Marker Monday: Governor Hugh M. Dorsey

This year, the Georgia History Festival theme is “A Legacy of Leadership.” For the month of October, #MarkerMondays will focus on Georgia governors and their leadership of our state through the years. October is also Archives Month. GHS is proud to house several archival materials both about and from these leaders.


governor-hugh-dorseyThis week’s #MarkerMonday highlights Hugh Manson Dorsey, Georgia’s governor from 1917-1921. Dorsey was born in Fayetteville, Georgia, on July 10, 1871, to Matilda and Rufus Dorsey. After early schooling in Atlanta and Hartwell he attended the University of Georgia (1889-1893) and the University of Virginia law school. He was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 1894 and then joined his father’s Atlanta law firm, later becoming a partner. In 1910, Dorsey became the solicitor general of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit and prosecuted the 1913 murder case against Leo Frank. Frank was accused of murdering Mary Phagan, a young worker at Atlanta’s National Pencil Factory which Frank managed. The trial was highly sensationalized in newspapers, many of which published stories with strong anti-Semitic rhetoric.  Dorsey, virtually unknown before the trail, won a conviction in the case, a contributing factor to his rising political popularity.

Hugh M. Dorsey seated. Image Credit: The Leo Frank Case Research Library

Hugh M. Dorsey seated. Image Credit: The Leo Frank Case Research Library

Dorsey ran for governor in 1916 and defeated incumbent Nat Harris. Serving two terms as Georgia’s governor, Dorsey guided reforms in the state’s election process; offered tax exemptions to academic, religious, and public spaces; and supported mandatory education for both African-American and white students. He also oversaw the state’s implementation of a county-unit system for elections, favoring the state’s rural areas by allotting votes by county and not by population. In 1920, Dorsey ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senator. As one of his last acts as governor, Dorsey published in 1921 a pamphlet, A Statement from Governor Hugh M. Dorsey as to the Negro in Georgia, opposing the unjust treatment of African Americans in Georgia. After leaving office Dorsey resumed his law practice and served as an Atlanta City Court judge from 1926-1935. Dorsey later became a superior court judge of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit, a position he held until his death. Dorsey died June 11, 1948, and was buried in Atlanta’s Westview Cemetery.


Explore the links below to learn more about Governor Hugh M. Dorsey and his political and law career.

Full Marker Text

New Georgia Encyclopedia (Hugh M. Dorsey)

New Georgia Encyclopedia (County Unit System)

New Georgia Encyclopedia (World War I in Georgia)

Today in Georgia History (Leo Frank Trial)

National Governor’s Association: Hugh Manson Dorsey

The Leo Frank Case Research Library

The Leo Frank Case Research Library: Closing Arguments of Hugh Dorsey, Solicitor General for Atlanta Circuit

Further Reading

Dorsey, Hugh M. Arguments of Hugh M. Dorsey in the Leo Frank Murder Trial, 1913. Published by N. Christopholus, Macon, GA: 1914. Accessed through Internet Archives.

Dorsey, Hugh M. A Statement from Governor Hugh M. Dorsey as to the Negro in Georgia. Atlanta: 1921. Accessed through Internet Archives.

Related Marker Monday Posts

Governor John M. Slaton (Posted October 9, 2017)

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