Robert Lowry occupied the office of governor for eight years and was Mississippi’s first governor to remain in office for two consecutive four-year terms. He was first elected in 1881 and re-elected in 1885.
Lowry was born in the Chesterfield District of South Carolina on March 10, 1829. In the 1840s, his family moved to Raleigh, in Smith County. After reading law and being admitted to the state bar in 1859, he established a law practice at Brandon. When the Civil War began, he enlisted as a private and rose to the rank of brigadier general. After the war, he resumed his practice of law in Brandon and was elected as a Democrat to the Mississippi Legislature in 1865.
In 1881, Governor Lowry defeated the Republican candidate Benjamin King by a vote of 77,727 to 52,009. King was the last Republican to be nominated for governor until 1963. During Governor Lowry’s first administration, a bill was introduced to move the state capital from Jackson to Meridian, a rapidly growing railroad town located at the juncture of the Southern and Mobile and Ohio railroads. That effort was unsuccessful and the 1890 Constitution established Jackson as the permanent state capital.
During Governor Lowry’s first term, Jefferson and Varina Howell Davis visited Jackson at the request of the Mississippi Legislature. Governor Lowry hosted a formal state dinner in honor of the former president of the Confederacy. Twenty years earlier, Lowry had been commissioned by the state of Mississippi to seek President Davis’s release from prison at Fort Monroe where he had been sent awaiting his trial for treason against the United States. The federal government eventually dropped the charges against President Davis. That state dinner in the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion was one of the last public appearances of Jefferson Davis.
It was also during Governor Lowry’s first administration that the Mississippi State College for Women was established. Originally called the Industrial Institute and College, it was the first state-supported college for women founded in the United States.
Governor Lowry was a proponent of industrial development and strongly supported the expansion of Mississippi’s railroad system, which experienced spectacular growth during his eight years in office. During the 1880s, railroad mileage in Mississippi increased from 1,118 to 2,366, an increase of 110 percent. In 1883, more railroad track was laid in Mississippi than in any other state in America.
After Governor Lowry left office, he moved his permanent residence to Jackson where he spent much of his time writing a lengthy volume of Mississippi history in collaboration with William H. McCardle, the former editor of the Vicksburg Times. In addition to that large volume, titled A History of Mississippi, they also published a textbook in 1891 for use in the state’s public school system.
Governor Lowry reentered politics briefly in 1901 when he ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate. That was his last campaign. Governor Lowry died at Jackson on January 19, 1910.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 78.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form II. 139-143.
Sansing, David and Carroll Waller, Mississippi Governor’s Mansion (Jackson, 1977), 81.