For the last century, major projects that have insured Lubbock's continued growth usually have been the result of strong elected representation either in Austin or Washington.
William Harrison Bledsoe - politician, attorney and investor - fit that mold. His standing in the state House and Senate, coupled with his persistence, produced the legislation establishing Texas Tech.
As an attorney, he was the founding member of Bledsoe, Crenshaw and Dupree, which evolved into today's Crenshaw, Dupree and Milam, one of the city's leading law firms.
Bledsoe was born in Cleburne. He attended the University of Texas briefly and was admitted to the State Bar in 1890. He returned to Cleburne to practice.
In 1908, lured by opportunities on the Plains, he moved to Lubbock.
He also helped establish the South Plains Bar Association, served as Lubbock city attorney and was a member of the Lubbock School Board.
There are two versions of how and why he entered state politics. One holds that he followed the lead of his father in Johnson County and was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1915. Another version suggests he left Lubbock for a business trip and in his absence a handful of civic leaders entered his name in the Democratic primary.
Bledsoe's political career came at a particularly raucous time.
He chaired two significant House committees, one which investigated Gov. James E. Ferguson in 1917 and voted to impeach him and a committee that moved to reform the Texas Rangers after a series of disturbing incidents.
The esteem in which Bledsoe was held, the impeachment of the governor and attempts to establish a college for West Texas are intertwined.
In 1917, a bill to establish an A&M college in West Texas was passed and signed by Gov. Ferguson. A committee chaired by the governor was to determine the location of the college. Following a committee vote, Ferguson announced the selection of Abilene as the preferred site. But as committee members began to discuss their vote, at least three members said they had not voted in favor of Abilene, contrary to the results announced by Ferguson.
According to Bledsoe's wife, he called for Ferguson's impeachment while the governor was seated next to him. The governor was impeached based on the college issue and several other inconsistencies in his administration. The Abilene college selection was voided.
After two terms in the House, Bledsoe moved to the Senate in 1919.
With backing from the West Texas Association, later to become the West Texas Chamber of Commerce, a bill to establish a West Texas A&M passed both houses but was vetoed by Gov. Pat Neff because the state was in a poor financial condition and the legislation had not been included as a plank in the Democratic platform.
Neff's veto stirred up a West Texas storm, including a movement to secede from the rest of the state.
The South Plains battled image issues even then with its detractors describing it as a desert or a barely inhabited wasteland. But the area's growing agricultural impact could not be ignored.
In 1923, three bills were introduced, including one by Bledsoe in the Senate. Bledsoe was assigned to draft a compromise version. He did so within the same afternoon. The result was Senate Bill 103, which called for an independent school to be known as Texas Technological College and funded by a $1 million appropriation.
The bill easily passed both houses and was signed into law by Neff on the afternoon of Feb. 10, 1923.
A search committee was formed to determine the location of the college from the 37 towns that submitted applications. The bill's requirements were stringent and perhaps even tailored to single out Lubbock. In an oral history recording, Mrs. Bledsoe recalled her husband saying, "The bill I wrote was intended for Lubbock since the requirements for the location would not fit any other town out here."
The selection committee met for two days in the ballroom of Fort Worth's Texas Hotel. Their selection of Lubbock was announced on Aug. 9, 1923, triggering a wild celebration in the Hub City.
Bledsoe's career in politics ended in 1927 when he was injured in an automobile accident. At his retirement, he praised the citizens of Lubbock County and the South Plains for their work in acquiring Texas Tech.
"The wisdom of the locating board in placing Texas Tech at Lubbock cannot be questioned," he said, "and as time goes on, I am sure that its location will be more than justified."
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