History of John W. McCormack

John William McCormack

Take our trivia quiz on John W. McCormack to learn more about his life and political legacy.

Born in South Boston, John W. McCormack's life paralleled the lives of the heroic young boys portrayed in Horatio Alger novels who overcame extreme poverty and adversity to achieve prominence and wealth. Guided by a strong belief that hard work and integrity would be rewarded, McCormack pursued his own American dream, becoming one of the most influential and powerful figures in US history.

Although he never finished high school, he became a self-educated lawyer. As a teenager he attended suffrage rallies with his mother, which helped shape his belief that women should have the right to vote. After serving in the US Army, McCormack pursued politics and was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1928, where he served until 1971. McCormack was elected Speaker of the US House in 1962.

During his 42-year career in the U.S. Congress, he left an indelible mark on some of the most progressive social legislation of the last century. His powers of persuasion as Speaker of the House helped to pass groundbreaking bills on civil rights, economic security, education, foreign aid, health care, housing, immigration, and voting rights. He championed important legislation like Medicare and Social Security, the G.I. Bill, FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s Great Society, the Marshall Plan, and establishment of NASA, NATO, and the Administration on Aging.

In a 1935 Boston Globe interview, McCormack said "I have no hesitancy in insisting that Government in an emergency do everything that can be reasonably done to relieve human suffering and distress."

Despite championing such transformative legislation, this gentle giant kept a low profile. His accomplishments were held in high esteem by many, however, including President Lyndon B. Johnson, who said of McCormack: "From the first time I entered the House of Representatives as a young Congressman to this very hour, I have known few men whose courage and compassion, decency of character and honorable objectives match that of Speaker McCormack."

His legacy for social justice and creating opportunities for all lives on at the school that proudly bears his name.

John McCormack Reinvented Himself and National Social Policies

Read the news story about our guest lecture by biographer Garrison Nelson.

Giving to UMass Boston

Support the McCormack Graduate School’s teaching, learning, and research through a gift to the UMass Boston Fund.