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RG3517.AM:  John Mellen Thurston, 1847-1916

Papers:  1885-1916

Omaha, Neb.; Washington D.C.:  Lawyer; U.S. Senator

Size:  0.5 cu.ft.; 1 box


John Mellen Thurston was born August 21, 1847, at Montpelier, Vermont. His father was Daniel Sylvester Thurston, who moved to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, where the younger Thurston started life on a farm. At 17 he moved to Chicago, where his first work was as driver of a wagon for a wholesale fruit and grocery firm on South Water Street. After a year in Chicago he returned to Beaver Dam, where for three years he engaged in fishing and trapping and attended the public schools of Beaver Dam intermittently. In the spring of 1866 he entered Wayland University at Beaver Dam, a Baptist denominational institution.

Deciding upon law as his life’s work, he entered the offices of E.P. Smith, then a lawyer at Beaver Dam and later assistant general attorney for the Union Pacific system for the state of Nebraska. John Thurston was admitted to the bar at Porrage, Wisconsin on May 21, 1869, with $40 as working capital.

He became general solicitor of the Union Pacific on February 1, 1888. In 1895 he resigned his general solicitorship of the railroad to become United States Senator from Nebraska. After his one term in Washington he remained in the national capital until about August of 1915, when he returned to Omaha and joined Joseph Crow and Edwin T. Morrison under the firm name of Thurston, Crow & Morrison. Mr. Crow left the firm in July of 1916.

On Christmas Day, 1872, he was married to Miss Martha Poland, daughter of Colonel Luther Poland. His first wife was buried in Omaha. Sixteen years before his death he married Lola Purman, daughter of former Congressman Purman of Washington, DC.

In 1880 Mr. Thurston was a presidential elector for Nebraska and in 1884 was a delegate-at-large to the republican national convention at Chicago, where he served as chairman of the state delegation. He was a member of the republican national convention which nominated General Benjamin Harrison for President in 1888 and was temporary presiding officer of that convention. During the campaign of 1892, William Jennings Bryan challenged him to a series of debates. One was held in the old Coliseum in Lincoln and another at the state fair grounds. The senator espoused the cause of protection and the full dinner pail, while Mr. Bryan took the free trade end of the discussion. The Omaha debate was attended by a large gathering.

Thurston was a candidate for United States Senator in 1887 and in 1893 received the republican caucus nomination and was defeated on that occasion by William V. Allen. He reached the Senate in 1895.

Senator Thurston died in Lincoln, Nebraska on August 9, 1916. Survivors included his wife, Mrs. Lola Thurston, one son, Clarence, and two daughters, Ruth and Mrs. Jean Coolidge.


The collection consists mainly of the correspondence and speeches of John Mellen Thurston. Also included is biographical information regarding Thurston and his first wife, Martha Poland. The collection relates to Thurston’s legal and political careers as well as some personal business affairs.


Box 1


  1. Correspondence, 1889, 1894

  2. Correspondence and clippings relating to Cuba, 1895-1898

  3. Correspondence, 1901-1906

  4. Correspondence, 1907-1916

  5. Speeches, 1885-1898

  6. Biographical information, John Mellon Thurston

  7. Biographical information, Martha (Poland) Thurston

  8. Miscellaneous



Legislators — United States

Nebraska — Politics and government

Republican Party — National Convention, 1888

Spanish-American War, 1898

Thurston, John Mellen, 1847-1916

United States. Congress. Senate


07-22-2008   Revised TMM