Chair’s Corner: Honoring E.L. “Bob” Bartlett and Ernest Gruening

On March 29, the Tongass Democrats will hold the Bartlett-Gruening Dinner, our premier annual fundraiser. Prior to the event, I thought it would be good to share a bit about how our annual fundraiser came to be named after E.L “Bob” Bartlett and Ernest Gruening.

Expecting more from ourselves 
Starting sometime in the 1960’s, state Democratic parties across the country, including Alaska, held annual fundraising events – usually formal dinners — and called them “Jefferson-Jackson Day” dinners in honor of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, who were said to have founded the Democratic Party.

In the early 2010’s, due to Jefferson’s slave holding practices and Jackson’s policies regarding Native Americans, state Democratic parties began changing the name of their annual dinners. Instead, they renamed their annual fundraising dinner to recognize their state’s own “favorite sons”.  

On October 3, 2013 (which just happened to be my 50th birthday!), the Tongass Democrats voted unanimously to change the name of our district’s annual fundraising dinner from the “Jefferson-Jackson Dinner” to the “Bartlett-Gruening Dinner,” to honor two of Alaska’s founding fathers: E.L. “Bob” Bartlett and Ernest Gruening.

Bartlett and Gruening: helping to create the 49th state
The movement toward Alaska Statehood began in 1884 with the First Organic Act, which allowed Alaska to become a judicial district. Then in 1916, the Second Organic Act made Alaska a U.S. Territory.

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Ernest Gruening, a Democrat, as the seventh Governor of the Territory of Alaska. Gruening served as Territorial Governor for 13-1/2 years, and in 1958 was commissioned as a U.S. Senator prior to statehood.

Also in 1939, President Roosevelt appointed Edward Lewis (E.L.) “Bob” Bartlett, also a Democrat, as Secretary of the Territory of Alaska. In 1945, Bartlett began serving as Alaska’s non-voting Delegate to Congress, where he served until he became Alaska’s first U.S. Senator after statehood in 1959.

Many Alaskans worked tirelessly throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s for statehood, but Bartlett and Gruening were “the powerful one-two punch of the Alaska Statehood fight.”

On July 7, 1958, Congress approved statehood, and on January 3, 1959, Alaska was proclaimed the 49th state of the United States. E.L. “Bob” Bartlett and Ernest Gruening served as Alaska’s first two United States Senators. Without the foresight and dedication of these two Democrats, Alaska would most likely not have become the 49th state!

Fifty-four years after statehood, the Tongass Democrats (an adjunct of the Alaska Democratic Party representing Alaska House Districts 33 and 34) voted to honor these two founding fathers of Alaska – both great Democrats — and renamed our annual fundraising event to the Bartlett-Gruening Dinner.

Join us
We welcome you to join us for this premier annual event Wednesday, March 29, 6pm at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, 320 W. Willoughby Avenue in downtown Juneau. Watch this space and our Facebook page for event and ticket details.

Until next week….
Nancy Courtney
Chair, Tongass Democrats
(907) 321-2285

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