The Life of Senator Hatfield

The staff of the Mark O. Hatfield Library at Willamette University pay tribute to Mark Odom Hatfield, former governor of Oregon (1959–67) and United States senator (1967–97).

Hatfield was born in Dallas, Ore., on July 12, 1922, the only child of Charles D. and Dovie Odom Hatfield. He grew up in the state capital of Salem and was introduced to Christianity by his devoutly Baptist father and to politics by his staunchly Republican mother. By high school, he was participating in local Republican political campaigns. A freshman at Willamette University when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Hatfield immediately joined the Naval Reserve and accelerated his study of political science in order to begin combat training by late 1943.

He participated in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa as an ensign assigned to amphibious landing craft duty, was part of the fleet that accompanied General MacArthur for Japanese occupation, and visited Hiroshima no more than a month after the bomb had been dropped. He was later shipped to Haiphong, Vietnam, to aid French troops. These wartime experiences shaped Hatfield’s political philosophy throughout the course of a half-century of public service, giving him a profound reverence for life and a passion for human rights.

After receiving his master’s degree from Stanford University in 1948, Hatfield became an associate professor of political science at his undergraduate alma mater (1949–56), concurrently serving as dean of students at Willamette (1950–56) and as member of the Oregon House of Representatives (1951–55). An adept campaigner with a quick smile, Hatfield quickly vaulted to the pinnacle of Oregon politics. He joined the Senate in 1955, became the youngest secretary of state in Oregon history in 1957, and two years later was elected Oregon’s youngest governor. In that office, where he later became the state’s first two-term governor of the 20th century, Hatfield presided over construction of the Oregon interstate highway system, expanded the state park system, and spearheaded a range of environmental policies, including fish conservation and pollution control. He created the statewide community college system and raised teacher salaries as part of his “payrolls and playgrounds” campaign, promoted civil rights by creating a public defender system, and increased workers compensation benefits.

In 1966 Hatfield was elected to the United States Senate and served five terms spanning 30 years — Oregon’s longest-serving senator. He fought for a range of positions that make him difficult to classify politically. Although serving on the Republican ticket, the senator was an early and outspoken critic of the Vietnam and Gulf wars, consistently opposing increases in defense spending, the U.S. nuclear program and U.S. military involvement abroad. His anti-war stance was so unwavering that he was called “the conscience of the Senate.” Hatfield was pro-life in every possible way, advocating against both abortion and the death penalty. He was a leading advocate of international human rights, speaking on behalf of refugees.

Domestically, he championed civil rights and urged improvements to health, education and social service programs to address “the desperate human needs in our midst.” He was in favor of making moves toward a more decentralized federal government, proposing elimination of the Electoral College and adoption of “neighborhood government” to encourage participatory democracy. Senator Hatfield fought earnestly throughout his career for environmental protection and conservation, including reforestation, the development of alternative energy, and pollution control. He was a longtime defender of Native American tribes, serving on the Indian Review Commission to protect treaty rights on tribal lands. Above all, Senator Hatfield was known as an independent legislator who voted his conscience, an attribute that — coupled with his ability to work across party lines — earned him bipartisan respect from his congressional colleagues.

Among the many accomplishments of his legislative career, Senator Hatfield co-authored bills that led the White House to end the Vietnam War and bring a halt to underground nuclear testing in the Nevada desert. He restored funding for the National Institutes of Health and secured appropriations for the improvement of the Oregon Health & Sciences University, now a leading U.S. research institution. Hatfield quadrupled Oregon’s wilderness areas to more than two million acres and worked successfully to protect the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Dunes and Oregon’s rivers. During his last session of Congress, Hatfield helped preserve the Opal Creek Wilderness from logging. (The Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness near Mount Hood was named in his honor.) He also generously funded a wide variety of civic, academic and environmental programs.

After 46 years of dedicated political service, Senator Hatfield retired in 1997, having never lost an election. He picked up where his career first began, teaching politics — at Willamette University, Portland State University and George Fox University.

The legacy of Mark Hatfield’s half century of public service is represented in the Mark O. Hatfield Papers at the Mark O. Hatfield Library at Willamette University in Salem, Ore. The Hatfield Collection includes more than 2,000 linear feet of correspondence, memoranda, legislative files, speeches, schedules, campaign records, scrapbooks, photographs, video and audiotapes, memorabilia and artifacts. The collection is significant, in part, because it spans and documents Hatfield’s entire career, beginning with his time as dean of students at Willamette University and member of the Oregon House and Senate, through his tenure as Oregon’s youngest secretary of state, two gubernatorial terms and finally, his distinguished 30 years in the Senate. The Mark O. Hatfield Papers will be open for research upon completion of processing and in accordance with donor stipulations.

When the Mark O. Hatfield Library was planned, virtually every senator in the United States contributed, along with a multitude of people from around the nation.

Mark O. Hatfield
Mark O. Hatfield