James Marshall Head

James M. Head Jr., c. 1902

James Marshall Head Jr. (1855–1930) was an American politician in the Democratic Party. He served as the Mayor of Nashville, Tennessee for two successive terms, 1900 to 1904. In 1903, Head was mentioned by William Jennings Bryan as a possible Democratic candidate for President of the United States. He was editor of a newspaper called The Nashville American and served on the Democratic National Committee. He was president of the League of American Municipalities and was an orator and debater on the form of city government in the U.S., favoring a mayor and city council system rather than government by commissioners. After serving as Nashville mayor, Head moved to Boston where he practiced law and became vice-president of Warren Brothers Company, a road-building business.

Early lifeEdit

Head was born on July 25, 1855, in Sumner County, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, about six miles out of Gallatin on Scottsville Pike.[1] His father was Dr. James M. Head Sr., a physician who served in the Tennessee Legislature in 1861 and also served in the American Civil War as a surgeon in the Thirty-fourth Tennessee Regiment.[2] Dr. Head was captured at Fort Donelson held prisoner at Camp Chase until near the end of the war.[2] The junior Head received his early education in Gallatin; he then read law for two years with John J. Vertrees.[a] He attended Harvard Law School and graduated in 1876. At age 21, he returned to Gallatin to begin his law practice with S. F. Wilson.[2][4]


Head was elected to the Tennessee Legislature in 1880 and re-elected in 1882. While there, he was a member of a committee to draft the State debt adjustment. He moved to Nashville, just 30 miles southwest of Gallatin, in 1880 and partnered with Col. S.A. Champion forming the law firm of Champion and Head.[5] Head became editor-in-chief of The Nashville American, a newspaper published from 1894 to 1910. It merged with the Nashville Tennessean in 1907.[6] In the publication, Head espoused a policy advocating the free coinage of silver and a tariff for revenue only.[b][4] He was elected Mayor of Nashville in October, 1899, which necessitated his dissolving his law partnership. He served a second term as mayor, running unopposed.[2] He held the office from 1900 to 1904.[7] Head was a member of the Democratic National Committee from 1896 to 1904. In this role, he once requested changing the location of the Democratic National Convention, scheduled for Kansas City in 1900, to another city because the Tennessee Delegation could not get rooms cheaper than five dollars per day. He declared this rate "out of all reason".[8] Head was elected President of the League of American Municipalities at its annual meeting in Baltimore in 1903.[9] Head, along with then Tennessee Governor James B. Frazier, addressed the National Negro Business League's annual meeting held at the Tennessee statehouse in 1903. After Head and Frazier's opening remarks, Booker T. Washington, the league's president made his annual address.[10]

William Jennings BryanEdit

In 1903, Head was mentioned by William Jennings Bryan as a possible presidential candidate.[1] Head and Bryan were fast friends, but that was not always the case. At the Democratic Convention in 1904, Head was on the credentials committee, who recommended the seating of the Roger Sullivan delegation from Illinois which William Jennings Bryan opposed. This developed into a battle in which oratory was the order of the day. Head spoke in favor of adoption of the committee's recommendation, followed by a speech to the contrary by Bryan which, according to the press, "swayed the galleries with its eloquence";[11] however, when Head closed the argument with a rebuttal, Bryan lost the vote. Bryan would not speak to Head after the debate, but the animosity was short-lived.[11] Historian John Allison described Head thus: "Although a partisan on all questions pertaining to public policy he has hosts of Republican friends because of his genial disposition and general good-fellowship".[2]

Views on municipal governmentEdit

At age 49 (1904) Head relocated from Nashville to Boston where he resumed the practice of law. During this time he became a speaker and debater on the subject of municipal government. Head favored government by mayor and city council as opposed to government by commission (board of directors or "selectmen"). He debated the matter with Charles W. Eliot, then president of Harvard University and with George Kibbe Turner of McClure's Magazine, both of whom favored the opposite governing method.[12] Their presentations were made before the Economic Club of Boston on January 11, 1907.[13] Others on the program were William H. Lincoln (club president), Harvey S. Chase (municipal accountant), and Arthur Warren, (of the Boston Herald). Head's presentation was punctuated with occasions of humor and received with many instances of applause.[13] Head became vice-president of Warren Brothers Company, one of the largest paving and road-building companies in the U.S.[14] The Boston-based company patented a type of asphalt road surface material.[4][15]

Personal lifeEdit

Head was married to Minnie C. Cherry on June 30, 1885. They lived on Eighth Avenue South in Nashville, in a home that was built on the former Burton property. It was built by Head's father-in-law, William C. Cherry in 1884.[14] Cherry was head of the firm of Cherry, Morrow and Company, manufacturers of the "Tennessee Wagon".[c][2] On Cherry's death the property was passed to his wife and children; eventually, the Heads lived there for about 20 years.[14] They had three children: James Marshall Head III, Mrs. Ned Conway, and Mrs. Charles Brooks.[17][18] After the Heads moved to Boston, the property was sold to the "Presbyterian Bible Training School" in 1910.[19]

Sudden deathEdit

Head died suddenly at age 74 while attending a dinner for Democratic Mayors at Boston's Statler Hotel[d] on March 31, 1930. The dinner was sponsored by the Boston Democratic City Committee, the Alfred E. Smith League of Massachusetts and the Democratic Women Voters. The event included about 1500 people and Head was seated near the stage of the main ballroom when he slumped forward in his chair before the program had started.[4] He was assisted to an ante-room by those nearby and was pronounced dead by Dr. John H.F. Connor,[e] who happened to be an attendee.[4]


  1. ^ In 1916, Vertrees addressed the Tennessee Democratic Convention on the evils of women suffrage. A year later, Vertrees' wife Virginia became the first president of the "Tennessee Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.[3]
  2. ^ A tariff imposed on imports, sufficient to pay the cost of running the government, but no higher.
  3. ^ The "Tennessee Wagon" was a farm wagon manufactured in the 1870s by Cherry. His company became a lessee of the Tennessee State Penitentiary and used prison labor to make about 60 wagons a day. Prison labor made the wagons cheaper than the competition; the wagons were sold in every southern state.[16]
  4. ^ The Statler was sold in 1976 and renamed "Boston Park Plaza".[20]
  5. ^ John H. F. Connor was a physician who served in the Massachusetts Senate in 1919. He sponsored a petition requiring the use of sanitary cuspidors and other recepticles.[21]


  1. ^ a b "James M, Head, Twice Mayor of Nashville, Dies" (Vol. 24, No. 327). The Nashville Tennessean. AP. April 1, 1930. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Allison, Judge John, Editor (1905). Notable Men of Tennessee Vol. 1. Atlanta: Southern Historical Association. p. 71. Retrieved April 2, 2018.
  3. ^ Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill, Ed. (1995). Votes for women! : the woman suffrage movement in Tennessee, the South, and the nation (First ed.). Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press. p. 111. ISBN 0-87049-836-3. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e "James M. Head Dies at Mayors' Dinner". The New York Times. AP. April 1, 1930. p. 31. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  5. ^ "The Bar of Nashville". The Nashville American. November 24, 1895. p. 11. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  6. ^ "About The Nashville American. (Nashville [Tenn.]) 1894-1910". chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. The Library of Congress/National Endowment for the Humanities/Chronicling America. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  7. ^ Burns, Frank (July 15, 1986). "Tennessee County History Series/Davidson County". archive.org. Memphis State University Press. p. 69. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  8. ^ "Rates Are Too High:Mr Head Wants Convention Taken From Kansas City". The Indianapolis Journal  – via Newspapers.com (subscription required). May 31, 1900. p. 2. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  9. ^ "Head Elected President of the League of Municipalities" (Vol.101, No. 12701). The Courier-Journal (Louisville). October 10, 1903. p. 1. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  10. ^ "National Negro Business League". The Reading Daily Times and Dispatch (Pennsylvania). August 20, 1903. p. 3. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  11. ^ a b "James M. Head Forecasts Bryan as the Nominee" (Vol. 6, No.33). Nashville Tennessean. AP. June 13, 1912. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
  12. ^ "Harvard President Favors One by Commission or Selectmen" (Vol.66, No. 21972). New York Daily Tribune. January 12, 1907. p. 7. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  13. ^ a b "Meeting of the Economic Club (Boston)". babel.hathitrust.org. Boston: Harvard University Library. January 11, 1907. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  14. ^ a b c "Wants Old Head Residence". The Nashville American. newspapers.com (Subscription required). August 10, 1910. p. 10. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  15. ^ "District of Columbia Defies Patent Laws of the U.S." The Washington Times. newspapers.com (subscription required). January 13, 1911. p. 7. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  16. ^ Wooldridge, John, Ed. (1890). History of Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville: Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. p. 228. Retrieved April 12, 2018.
  17. ^ "Mayor Head's Body To Be Brought Home". The Nashville Tennessean. April 2, 1930. p. 3. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  18. ^ "Mayors of Nashville/James M. Head". nashvillehistory.blogspot.com. Debie Oeser Cox. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  19. ^ "Bible School To Open October 6" (Vol.4, No. 135). Nashville Tennessean. September 23, 1910. p. 1. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  20. ^ "Boston Park Plaza/History". historichotels.org. Historic Hotels of America: National Trust for Historic Preservation. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  21. ^ Journal of the Senate (1916). Boston: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts/General Court/Senate. January 31, 1916. p. 173. Retrieved April 12, 2018.
Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Houston Dudley
Mayor of Nashville, Tennessee
Succeeded by
Albert Smiley Williams