodson returned to Ithaca to establish his law practice, which he would continue to operate for several years. He married in December 1880 to Mariette Wood (died 1937), a native of Painted Post, New York. The couple would remain childless through the entirety of their marriage. Hodson entered political life for the first time in 1882 when he began a year long stint as clerk of the Tompkins County Board of Supervisors. In 1887 he entered the publishing field, purchasing an interest in the Ithaca Republican newspaper. His connection to that paper later led him to spend a brief period in California, where he and a partner established the Morning Telegram in San Diego. 
   After several months of residence in California Hodson returned to Ithaca, but his stay proved to be short lived. Hodson would remove to Buffalo in February 1889 and returned to practicing law, operating a solo practice until 1893, when he joined with George B. Webster in the firm of Hodson and Webster.
  Following his relocation to New York's "Queen City" it didn't take long for Hodson to become active in Erie County public life. Within a short period of his resettlement he was named as a non-resident corporation counsel for Niagara Falls, NY and was later talked of as a potential candidate for Buffalo city attorney and delegate to the 1900 New York Constitutional Convention. Hodson became a member of the Buffalo Board of School Examiners in 1900 and served a term of three years, later refusing to be a candidate for renomination. 
  In 1905 Devoe Hodson launched his candidacy for Judge of the Municipal Court of Buffalo and was elected in the fall of that year. Taking his seat at the start of the new year, Hodson was selected as an alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1912 and served on the bench until his retirement in December 1913. Hodson's retirement was met with a profound show of respect, with the Penn Yan Democrat later reporting that:
"More than 150 lawyers, headed by Adelbert Moot, former president of the Stae Bar Association, and Carlton E. Ladd, then president of the Erie County Bar Association, crowded into his courtroom. Speeches were made declaring Judge Hodson an able lawyer, a good judge and an honest man. His loss from the bench was deplored by many."
Portrait from the Buffalo Evening News, February 7, 1913.

  Following his early retirement from the bench Hodson returned to practicing law for a short period, but was called to public service once again in February 1913 when he was appointed by Governor William Sulzer to the New York State Public Service Commission. Hodson's fellow lawyers and Buffalonians lauded this appointment, making light of Hodson's fair mindedness and judicial temperament while on the municipal court. Amongst the contemporaries who weighed in on Hodson's appointment was former Erie County District Attorney Edward E. Coatsworth, who noted that:
"The appointment of Judge Hodgson should be gratifying to all citizens regardless of politics, who desire to see the public service commission render valuable service to the people. It should be especially gratifying to the people of Buffalo, a city so vitally interested in the proper adjustment of important problems that come under the jurisdiction of the commission."
   Hodson's time on the Public Service Commission extended four years (1913-1917), during which time he represented the state's 2nd district. Hodson resigned his seat in 1917 and was later succeeded by John Barhite, a former County Judge of Monroe County, New York. In the same year as his resignation Hodson became the Democratic nominee for New York State Attorney General, competing against Republican Merton Elmer Lewis (1861-1937), who had been acting attorney general since the resignation of Egburt E. Woodbury. Despite his status as an "eminent lawyer" and past service as a judge and commissioner, Hodson would place second on election day. While having a heavy lead early in the balloting, Hodson's vote count would later be usurped by Lewis, who bested him by a vote of 696, 969 to 541, 385.


From the New York Sun, August 8, 1917.

   After his defeat for Attorney General Hodson returned to his law practice, continuing with the firm of Hodson and Webster until his retirement. In 1923 Hodson and his wife removed to Yates County, New York, eventually settling in the town of Penn Yan. For a number of years afterward they owned a home on Lake Keuka, where he died on May 16, 1932 at age 75. Hodson was later cremated and his ashes interred in the Hodson family plot at the Ithaca City Cemetery. Curiously, no gravestone looks to have been carved for Hodson, as the Find-A-Grave page for him notes that he currently rests in an unmarked location in the Hodson family plot.

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