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Wilbur Mills

Wilbur Mills
Chairperson of the House Ways and Means Committee
In office
January 7, 1958 – December 10, 1974
Preceded by Jere Cooper
Succeeded by Al Ullman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arkansas's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1939 – January 3, 1977
Preceded by John Miller
Succeeded by Jim Tucker
Personal details
Born Wilbur Daigh Mills
(1909-05-24)May 24, 1909
Kensett, Arkansas, U.S.
Died May 2, 1992(1992-05-02) (aged 82)
Searcy, Arkansas, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Hendrix College
Harvard University

Wilbur Daigh Mills (May 24, 1909 – May 2, 1992) was a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from the state of Arkansas. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from January 1939 to January 1977, becoming one of the top three longest serving Arkansas officials, and was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. He was briefly a candidate for President of the United States in 1972.


  • Youth and early political life 1
  • In Congress 2
    • Ways and Means Committee 2.1
    • Presidential candidate 2.2
  • Scandal and retirement 3
  • Honors 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Youth and early political life

Mills was born in Kensett in White County to Abbie Lois Daigh Mills and Ardra Pickens Mills. Kensett was the first public school in Arkansas to integrate, under Mills' father, who was first superintendent and then chairman of the school board and the banker for the school district. Mills attended public schools in Kensett but graduated as valedictorian from Searcy High School in the county seat of White County. He thereafter graduated from Hendrix College in Conway as salutatorian, having resided in Martin Hall. He studied constitutional law at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts under Felix Frankfurter, who was subsequently nominated and confirmed (1939) as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Mills received his law degree and was admitted to the bar in 1933.

Mills served as the 29th County Judge of White County, between 1935 and 1939, and began a county-funded program, with a $5,000 fund to pay medical bills, prescription drugs which were sold at cost, and hospital treatment for the indigent which were lowered to $2.50 per day, as well as have doctors see qualified patients free of charge. Patients were qualified for the program through petitioning the local Justice of the Peace, who would in turn make a recommendation to Mills as County Judge.

In Congress

Ways and Means Committee

Mills served in Congress from 1939 to 1977 and for seventeen years (1958–1974)[1] was the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, a post he held longer than any other person in U.S. history. Mills was often termed "the most powerful man in Washington" during his tenure.

His accomplishments in Congress included playing a large role in the creation of the Medicare program. Mills initially had reservations about the program because he was worried about the eventual cost, especially since the early proposals by the President and some Members of Congress proposed funding Medicare from the Social Security Trust Fund, but Mills eventually shepherded it through Congress and had a large hand in shaping its program. His original concern was that medical costs continue to rise each year, until both Social Security and Medicare would have to be terminated, due to these escalating costs. Mills was also acknowledged as the primary tax expert in the Congress and the leading architect of the Tax Reform Act of 1969. Mills favored a conservative fiscal approach, adequate tax revenue to fund government programs, a balanced budget, while also supporting various social programs, especially Social Security and Disability, adding farmers to Social Security, unemployment compensation, and national health insurance.

Presidential candidate

Mills was drafted by friends and fellow Congressmen to make himself available as a candidate for Secretary of Treasury in a McGovern administration, but McGovern's resounding defeat by President Richard Nixon made this moot.[2]

Scandal and retirement

Mills was involved in a traffic incident in Washington, DC at 2 a.m. on October 9, 1974.[3] His car was stopped by U.S. Park Police late at night because the driver had not turned on the lights. Mills was intoxicated, and his face was injured from a scuffle with Annabelle Battistella, better known as Fanne Foxe, a stripper from Argentina. When police approached the car, Foxe leapt from the car and jumped into the nearby Tidal Basin in an attempt to escape.[3][4][5] She was taken to St. Elizabeth's Mental Hospital for treatment.

Despite the scandal, Mills was re-elected to Congress in November 1974 in a heavily Democratic year with nearly 60% of the vote, defeating Republican Judy Petty. On November 30, 1974, Mills, seemingly drunk, was accompanied by Fanne Foxe's husband onstage at The Pilgrim Theatre in Boston, a burlesque house where Foxe was performing. He held a press conference from Foxe's dressing room.[3] Soon after this second public incident, Mills stepped down from his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged his alcoholism, joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and checked himself into the Palm Beach Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida.[6]

Mills did not run for re-election in 1976 and was succeeded by Democrat Jim Guy Tucker.[7][8] Thereafter, Mills practiced law at the prestigious Shea and Gould Law Firm of New York's Washington Office, until he retired in 1991 and moved back to Arkansas to work on the establishment of the Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center for Alcoholism, the University of Arkansas Medical School's Wilbur D. Mills Endowed Chairs on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, and the Masonic Grand Lodge's fundraising campaign.

Mills died in Searcy, Arkansas in 1992. He is interred at Kensett Cemetery in Kensett, Arkansas.[9]


Various schools, highways, and other structures in Arkansas are named for Mills:

  • Wilbur D. Mills University Studies High School in Sweet Home, Pulaski County, Arkansas
  • Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Searcy, Arkansas
  • Wilbur D. Mills Lock and Dam on the Arkansas River in Desha County, Arkansas
  • Wilbur D. Mills Campgrounds, Tichnor, Arkansas
  • Wilbur D. Mills Freeway in Little Rock, Arkansas (Interstate 630)
  • Wilbur D. Mills Avenue in Kensett, Arkansas
  • Wilbur D. Mills Park in Bryant, Arkansas
  • Wilbur D. Mills Building, Hendrix College, Conway, Arkansas
  • Two Wilbur D. Mills Endowed Chairs on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, University of *Arkansas Medical Science Campus
  • Wilbur D. Mills Education Services Cooperative, Beebe, Arkansas
  • Mills Park Road, Bryant, Arkansas
  • Mills Street, Walnut Ridge, Arkansas
  • Wilbur D. Mills Courts Building, Searcy, Arkansas
  • Wilbur D. Mills Library, Arkansas School for the Deaf, Little Rock, Arkansas

Sculptures of Mills are located at:

  • Arkansas State Capitol
  • Hendrix College, Mills Building, Mills Congressional Office Replica
  • Wilbur D. Mills University Studies High School, Sweet Home, Arkansas
  • Wilbur Mills Treatment Center, Searcy, Arkansas
  • Boswell Law Office, Bryant, Arkansas
  • Kay Goss Office, Alexandria, Virginia
  • John F. Kennedy Park, Greers Ferry Lock and Dam, Heber Springs, Arkansas


  1. ^ "Economic statesman; Wilbur Daigh Mills". The New York Times. December 19, 1957. p. 22. 
    "Jere Cooper dead; a leader in House. Tennessee Democrat was Ways and Means chairman—first elected in 1928". The New York Times. December 19, 1957. p. 31. 
    Lyons, Richard D. (December 11, 1974). "Mills quits as chairman; young Democrats advance". The New York Times. p. 1. 
  2. ^ "ISSUES: McGovernomics: A More Modest Proposal". Time. September 11, 1972. 
  3. ^ a b c  
  4. ^ "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Google News Archive Search". 
  5. ^ "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Google News Archive Search". 
  6. ^ "Mills arrival puts spotlight on Palm Beach Institute". The Palm Beach Post. 1975-03-01. Retrieved 2012-11-15. 
  7. ^ "The Fall of Chairman Wilbur Mills".  
  8. ^ Farquhar, Michael (2003). A treasury of great American scandals (illustrated ed.).  
  9. ^ "Wilbur Mills, Long a Power In Congress, Is Dead at 82". New York Times. 


External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Miller
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arkansas's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Jim Tucker
Preceded by
Jere Cooper
Chairperson of the House Ways and Means Committee
Succeeded by
Al Ullman
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