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W. W. Kitchin, North Carolina-Style Progressive Politician

W. W. Kitchin. Image from the State Archives.On October 9, 1866, Governor William Walton Kitchin was born near Scotland Neck. Educated in local schools and at Wake Forest, he studied law and in 1888 opened a practice in Roxboro.

Kitchin, a Democrat, entered politics at a point when his party’s fortunes were at a low point. He was the sole Democrat elected to either house of the Congress from North Carolina in the fall 1896 election.

After 12 years in Congress, Kitchen was elected governor in 1908. While he held the state’s top job, he worked to increase expenditures for education, public health, care for the mentally handicapped and drainage of swamp lands.

In line with the national efforts to break up trusts and regulate business, Kitchin backed legislation to strengthen antitrust laws, require better sanitation and set a 10-hour workday in factories. He also advocated prohibiting work by children under the age of 13 and licensing foreign corporations doing business in the state. During his term 1,300 miles of roads were constructed. He served as governor for four years and then returned to practicing law.

In 1919, a stroke forced him into retirement and he returned to Halifax County. He died in 1924.

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