Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thetus Willrette Sims (1852-1939)

Portrait courtesy of the Library of Congress.

    The first political figure to be profiled in this new year is Thetus Willrette Sims, a twelve-term member of Congress from Tennessee. A prominent figure in late 19th and early 20th century Tennessee, Sims' time in Congress extended through the presidencies of McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft and Woodrow Wilson. Thetus W. Sims' birth occurred in Waynesboro, Tennessee on April 25, 1852, being the son of George and Sarah Jane Whitson Sims. Thetus' early life was spent on a farm and he received his education at a private school in the village of Martins Mills, Tennessee. Sims would continue his education at the Savannah College and later entered the Cumberland School of Law, graduating in the class of 1876.
  Soon after his graduation Sims removed to Linden, Tennessee to begin his law practice. He would marry Maury County, Tennessee native Nancy "Nannie" Kittrell (1855-1946) on December 26, 1877. The couple were wed for over sixty years and had seven children born to their union: Edna Earl (1878-1960), Erskine Kent (1880-1964), Tom J. (1882-1969), Elizabeth (1884-1967), Paul O. (1894-1959), Elsie Marie (born 1896) and Enid Nancy (1899-1949).
  After establishing a law practice in Linden (located in Perry County, Tennessee), Sims was named as the Superintendent of Public Instruction for that county in 1882, serving two years in office. In the 1892 election year, he served as a Democratic Presidential elector on the "Cleveland and Stevenson ticket." In 1896 he became the Democratic nominee for Congress from Tennessee's 8th district and in November of that year defeated Republican incumbent John E. McCall by a vote of 16, 568 to 13, 219. Sims officially took his seat on March 4, 1897, beginning a congressional stint that would see him represent the same district for nearly 24 years.

Portrait from the Washington Times, May 21, 1920.

   During his two decade-plus tenure in Congress, Thetus W. Sims earned a reputation as a representative who was highly devoted to his district, as well as one who expressed "eternal hatred of the 'special interests.' He would chair the Committee on War Claims and later the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. His time on the War Claims committee saw Sims file "petitions for pension relief for Civil War veterans and their families." Further note is given as to Sims being:
"Largely responsible for the framing of the legislation for the Federal operation of railroads during the world war period."
 In 1920 Sims was an unsuccessful candidate for renomination and later returned to Tennessee,  where he returned to the practice of law.  The 78-year-old Sims retired from "active business pursuits" in 1930 and moved back to Washington, D.C., with his wife Nannie. He died in Washington on December 17, 1939 at age 87. His wife Nannie survived him by several years and following her death in 1944 was interred alongside him at the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Portrait from "Traffic World", 1915.

  On May 10, 2017, I was lucky enough to visit Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, and while visiting sought out Sims' gravesite. After receiving a map from the friendly office staff I began my hunt and shortly thereafter found the Brownlow-Sims plot, close to the cemetery roadway. Here are some photo's from the trip, and curiously, no mention is given on Sims' headstone as to his long tenure in Congress!

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