Staunton Hill, Charlotte County, Virginia, March 12, 1860. Son of Charles (d.
1896) and Sarah Alexander (Seddon) Bruce (d. 1907). Attended Pampatike School,
King William County, Virginia, 1872-75; Norwood High School and College, Nelson
County, Virginia; University of Virginia at Charlottesville, 1879-80; University
of Maryland Law School, LL.B., 1882. Admitted to the Maryland bar, 1882. Married
Louise Este Fisher on October 15, 1887; children James Cabell (b. 1892), William
Cabell, Jr. (1895-1910), and David Kirkpatrick Este (b. 1898). Died of
myocarditis at his home in Ruxton, Baltimore County, on May 9, 1946. Buried in
St. Thomas Episcopal Church Cemetery, Garrison, Maryland.
William Cabell Bruce was the sixth of eight surviving children and the fifth of
six sons from a well-established Virginia family. His two oldest brothers,
Thomas and Albert, were businessmen in Richmond, Virginia. Charles Morelle, the
third son, was a secretary of the territory of Arizona and later an assistant
land commissioner in Washington, D.C. by appointment of President Woodrow
Wilson. Dr. Philip Alexander, the fourth son, was an historian and author of the
Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century and a History of the
University of Virginia. James Douglas, the youngest son, was also a scholar who
wrote The Evolution of Arthurian Romance. William's sisters were Ellen and
When William received his LL.B. in 1882 he immediately opened a practice in
Baltimore, joining a partnership with Henry J. Bowdoin in 1886. The following
year he formed another partnership with William A. Fisher, then judge of the
Supreme Bench of Baltimore, and Fisher's son, David Kirkpatrick Este Fisher. The
daughter of the latter partner became his wife in 1887. He practiced law again
between 1929 and 1937.
William was a Democrat who was active in the Baltimore Reform League, working
for fair elections, honest government and punishment of official wrongdoing. He
was particularly active in support of civil service reform. In 1893, Reform
League supporters initiated a challenge to the local political machine and Bruce
ran for the state senate and won representation from Baltimore City's second
district, serving from 1894 to 1896. In the state senate he worked on the
Judicial Proceedings, Militia, Assessment, Chesapeake Bay Tributaries and
Temperance Committees. Two years later, the defeat of Arthur Pue Gorman's
political machine led to Bruce's election as president of the senate, working
for bills regarding reassessment of all property in the state, guarantees of
purity of elections, and a merit system of appointment to government offices.
When the machine regained power in 1897, Bruce did not seek reelection, but
returned to his private law practice.
From 1901 to 1903, Bruce was general counsel for Consolidated Gas & Electric
Light and Power Company in Baltimore City. When Robert McLane became mayor of
Baltimore in 1903, he appointed Bruce to the position of city solicitor, where
he remained until 1908. By 1910 he was one of nine commissioners on the
Baltimore Charter Commission, appointed to draft a new city charger which
strengthened governmental power, increased efficiency, and enlarged services.
The following year he was named the first general counsel to the newly
established Public Service Commission of Maryland, a post he held until 1922
when he resigned.
In 1922 Bruce made a successful bid for the United States Senate and served one
term as a Democrat. In the senate, he worked for individual rights while
opposing prohibition, the Ku Klux Klan and the expanding powers of the federal
government. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1928 in the wake
of a Republican landslide.
Bruce was also a successful author. In 1917 he received the Pulitzer Prize for
Benjamin Franklin, Self-Revealed. Other writings include John Randolph of
Roanoke, 1773-1833: A biography based largely on new material (1922), Seven
great Baltimore lawyers ( c1931), Imaginary conversations with Franklin (1933),
and Recollections (1936). At the time of his death in 1946 he was working on a
biography of Thomas Jefferson.
William Cabell, a Senator from Maryland; born in Staunton Hill, Charlotte
County, Va., March 12, 1860; received an academic education at Norwood High
School and College, Nelson County, Va.; attended the University of Virginia at
Charlottesville; graduated from the University of Maryland Law School at
Baltimore in 1882; admitted to the Maryland bar the same year and commenced
practice in Baltimore, Md.; lawyer and writer; received the Pulitzer Prize in
1917 for his biography of Benjamin Franklin; member, State senate 1894-1896,
serving as president in 1896; head of the city law department of Baltimore
1903-1908; member, Baltimore Charter Commission 1910; general counsel to the
Public Service Commission of Maryland 1910-1922, when he resigned; unsuccessful
candidate for the Democratic nomination for United States Senator in 1916;
elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1923,
to March 3, 1929; unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1928; resumed the
practice of law in Baltimore until 1937, when he retired; died in Ruxton,
Baltimore County, Md., May 9, 1946; interment in St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church
Cemetery, Garrison, Md.
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