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Tobin, Maurice J.



Only one mayor of Boston has served in top-level posts in the executive branches of city, state, and national government.

Maurice J. Tobin, mayor and governor during World War II, nurtured a flair for administration in private employ as a telephone company executive and in public service from days as a legislator and School Committee chairman.

His seven years as mayor spanned from the depression era with welfare problems and joblessness, into a wartime boom with controls, fuel shortages, and other handicaps which confronted the city of over 800,000 persons.

A Democrat to the core, and a liberal, Tobin nevertheless followed a conservative fiscal policy at Old City Hall. He aimed at restoring business and citizen confidence in city government. He cut expenditures - even cutting department heads' salaries, but later endorsing wartime cost-of-living hikes.

Mayor Tobin's administration saw Boston's debt drop by $5 million.

While he helped improve relations between the Legislature and Boston, he was unsuccessful as mayor in getting state relief for Boston's overburdened taxpayers. He was among the first of prestigious public officials to endorse the sales tax principle a quarter of a century before its time had come.

In the earlier years at City Hall, the mayor's tasks were focused on the economic hard times besetting Boston's struggling families. The administration even maintained a municipal employment bureau which made pleas to private industry for jobs for family breadwinners.

In non-fiscal issues, the attention focused on a projected postwar traffic problem and wartime stringencies, including fuel oil shortages. In capital additions, there was new housing in South Boston, the Buddies' Club on Boston Common for servicemen, and dedication of MacArthur Mall along Charles Street.

The Tobin mayoral years also encompassed two events. One was the disastrous hurricane of 1938 occurring in his first year as mayor while Mayor Tobin was on a speaking trip on the west coast.

The other was Boston's worst holocaust in history, the Coconut Grove nightclub fire of November 28, 1942. The tragedy, which claimed almost 500 lives, led to tightening of inspectional procedures. It did not, however, bring establishment of a single public safety department combining police, fire inspection, building inspection, and kindred activities as suggested for long-range reorganization.

Roxbury-born Maurice Tobin seemed destined for political stardom. As a boy he learned success requires effort. Up at 4 A.M., he trod the streets of J\ilission Hill as a newsboy. He attended Mission High School and the High School of Commerce, continuing evening classes after graduation. He won election in 1926 as the youngest member of the House of Representatives. There his proposals for abolition of capital punishment, for workmen's compensation, for investigation of the telephone company were liberal proposals markedly in contrast with the conservative tenor of the House.

Mayor Tobin backed Alfred E. Smith for president and then became a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt, serving as a School Committee member in the early Roosevelt years. He resigned his telephone company job, confident of victory when he defeated James M. Curley and several others in the bitter 1937 mayoral campaign. Four years later he again prevailed over the former mayor-governor. In the third year of his second term he went on the statewide trail to win election as governor.

He served one term on Beacon Hill, but lost the bid for reelection. A staunch and loyal Democrat, he was back in the campaign wars in the 1948 presidential battle speaking for President Harry S. Truman even when the polls had counted Truman as almost a sure loser.

Maurice Tobin served as Truman's Secretary of Labor and the poor boy from Roxbury's streets became a national figure.

Death claimed Maurice Tobin at age fifty-two on July 19, 1953, on a Scituate golf course. It was only six months after the Truman administration had completed its turn in office.

At funeral rites in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Holyhood Cemetery, former President Truman led mourners for the Boston Democrat, former labor secretary, governor, and mayor.

Taken from "Boston's 45 Mayors from John Phillips to Kevin H. White," City Record, Boston, 1979.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Mayor Maurice J. Tobin scrapbooks

Identifier: 0241.001
Scope and Contents note The records in this series include scrapbooks containing solely newspaper clippings. Box 1 contains a black book with no visible volume number that contains newspaper clippings from Tobin's campaigning days. Boxes 1 and 2 cover the years 1940 to 1942 which is the bulk of Tobin's time as mayor and neither box contains notable gaps. Box 3 continues the timeline of prior 2 boxes but with an 8 month gap between the last two volumes and the volume before it. Box #4 is timelined from 1942 to...
Dates: 1937-1943 with gaps

Mayoral addresses

Identifier: 0200.001
Scope and Contents

Includes two compilation volumes of addresses from 1822-1867 and printed copies of annual and inaugural addresses of the Mayor from 1824-1980 with gaps.

Dates: 1822-1980 with gaps

William Arthur Reilly collection

Identifier: 0299.001
Dates: 1925-1969, undated