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William Joseph Mills

Born on January 11, 1849 at Yazoo City, Mississippi, the son of William, a physician and planter, and Harriet (Beale) Mills. An Episcopalian, Mills was married at West Haven, Connecticut on January 14, 1885 to Alice Waddingham, by whom he was the father of Wilson W., Alice L., and Madeline.

When Mills was a child his father died, and his mother moved to Connecticut. After attending the Norwich (Connecticut) Free Academy, he worked in New York City. He then entered Yale University, where he received an LL.B. degree in 1877. Admitted to the Connecticut bar in that year, Mills began his law practice in New Haven. He became active in politics and was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1878; he also served in the State Senate from 1881 to 1882.

Mills eventually moved to New Mexico, where his father‑in‑law had large landholdings, and practiced law there from 1886 to 1893. From August 1888 to April 1890 he was a law partner of Thomas B. Catron, a dominant figure in the “Santa Fe Ring” which controlled New Mexico Republican politics during this period. He later returned to New Haven, however, and resumed his law practice there from 1894 to 1898. In the latter year, President William McKinley named him Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court and Judge of the Fourth Judicial District, appointments which he held until February 1910.

President William H. Taft named Mills Governor of New Mexico Territory, and he began his administration on March 1, 1910. According to his predecessor, George Curry, Mills’ conservatism and judicial background were attractive to the President and many members of Congress, who hoped that he might become governor or senator if New Mexico achieved statehood. Mills conscientiously lobbied in Washington and New Mexico for that purpose; he applauded, for example, the passage by Congress of an enabling act in June 1910, which allowed the people of New Mexico to draft and adopt a state constitution. Late in June of 1910 he issued a proclamation calling for an election in September of that year for delegates to a constitutional convention. Mills also participated in the apportioning of delegates to the various areas of the territory. The convention, which met in October and November of 1910, adopted the proposed state constitution by a vote of seventy‑nine to eighteen. Mills defended the constitution, which was considered rather conservative for its time in that it included few of the popular Progressive reforms, such as the right to vote for women. After President Taft approved the bill for statehood in August 1911, Mills called for state elections in November of that year.

Largely responsible for overseeing the transition of New Mexico from territory to state, Mills left office when statehood was granted on January 15, 1912. An unsuccessful candidate in 1912 for one of New Mexico’s two United States Senate seats, he died in East Las Vegas, New Mexico on December 24, 1915.

Sources Used:

Who’s Who in America, 1912‑13 (Chicago, 1912).

New York Times, December 27, 1915.

Robert W. Larson, New Mexico’s Quest for Statehood, 1846‑1912 (Albuquerque, 1968).

Victor Westphall, Thomas Benton Catron and His Era (Tucson, 1973).