William O'Dwyer

William O'Dwyer (July 11, 1890 – November 24, 1964) was an Irish-American politician and diplomat who served as the 100th Mayor of New York City, holding that office from 1946 to 1950.

William O'Dwyer
William O'Dwyer.jpg
100th Mayor of New York City[1]
In office
January 1, 1946 – August 31, 1950
Preceded byFiorello H. La Guardia
Succeeded byVincent R. Impellitteri
Kings County District Attorney
In office
January 1, 1940 – August 1, 1945
Preceded byWilliam F.X. Geoghan
Succeeded byGeorge J. Beldock
United States Ambassador to Mexico
In office
November 23, 1950 – December 6, 1952
Appointed byHarry S. Truman
Preceded byWalter C. Thurston
Succeeded byFrancis White
Personal details
Born(1890-07-11)July 11, 1890
Bohola, County Mayo, Ireland
DiedNovember 24, 1964(1964-11-24) (aged 74)
New York City, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
  • Catherine Lenihan
    (m. 1916; died 1946)
  • Elizabeth Sloan Simpson
    (m. 1949; div. 1953)
RelationsPaul O'Dwyer (brother)
Brian O'Dwyer (nephew)
Alma materFordham University Law School
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1942–1945
RankUS Army O7 shoulderboard rotated.svg Brigadier General
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsLegion of Merit

Life and careerEdit

O'Dwyer was born in Bohola, County Mayo, Ireland and studied at St. Nathys College, Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. In 1907, O'Dwyer began to study for the priesthood at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, a Jesuit seminary in Spain,[2] where he became fluent in Spanish.[3] He later decided not to join the clergy, and emigrated to the United States in 1910.[2] He sailed to New York as a steerage passenger on board the liner Philadelphia and was inspected at Ellis Island on June 27, 1910. He first worked as a laborer, then as a New York City police officer, while studying law at night at Fordham University Law School. He received his degree in 1923 and then built up a successful practice before serving as a Kings County (Brooklyn) Court judge. He won election as the Kings County District Attorney in November 1939[4] and his prosecution of the organized crime syndicate known as Murder, Inc. made him a national celebrity.

After losing the mayoral election to Fiorello La Guardia in 1941, O'Dwyer joined the United States Army for World War II, achieving the rank of brigadier general as a member of the Allied Commission for Italy and executive director of the War Refugee Board, for which he received the Legion of Merit.[5] During that time, he was on leave from his elected position as district attorney and replaced by his chief assistant, Thomas Cradock Hughes, and was re-elected in November 1943.

In 1945, O'Dwyer received the support of Tammany Hall leader Edward V. Loughlin, won the Democratic nomination, and then easily won the mayoral election. At his inauguration, O'Dwyer celebrated to the song, "It's a Great Day for the Irish", and addressed the 700 people gathered in Council Chambers at City Hall: "It is our high purpose to devote our whole time, our whole energy to do good work...." He established the Office of City Construction Coordinator, appointing Park Commissioner Robert Moses to the post, worked to have the permanent home of the United Nations located in Manhattan, presided over the first billion-dollar New York City budget, created a traffic department and raised the subway fare from five cents to ten cents. In 1948, O'Dwyer received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York." In 1948, he received the epithets "Whirling Willie" and "Flip-Flop Willie" from U.S. Representative Vito Marcantonio of the opposition American Labor Party while the latter was campaigning for Henry A. Wallace.[6]

Shortly after his re-election to the mayoralty in 1949, O'Dwyer was confronted with a police corruption scandal uncovered by the Kings County District Attorney, Miles McDonald. O'Dwyer resigned from office on August 31, 1950. Upon his resignation, he was given a ticker tape parade up Broadway's Canyon of Heroes in the borough of Manhattan. President Harry Truman appointed him U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. He returned to New York City in 1951 to answer questions concerning his association with organized crime figures and the accusations followed him for the rest of his life. He resigned as ambassador on December 6, 1952, but remained in Mexico until 1960.[7]

He helped organize the first Israel Day Parade,[8] along with New York's Jewish community.


O'Dwyer died in New York City on November 24, 1964, in Beth Israel Hospital, aged 74, from heart failure.[9][10] His funeral mass was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral on November 27,[11] and he was interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 2, Grave 889-A-RH.[12]


In 1916, O'Dwyer married Catherine Lenihan, whom he met while he was working as a bartender at the Vanderbilt Hotel[13] and she was employed as one of the Vanderbilt's telephone switchboard operators.[2] They had no children, and she was in ill health for many years before her death in 1946.[14] Her funeral was originally planned for St. Joseph's Church in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan, where her husband and she were members.[15] The large number of attendees resulted in a move to St. Patrick's Cathedral, where the service was presided over by Cardinal Francis Spellman.[15]

On December 20, 1949, O'Dwyer married Elizabeth Sloan Simpson at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Stuart, Florida.[16] They divorced in 1953,[17] but remained close, and Simpson attended O'Dwyer's funeral in 1964.[18]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Green Book: Mayors of the City of New York" Archived May 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine on the official NYC website
  2. ^ a b c Devine, Thomas W. (2019). "Biography: O'Dwyer, William (11 July 1890–24 November 1964)". American National Biography. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  3. ^ Lehman, Herbert H. (September 18, 1950). Congressional Record:U.S. Senate; Nomination of William O'Dwyer to be U.S. Ambassador to Mexico (PDF). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 14998.
  4. ^ Hagerty, James A. (November 8, 1939). "Goldstein Winner — Schurman and Other La Guardia Choices Trail in Returns — O'Dwyer New Prosecutor — Organization Elects 9 Supreme Court Justices — Council Vote Count Begins Today". New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved October 21, 2016.
  5. ^ Ralph J. Caliendo, New York City Mayors: Part II: the Mayors of Greater New York From 1898, 2010, p. 90
  6. ^ Hagerty, James A. (September 11, 1948). "48,000 Hear Wallace Assert Prejudice Will Fail in South". New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
  7. ^ "William O'Dwyer, 100th Mayor, 1946—1950 (1890 - 1964)". City of New York. Archived from the original on August 7, 2012. Retrieved November 23, 2013.
  8. ^ Jewish Telegraphic Agency, "150,000 Cheer Jewish State at New York Celebration of Israeli Independence Day", republished on Jewish News Archive, original story May 5, 1949 Archived August 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ The remarkable History of the O'Dwyer Family Archived September 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "William O'Dwyer profile". The New York Times. November 25, 1964. p. 36. Retrieved March 17, 2010.(subscription required)
  11. ^ "Death Notices: William O'Dwyer". Daily News. New York, NY. November 26, 1964. p. 72 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ "Burial Information, William O'Dwyer". Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington, VA: Headquarters, Department of the Army. Retrieved November 23, 2017.
  13. ^ DeStefano, Anthony M. (2018). Top Hoodlum: Frank Costello, Prime Minister of the Mafia. New York, NY: Citadel Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-8065-3871-6.
  14. ^ "President, Leaders Send Condolences to O'Dwyer". Brooklyn Eagle. Brooklyn, NY. October 14, 1946. p. 9 – via Newspapers.com.
  15. ^ a b "Obituary, Mrs. William O'Dwyer". Daily News. New York, NY. October 14, 1946. p. 30 – via Newspapers.com.
  16. ^ "Sky Arched by Rainbow as Couple Takes Vows". Star-Gazette. Elmira, NY. Associated Press. December 20, 1949. p. 1 – via Newspapers.com.
  17. ^ Valery, Bernard (June 7, 1953). "A Toreador in Her Life? Lot of Bull, Says Sloan". Daily News. New York, NY. pp. 3, 90–91 – via Newspapers.com.
  18. ^ "Sloan Here for Funeral". Daily News. New York, NY. November 25, 1964. p. 2 – via Newspapers.com.

External linksEdit

  Media related to William O'Dwyer at Wikimedia Commons

Legal offices
Preceded by
William F.X. Geoghan
Kings County District Attorney
Succeeded by
George J. Beldock
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jeremiah T. Mahoney
Democratic Nominee for Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
William O'Dwyer
Preceded by
William O'Dwyer
Democratic Nominee for Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
William O'Dwyer
Preceded by
William O'Dwyer
Democratic Nominee for Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Ferdinand Pecora
Political offices
Preceded by
Fiorello H. La Guardia
Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Vincent R. Impellitteri
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Walter C. Thurston
United States Ambassador to Mexico
Succeeded by
Francis White