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Inventory of the Goodwin J. Knight Papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Goodwin J. Knight Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1953-1959
    Collection number: C114
    Creator: Knight, Goodwin J.
    Extent: 83 cubic feet
    Repository: California State Archives
    Sacramento, California
    Abstract: The records of the Goodwin J. Knight Administration consist of 83 cubic feet of records covering the period that Knight served as governor (1953-1959).
    Physical location: California State Archives
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    See series C114.119, C114.121, C114.162, and C114.175. See specific series for reason for restriction and the associated government code sections.

    Publication Rights

    For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the California State Archives. Permission for reproduction or publication is given on behalf of the California State Archives as the owner of the physical items. The researcher assumes all responsibility for possible infringement which may arise from reproduction or publication of materials from the California State Archives collections.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Goodwin J. Knight Papers, C114.[Series Number], [box & folder number], California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento, California.

    Acquisition Information

    Governor Goodwin J. Knight physically and legally transfered his gubernatorial papers to the California State Archives upon leaving office in 1959.


    Governor Goodwin Jess Knight was unique among California's chief executive when he took office in 1953. He had served in all three branches of government, serving first as a superior court judge, and then presiding over the State Senate while being Lieutenant Governor. Knight was born December 9, 1896, in Provo, Utah. His father Jesse Knight, a lawyer and mining engineer, and mother Lillie Milner Knight, a concert singer and a suffragist, moved their family to Los Angeles in 1904.
    Knight showed various talents as a child. On his 13th birthday in 1909, he completed a book of fiction that was published as Good's Budget. His political career began a year later when he helped support the campaign of Progressive Hiram Johnson for governor by handing out leaflets for the candidate. As a child, Knight often skipped school to hear the great orators of the day when they came to California. These speakers included William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, Hiram Johnson, William Howard Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt. Later, in his political career, public speaking would become one of his greatest strength.
    In high school, Knight began to exhibit his leadership skills. He was elected student body president as a junior at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles. Also in his class were General Jimmy Doolittle, Frank Capra, and opera singer Lawrence Tibbetts. His yearbook predicted that he would someday serve as governor - of New York.
    Upon graduation, Goodie, as he was commonly known, went to work as a miner in southern Nevada. Once he had saved enough money, he entered Stanford University. Knight would continue working in mines during his college summer breaks. His college graduation was delayed for one year when he entered the Navy during World War I. After receiving his A.B. from Stanford in June 1919, he received the Telluride scholarship at Cornell, where he studied the law and political science.
    Once back in California he was admitted to the bar and opened his own law practice in 1921. In 1925, he formed two partnerships. He married Arvilla Cooley, with whom he had two daughters, Marilyn and Carolyn, and he formed a law practice with Thomas Reynolds. Their practice grew rapidly and within a few years was one of the largest in California. In the early 1930s, he purchased gold mines in Kern County that became very profitable after a rise in the gold standard.
    In the 1930s, his interest in politics increased. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Frank Merriam's successful campaign for governor in 1934. That same year he delivered the keynote address to the State Republican Convention. His support for Merriam led him to be appointed to the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench in 1935. On the bench, Knight became known as the Hollywood divorce judge because of the many high profile cases that came through his court. During his years as a judge, he also hosted radio programs in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
    In 1946, Knight ran for statewide office for the first time. He defeated State Senator Jack Shelley in the race for lieutenant governor. During this campaign, he employed the campaign management firm of Whitaker and Baxter. Whitaker and Baxter were a highly successful husband and wife team who Knight would later use in campaigns for governor and the U.S. Senate. Knight was re-elected in 1950 as the Lieutenant Governor, winning in both the Democratic and Republican primaries.
    After Governor Earl Warren stated in September 1953 that he would not pursue a fourth term, Knight announced he would seek the Republican nomination in 1954. Knight already had experience as the governor serving over 400 days as Acting Governor while Lieutenant Governor. However, Knight had only to wait less than one month before becoming governor. In October 1953, Warren accepted President Eisenhower's appointment as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. On October 5, 1953, Knight was sworn in as the 31st governor of the 31st state in the Union. Knight strongly believed that he was continuing Warren's term and for that reason retained most of Warren's appointees and policies.
    Beginning in the late 1940s, many of the more conservative Republicans in the state began to promote Knight as a potential gubernatorial candidate. These Republicans felt that Warren, although a Republican, was too liberal in many of his social policies. During his gubernatorial administration, Knight surprised many of these previous supporters by continuing and even expanding most of Warren social policies, such as mental health care modernization, increased payments of unemployment insurance, and juvenile delinquency reform.
    Upon taking office, Governor Knight cited his immediate goals as continuing construction of highways and freeways, maintenance of state institutions, protection of state industry, and smog control. One of the few administrative changes that he made was naming John Pierce as Director of Finance for the retiring James Dean.
    Sadly, Knight's first wife Arvilla died in 1952, before he took office as governor. However, he became the first California governor to marry while in office when he wed Virginia Carlson, a widow of a World War II veteran, in 1954. She was a constant companion who traveled throughout the state with her husband.
    During the first year of Knight's administration, he created an alcoholic beverage control department, increased the weekly unemployment insurance payment, and prepared a fiscally sound state budget. The rapidly increasing population of California made balancing budgets increasingly more difficult throughout his administration. Eventually, Knight would use the state's "Rainy Day" reserves to balance the budget and keep up with the long-range state construction projects and planning needed to meet the continuing growth.
    In the gubernatorial election of 1954, Knight again hired Whitaker and Baxter. He soundly defeated Democratic candidate Richard Graves, who was executive director of the League of California Cities. His victory came despite the higher proportion of Democratic to Republican voters in California.
    One of the most contentious issues during Knight's administration was the development of water resources. Knight was lauded for his efforts to continue the push to build the Feather River Project. However, he was also chastised for his inability to get politicians from northern and southern California to agree on a workable plan for the State Water Project. In 1956, he signed legislation creating the Department of Water Resources, although the special session of the legislature he called in 1957 for water development did not lead to a compromise by the legislature to get through a bill for funding the Feather River Project.
    Knight's administration had numerous successes. Most of these revolved around the state's efforts to keep up with the fantastic population growth of the 1950s. In the 1950s, California's population grew at a rate of over 1,500 new residents every day. California absorbed the new population while providing necessary governmental services. During Knight's administration, the state enjoyed a period of near full employment with a high standard of living. Knight was able to promote California as a location for industries throughout the nation to move, while also enjoying excellent relations with the state's labor leaders.
    He also called special citizens committees and Governor's Conferences to examine problems faced by the state. Some of these committees and conferences dealt with air pollution and smog, juvenile delinquency, children and youth, and mental health. His term was also notable for the improvement in prison conditions.
    Knight's five years in office were also marked by numerous clashes with prominent California Republicans. During the 1950s, California produced four powerful and nationally known politicians. These four Republicans were Knight, Vice President Richard Nixon, U.S. Senator and leader of the Senate Republicans William Knowland, and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. Through the 1950s, Knight, Knowland, and Nixon waged various power struggles for control of California's Republican Party.
    The first of these fights took place in 1954 at the State Republican Convention when a Nixon-backed candidate challenged a Knight loyalist for the assistant chairmanship. Knight won this battle with the help of Knowland, although the rift between Knight and Nixon would never really be repaired. At the 1956 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, Knight believed he would lead California's 70 delegates and possibly head a native son campaign. However, after some negotiations the delegates were split three ways with Nixon, Knowland, and Knight, each controlling 23 delegates and U.S. Senator Thomas Kuchel serving as the 70th delegate.
    In 1958, Knight took part in one of the more complicated and misguided political decisions in California history. Knight announced he would seek re-election as governor in August 1957; however, he was not the only prominent Republic to seek this office. William Knowland announced shortly thereafter that he would leave his position as a U.S. Senator and run for governor. Knowland planned to use the California governorship as stepping stone for a run as President in 1960. As a bid for party unity and possibly from pressure from outside political forces, Knight stepped aside and decided to run instead for Knowland's Senate seat. The "Big Switch" was not successful for either candidate, with Pat Brown defeating Knowland for Governor and Knight losing to Clair Engle in the Senate race. These campaigns marked a change in the political landscape of California, with the emergence of the Democratic Party as the major political party in the state.
    After leaving office, Knight continued to be involved with politics. He worked as a political commentator for a television station in Los Angeles. He also opened his own insurance company. In 1961, he declared that he would again run for governor, although he soon contracted hepatitis and was forced to leave the race.
    Governor Goodwin Knight died on May 22, 1970, and is buried at the Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.

    Scope and Content

    The records of the Goodwin J. Knight Administration consist of 83 cubic feet of records covering the period that Knight served as governor (1953-1959). A few of the series do include documents from 1953 before Knight became Governor. The files consist primarily of correspondence, memoranda, reports, surveys, speeches, press releases, meeting agenda and minutes, newspaper articles, and studies; however, publications, photographs, journal articles, opinions, notes, and telegrams are found throughout the collection as well.
    The Knight Papers are significant in that they detail how California's government dealt with problems facing California and the nation in the 1950s. Issues discussed throughout the collection include infrastructure development such as water, bridge, and highway development; fears about communism and use of nuclear weapons; California Republican Party politics and the Big Switch of 1958; educational needs in California; improved social conditions; labor needs and methods for meeting shortages; state fiscal problems and the state budget; smog in Los Angeles; cooperation with western states; natural resource development and in particular tideland oil reserves; 1955 flood; and the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympic Games. However, the vast majority of the letters are of personal concerns that the authors believed Governor Knight could help with or solve.
    Another characteristic of the Knight Papers is the importance of the Governor's Secretaries in caring out the functioning of the governor's office. In fact, these are the papers of the Knight Administration and not the papers of Goodwin Knight himself. Throughout the collection are found the names of his secretaries, including Newton Stearns (Press and Executive Secretary), Tom Bright (Press Secretary), Paul Mason (Legislative and Executive Secretary), Theodore Jenner (Departmental Secretary), Douglas Barrett (Press Secretary), Sadie Perlin (Private Secretary), and John J. Synon (Press Secretary). Their contributions to the daily operation of his administration meant that Knight could develop the policies for the state and deal with political situations.


    The Knight Papers are organized in three parts: Administrative Files, Federal Files, and County Files. This organization was established by the Knight administration and retained by the processing archivist.


    The Administrative Files are arranged in alphabetical order by either the department (for example Disaster Council or Department of Public Works) or by the subject (such as Race Relations or Views and Suggestions). Immediately following the individual department files are divisional or subject files that fall under the department. For example, following the Department of Public Works files are divisional and subject files on the Division of Architecture, Bridges, Central Valley Project, State Engineer, Highway Commission, etc. These divisional and subject files are in most instances described as separate series entries due to the significance of their subject content. However, when these series were either extremely small in volume or did not differ in subject content they were described within the series description for the department.
    The Federal Files are arranged alphabetically by the name of the federal agency or department.
    The County Files are arranged alphabetically by the name of the county.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been associated with these materials in the Archives' automated public access system (currently in development, December 2004).


    Knight, Goodwin, 1896-1970
    California - Government and Politics - 1951-
    California. Governor
    Warren, Earl, 1891-1974

    Related Material

    Three collections closely relate to the Knight Papers at the California State Archives. The first of these is the Knight Collection at the Stanford University Library Special Collections-Manuscripts, which includes more of Knight's personal and political papers from his time in state service. The second collection of interest is the Earl Warren Papers at the California State Archives. Many of the series in the Knight Papers are continuation of series from the Warren Papers. In particular, this relationship is seen in the series dealing with state departments. This probably reflects the continuity of staffs from when Warren left the governorship as well as their similar philosophies of governing. Also at the California State Archives are the Whitaker-Baxter Records that contain files related to Knight's campaigns for governor and U. S. Senator.