William Charles Pelkey, son of Oscar Pelletier and Mary Connelly, was born 2 October 1881 in Concord, New Hampshire, and baptized 9 October 1881 at Saint John the Evangelist Church, Concord, New Hampshire, sponsored by Philippe Pelletier and Hannah Powers . He died 21 August 1944 in Providence, Rhode Island, of coronary thrombosis , at age 62, and was buried at Saint Ann Cemetery, Cranston, Rhode Island . He graduated from Concord High School in 1900 and spent a year at Dartmouth College, from September 1900 to October 1901. He was a reporter at The Concord Monitor in Concord, New Hampshire; a reporter at The Journal and The Tribune in Providence, Rhode Island; City Clerk, Clerk of Common Council and Clerk of Committees; secretary, Rhode Island Board of Elections; and chairman, Rhode Island Republican Central Committee, all in Providence, Rhode Island . He married (1) Ethyl Grace Morrison 6 October 1902 in Providence, Rhode Island; they divorced about 1919 . Daughter of Burton Erastus Morrison and Nellie S. Davis, she was born 4 November 1880 in Haverhill, Massachusetts . She died 6 April 1938, in Springfield, Rhode Island, of carcinoma of the breast with metastases to lung, at age 57, and was buried at Forest Hills Cemetery, Forest Hills, Massachusetts . He married (2) Evelyn Josephine Healy 18 November 1920 in Providence, Rhode Island . Daughter of Welcome T. Healy and Clara E. Blood , she was born 20 January 1885 in East Providence, Rhode Island . She died 19 October 1936 in Providence, Rhode Island , at age 51.
Notes for William Charles Pelkey:
His World War I draft registration card, dated 12 September 1918 in Providence, Rhode Island, reports that William was of medium height, of medium build, and that he had brown hair and blue eyes. He signed “William C. Pelkey.”
Article, from The Concord Monitor, Concord, New Hampshire :
Dispatches from Providence indicate a “come back” for William C. Pelkey, erstwhile Concord High school and Dartmouth college student and Concord Monitor reporter. Many years the energetic chairman of the Republican state committee of Rhode Island, Mr. Pelkey withdrew from that post a year ago when some of the leaders demanded a “new deal” in Little Rhody, but the progress of evens since that time has led to an expression by Republican members of the General Assembly that Bill should be recalled to his old job.
Article, from The Concord Monitor, Concord, New Hampshire :
Back at the turn of the century, when Concord was sending a lot of promising young athletes to Dart-mouth, a boy went up from here who had been writing high school news and sport stuff for the Monitor and working with Dave Adams on the school track team. His name was William C. Pelkey and Dave told Coach Mahan at Hanover that the boy would make the varsity as a sprinter. But be-fore he had a chance to show his mettle, appendicitis laid him low, ending his college course and this athletic career. So he went to the Providence, R.I., Journal as a newspaper man and did City Hall and then the State House so well that he was sent to Washington by his paper.
Funeral notice, from The Providence Journal, Providence, Rhode Island :
Funeral services will be held tomorrow for William C. Pelkey, 60, secretary of the State Board of Elections since it was established in 1941 and former Republican State Central Committee chairman. Mr. Pelkey died suddenly Monday, following a heart attack, at his home, 307 Elmgrove avenue. The funeral will be conducted at 8:15 a.m. from the chapel of Horace B. Knowles Sons, 187 Benefit street, with a solemn requiem mass in St. Sebastian's Church, Cole avenue, at 9 o'clock.
Obituary, from The Providence Journal, Providence, Rhode Island :
“William C. Pelkey Stricken In Home”
Former State GOP Leader Ends Colorful Career in His 60th Year.
William C. Pelkey, secretary of the State Board of Elections and former chairman of the Republican State Central Committee, died suddenly of a heart attack at his home, 307 Elmgrove avenue, yesterday afternoon. He was in his 60th year.
Mr. Pelkey, one of the most colorful political figures in Rhode Island since the turn of the century, was first stricken at 10:45 a.m. in the courtyard of the State House. Dr. Cono Stefano of the Public Health Department treated him and ordered him taken home.
Second Attack Fatal
A second attack shortly afternoon noon proved fatal, it was said at his home last night.
Mr. Pelkey served as Republican State chairman for nine years, relinquishing the post in 1932. Subsequently, he opened an office downtown as a consultant on publicity advertising, politics and legislative procedure and for the next few years his name figured in many General Assembly stories.
Mr. Pelkey was city clerk of Providence for 11 years, becoming State chairman after leaving that office in 1923. He was a reporter on the Journal-Bulletin staff from 1904 to 1908.
The State Board of Elections issued this statement, signed by Chairman Albert J. Lamarre, on Mr. Pelkey’s death:
“The State Board of Elections keenly regrets the passing of William C. Pelkey, secretary of the Board since its inception. Mr. Pelkey has distinguished himself as a public servant and his untimely death will be keenly felt.”
Elected GOP Chairman
After the Republic State ticket was defeated in 1922, the party organization fell apart, Chairman Joseph Burlingame re-signed, and a bitter battle began over his successor. Pelkey finally defeated John S. Murdock, later an associate justice of the State Supreme Court, in a close contest.
He inherited the critical party situation brought about by the long filibuster in the State Senate, was charged by the Democrats with directing the planting of the “gas” contrivance in the Senate chamber which was intended to render Lieut. Gov. Felix A. Toupin hors de combat, and after that incident, steered the Republican Senators on their long visit at Rutland, Mass.
All the while he was reorganizing the party and particularly getting a big registration in Providence. When the 1924 returns were counted, they showed that the Republican State ticket, headed by Aram J. Pothier, had won by a handsome margin and that Jesse H. Metcalf had been elected to the United States Senate.
Indicted in Bomb Episode
In August of 1924, he was indicted on a charge of conspiracy to plant the so-called “gas bomb” in the Senate chamber. He pleaded not guilty, along with others accused, and did not go to trial. He was re-elected Republican State chairman a few weeks later and remained at the head of the party until Charles P. Sisson succeeded him in 1932.
During his tenure as State Chairman his name was coupled constantly with that of Frederick S. Peck, State finance commissioner, and the two were generally credited with closely controlling party and State administrative activity.
Among political charges and counter-charges in which Mr. Pelkey’s name figured was an affidavit in 1933 by the late Raymond J. Kennedy, then a Democratic representative from Central Falls, relating the alleged attempts of some leaders of the Democratic party, of which Gov. J. Howard McGrath was then chairman, to have him introduce a bill in 1931 to create a police commission for Central Falls. Kennedy said that the late James Lavell, Blackstone Valley bootlegger, took him at the time to see Pelkey, who asked him if Democratic leaders still wanted the bill and, upon being told they did, told him to go ahead and introduce it. After his chairmanship, and during his years as a legislative consultant, Pelkey’s name was coupled with many State House political situations, including that of 1937, when the Democratic minority and a few Republican senators organized the Senate, taking control away from the Republican leadership.
In 1940, Mr. Pelkey, his name no longer connected with reports of trying to regain leadership of the Republican party, campaigned actively for election of Gov. McGrath. He was defeated in an attempt to win election to the House as a Democrat and an independent, in the third Providence district.
Born in Concord, N.H.
Mr. Pelkey was born in Concord, N.H., on Oct. 2, 1884, a son of the late Charles and Mary Pelkey. He was graduated from Dart-mouth College with the class of 1904 and while at college was an outstanding football star.
As a youth, he was appointed a page in the New Hampshire Legislature. A protege of the then political boss of that state, he laid the foundation of his interest in politics that brought him to leadership later in Rhode Island.
After coming to this State on completion of his college education, he became a reporter for The Providence Journal. In 1909 he was elected clerk of the Providence Common Council, and three years later was elected City Clerk, coordinating that office with that of the Council clerkship.
During the World War, he was granted a leave of absence by the city to go to Washington as an assistant to Harvey D. Gibbons, general manger of the American Red Cross. His duties were primarily those of public relations.
After the war he directed the publicity of several of the civic organizations and the money-raising campaigns of various social agencies, including the Providence District Nursing Association, the former Society for Organizing Charity, now the family Welfare Society;the Providence Lying-In Hospital, the 1922 Red Cross drive, the National Conference for Social Work and Japanese relief.
Mr. Pelkey was twice married. His first wife, Ethel (Morrison) Pelkey, from whom he was divorced, died in 1938. His second wife, Evelyn (Healey) Pelkey, died several years ago. By his first wife he had two daughters, Mrs. Dorothea Pelkey Waterman, wife of Frank M. Waterman, and Miss Jane Pelkey, both of whom survive.
Obituary, from the Dartmouth College alumni magazine:
William Charles Pelkey died suddenly at his home in Providence, R.I., August 21, 1944.
The son of Oscar G. Pelkey, he was born in Con-cord, N.H., October 2, 1882. He was a member of Alpha Delta Phi.
Leaving college at the end of his freshman year, he went soon after to Providence, and was for some years connected with the Providence Journal. He was later city clerk for ten years, and for nine years from 1923 was chairman of the Republican State Committee. At the time of his death he was secretary of the State Board of Elections.
He leaves two daughters.
Press Release (excerpt), from the Rhode Island Department of State :
What started as a filibuster by Senate Democrats to force Republicans to vote on a resolution for a Constitutional Convention, led to a riot in the Senate Chamber, a bromine gas attack in the Chamber, and the flight of twenty-one Republican State Senators over the state line to Rutland, Massachusetts, in June of 1924…. [A] book called “Rhode Island Story,” published in 1954 by former Providence Journal reporter David Patten, offers a first-hand account of the filibuster flap. In the spring of 1924, the Republicans had a slim 21-18 majority in the State Senate. On Tuesday, June 17, the Democrats launched a filibuster to keep the Senate in continuous session until the Republicans were forced to give in to their demand for a vote on a resolution…. The filibuster rapidly became an endurance test for the Republicans, who had to keep their members in the chamber to maintain a quorum and to have the votes necessary to counter any Democratic challenge…. [T]he filibuster went on for nearly 52 hours. On the first day of the filibuster, a fight broke out between several Senators, and Providence Police were called to the State House to ensure order. By Thursday, the Republicans were at a breaking point, and the party chairman, William Pelkey, allegedly orchestrated a plan to end the filibuster. Pelkey was said to have hired some underworld figures from Boston, one of whom entered the Senate Chamber and smashed a glass tube of bromine gas [which has an unpleasant odor and is very irritating to mucous membranes]…. A number of Republican Senators on the floor were overcome and fled… and by Friday morning, all but one had fled the state…. [T]heir self-imposed exile lasted until January of 1925, when they returned to the state triumphant, reasserting control of the Senate after key victories in the November elections and the election of a Republican Governor.
Notes for Evelyn Josephine Healy:
Death Notice, from The Journal, Providence, Rhode Island :
PELKEY - In this city, October 19, 1936, Evelyn Josephine (Healy), wife of William C. Pelkey and daughter of the late Welcome T. and Clara E. Healy. Funeral services private. Please omit flowers.
Children of William Pelkey and Ethyl Morrison:
+ 35 i. Dorothea Morrison Pelkey, born 7 August 1904 in Providence, Rhode Island; died 30 October 1977 in East Providence, Rhode Island.
36 ii. Jane K. Pelkey, born 2 January 1916 in Providence, Rhode Island; died 15 January 1993 in Providence, Rhode Island.