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William Arthur Reilly collection

Identifier: 0299.001


  • 1925-1969, undated


Biographical / Historical

William Arthur Reilly, "Arthur" to his friends, was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts on March 6, 1903 to parents James and Katherine (Murphy) Reilly. He was educated in the Boston Public School system as well as at Boston College High School and graduated from Boston College in 1925. He married Kathryn McElroy in 1932 and together they had four children: William Arthur, Jr., James, John, and Harriet. He died at the age of 65 on April 3, 1969.

During his career, William Arthur Reilly held many public service positions in Boston. When he was just twenty-six years old, in 1930, he was elected to the Boston School Committee. He was then elected to the chairman’s position for the year 1932-1933, the youngest person to be elected to the position, and served on the committee until 1934. He did attempt to run for Mayor of Boston in 1933 but ended his campaign halfway through the race. In 1935, he was appointed to the Boston Finance Commission by, then, Mayor James Michael Curley. However, he resigned a year later over a disagreement with Mayor Curley and left to help Maurice J. Tobin with his campaign to win the mayor’s race in 1937. On January 4, 1938, Reilly was appointed by Mayor Tobin to one of his most well-known positions in Boston government, as the Fire Commissioner of the Boston Fire Department; which he held until June 7, 1945. He was the Fire Commissioner during the famous Cocoanut Grove Fire which killed 492 people in December of 1942. He unsuccessfully ran for Mayor of Boston in 1945 and was defeated by his former mentor, James Michael Curley. While Commissioner, William Arthur Reilly was also nominated by Governor Maurice Tobin to serve as the chairman of the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) but withdrew his name after the Executive Council refused to accept the nomination. In 1950, he was appointed to Traffic Commissioner of the City of Boston and held that position until December of 1957 when he was asked by Mayor John B. Hynes, to serve as the Director of Administrative Services; in this position, he earned the title “deputy mayor.” He retired from public office in 1960 and continued to work as a treasurer and general manager of the Catholic publishing company McLaughlin & Reilly, started by his father, in downtown Boston.

American Catholic Who's Who: 1960-1961. Grosse Pointe, MI: Walter Romig, 1961.
“W. Arthur Reilly, Ex-Deputy Mayor,” obituary, Boston Globe, 4 Apr 1969.


4.5 Cubic feet (4 record cartons, 1 photograph box)

Language of Materials



This collection was previously, partially arranged by the Boston Public Library.

Guide to the William Arthur Reilly collection
Kayla Skillin
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Repository Details

Part of the City of Boston Archives Repository

201 Rivermoor St.
West Roxbury MA 02132 United States
617-635-1194 (Fax)