Alabama Governors

William Woodward Brandon

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor William Woodward Brandon




William "Plain Bill" Woodward Brandon was born June 5, 1868, in Talladega, Alabama, but grew up in Tuscaloosa. He attended Cedar Bluff Institute and Tuscaloosa High School and studied law at the University of Alabama from 1891 to 1892. Brandon was elected city clerk of Tuscaloosa while he was still in law school. In 1892 he established his law practice in Tuscaloosa and was appointed a justice of the peace.


A colorful individual with a booming voice, Brandon soon entered state politics. He was elected to the state legislature in 1896 and served until 1901. During the Constitutional Convention of 1901, the Tuscaloosa native served as reading clerk. In 1906 he was elected to the office of State Auditor. From 1911 until 1923 Brandon served as the probate judge of Tuscaloosa County.


In addition to his political career, Brandon had a distinguished military career. He joined the Warrior Guards in 1886 and led his company in battle during the Spanish-American War. Major Brandon was appointed Adjutant General in 1899 by Governor William J. Samford and reappointed by Governor William D. Jelks. In his capacity he reorganized the state National Guard to comply with federal regulations.


By 1918 Brandon had set his sights on the governor's office. Thomas E. Kilby was the victor in 1918, but in 1922 "Plain Bill" defeated Bibb Graves with a platform calling for economy in government and no new taxes.


Brandon's four years as governor were relatively quiet after the rapid changes that occurred under Kilby. Highway construction continued and a $10 million bond issue was authorized for construction of docks at Mobile. The Alabama State Docks Commission was created to oversee the construction. A Forestry Commission was created to develop and maintain the state's forest reserves. A law providing monetary assistance for the state's elderly citizens was passed and child labor laws were strengthened. Brandon managed to keep his promise of no new taxes. Additional revenue, however, was generated with the repeal of the tax exemption status of the Alabama Power Company. When "Plain Bill" left office there was a surplus in the state treasury.


Some of Brandon's actions as governor drew intense criticism. He did little, or nothing, to improve education in the state. Contrary to Kilby's reluctance to issue pardons and paroles to prisoners, Brandon was extremely generous, claiming it was an act of humanity.


After his gubernatorial term ended in 1927, Brandon was appointed probate judge of Tuscaloosa County by Governor Bibb Graves. He married Elizabeth Andrews Nabors, a widow with two daughters, on June 27, 1900. Brandon died on December 7, 1934 in Tuscaloosa.


Alabama Dept. of Archives and History. Public Information Subject Files-governors.
Owen, Marie Bankhead. The Story of Alabama: A History of the State, 1949.
Stephenson, Wendell H. and Coulter, E. Merton. A History of the South Vol. 10, The Emergence of the New South, 1913-1945, 1967.
Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1955.
Summersell, Charles B. Alabama: A State History, 1955.