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William Henry Bates Papers

Identifier: M.5

Scope and Contents

The William Bates Papers are of interest to scholars researching national atomic and military affairs, as well as those studying Essex County during the twentieth-century. The bulk of the papers dates from the 1960s, though the series that relates primarily to Essex County issues contains much material from the 1950s.

The papers will be a valuable resource for those studying the Armed Services Committee during the 1960s, especially as the papers of Chairman Mendel Rivers contain little material on the activities of the Committee. There is especially good coverage of the anti-ballistic missile system, pay issues, and weaponry; there is also decent coverage, in general, of the Vietnam War. Military issues are also well-covered in the files relating to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. The atomic energy sub-series also documents peaceful uses of nuclear power for electricity, high energy physics, and food irradiation. There is much material on the fight Bates waged against public power, most notably in the case of Dickey-Lincoln in Maine and the Hanford plant in Washington.

The papers are useful for those researching the decline of several industries in Essex County, most notably the fishing, hat, and shoe industries. Bates advocated tariffs and import controls to keep foreign products from flooding the markets. He worked especially hard to help Gloucester and its fisheries; the papers document his efforts on behalf of the approval of fish flour for human consumption, irradiation of fresh fish, vessel subsidies, territorial sea limits, etc. Other local issues covered include: Merrimack River pollution, Plum Island erosion, the fight to save the shipyards at Portsmouth and Boston, the possible location of ESSA and NASA sites in the county, and various local river and harbor projects.

National issues such as prayer in schools, civil rights, and the “Great Society” programs of the Johnson-era are also well represented, both in terms of legislation that Bates filed or voted for and the opinions of his 6th District constituency. The greatest amount of constituent correspondence regarded the ABM missile system, civil rights, and prayer in school. While certainly not a scientific survey of opinions on these issues, the correspondence does reveal something of the depth of emotion in the district.


  • 1940-1969


Biographical / Historical

William Henry Bates was born to George Joseph Bates and Nora Jennings Bates on April 26, 1917. He attended St. James Parochial School, Salem High School (where he was president of his class and a football star), and Worcester Academy. He went on to Brown University where he was graduated in 1940 with a B.A. in economics and political science.

Bates worked as a clerk for the F.B.I. in Washington before enlisting in the navy as an apprentice seaman in 1941. As a crewmember on the U.S.S. Miami, he participated in naval assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. After the war, he was stationed on the Japanese mainland. Bates married Pearle Jean Dreyer in Festus, Missouri in 1943. The couple had one child, a daughter named Susan. In 1947, while still in service, Bates was graduated from the Harvard Business School with a Master’s in Business Administration.

Bates had intended to make the Navy a career until the untimely death of his father, Congressman George Bates, in an airplane accident in November of 1949. Soon after the death of the elder Bates, the Lynn Item called for the election of his son William. Because of Navy regulations, Bates was not allowed to campaign for himself; a committee to elect Bates was formed and campaigned in his stead. Bates was the overwhelming winner of the Republican primary, defeating County Commissioner C.F. Nelson Pratt of Saugus. He defeated Democratic opponent Richard Russell of Essex by a wide margin in the general election on February 14, 1950. Bates resigned his commission in the Navy and began his tenure in Congress.

Bates was hoping for appointment to the Armed Services Committee but because of seniority he initially served on the Veteran’s Committee. After his re-election in the Fall of 1950, he was given a coveted seat on the Armed Service Committee. Because of his interest in military applications of atomic energy, and especially in nuclear naval ships, he was appointed to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy in 1959. During the same year, he became a member of the Republican Committee on Committees. Bates was also appointed to the U.S. delegation to the North Atlantic Assembly (formerly known as NATO Parliamentarians) and served on the Assembly’s military committee. At the time of his death, he was the ranking minority member on the Armed Services Committee and the second-ranking minority member on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy.

Bates was a popular figure in Massachusetts Republican circles and among his constituents. He was frequently mentioned as a candidate for statewide office and as a Senate possibility. Bates turned down all invitations to run for another office because he thought his seniority in the House was too important to give up. He did help his Essex County friend and neighbor Henry Cabot Lodge during Lodge’s campaign for the Vice Presidency in 1960. Bates was named Lodge’s special advisor and aide and traveled with him on his cross-country campaign. Bates rarely faced significant opposition in elections. Voters approved of his attention to district affairs and constituent service as well as his high-powered position on the Armed Services and Atomic Energy Committees.

He faced perhaps his greatest challenge in 1969 during the controversy over the placement of an ABM site in the 6th District. Public sentiment was overwhelmingly against the missile system while Bates thought it was important for the nation’s defense. Nixon eventually decided to postpone the implementation of the ABM program and Bates agreed with the President’s decision.

Also during 1969, after a series of illnesses and exploratory surgery, Bates was diagnosed with lymphoma. While his doctors were optimistic about his prognosis, Bates eventually succumbed to his illness on June 22, 1969 at Bethesda Naval Hospital. He was 52 years old. Bates was survived by his wife, daughter, mother, and six siblings: George J. Bates of Salem, Raymond H. Bates of Marblehead, Francis Bates of Peabody, Mrs. Courtland (Mary) Sawtelle of East Greenwich, R.I., Mrs. James Ginty of Salem, and Mrs. Carolyn Stanton of Marblehead.


37 Cubic Feet

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Repository Details

Part of the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections Repository

University Archivist
352 Lafayette St.
Salem MA 01970 United States