|From||United States of America|
|Birth||23 December 1869, Jackson Parish, USA|
|Death||16 March 1931, Washington, D.C., USA (aged 61 years)|
James Benjamin Aswell, Sr. (December 23, 1869 – March 16, 1931), was a prominent American educator and a Democratic U.S. representative from Louisiana, who served from 1913 until his death, which occurred twelve days into his tenth term.
Aswell was born in the Vernon community in rural Jackson Parish in North Louisiana to Benjamin W. Aswell and the former Elizabeth A. Lyles. He attended local schools and graduated with teaching credentials in 1892 from Peabody College, a division of Vanderbilt University (then Peabody Normal College) in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1893, he received the Bachelor of Arts degree from the former University of Nashville. In 1894, he received his Master of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; in 1907, he obtained his law degree from the same institution. He was twice married: (1) to the former Mary Lee Wright by whom he had his daughter Corinne, and (2) to the former Ella Foster of Mineral Wells, Texas, and thereafter Shreveport, by whom he had his son, James B. Aswell, Jr. (1906–1955), an author based in Natchitoches.
Aswell began his educational career as a teacher in country schools and high schools. He was a state school administrator before he was tapped from 1900 to as the third president of Louisiana Tech University (formerly Louisiana Polytechnic Institute) in Ruston in Lincoln Parish. He resigned from Tech in 1904 upon his election as the Louisiana state superintendent of education, a since appointed position. He was replaced at the Louisiana Tech president by W. E. Taylor, a biology professor who served in the administrative position for two years. Aswell was superintendent until 1908, during which time he worked to reorganize public schools. From 1908 to 1911, Aswell was the president of Northwestern State University (then Louisiana State Normal School) in Natchitoches.
Aswell resigned as the Northwestern president to run unsuccessfully for governor in the 1911 Democratic primary. He was defeated by Luther E. Hall, who served in the state's highest office from 1912-1916.
Thereafter, Aswell was elected to the U.S. House in 1912 from the newly created 8th congressional district, based about Natchitoches and Alexandria. The district was abolished effective with the 1992 congressional elections. Aswell was reelected nine times. He served during the administrations of U.S. Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert C. Hoover. During the 1920s, he was the ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee. He worked with the Louisiana naturalist Caroline Dormon to establish the Kisatchie National Forest in his district. He was a strong opponent of Republican President Hoover, whom many Democrats blamed for the Great Depression, which had barely begun when Aswell died. Hoover nevertheless signed Aswell's legislation to designate the Kisatchie Forest. Aswell tried to pass various "drought-relief" measures in the House even before the Dust Bowl in the Great Plains states.
In the 1928 presidential election between Governor Al Smith of New York and Herbert Hoover, Aswell spoke on KWKH radio in Shreveport against Hoover's support for desegregation of the American South. The speech was prompted by allegations made by Governor Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi that Hoover in 1927 had danced with Mary Booze, the first African-American member of the Republican National Committee. The questionable rendezvous supposedly occurred when Hoover, as United States Secretary of Commerce, visited Mound Bayou, Mississippi, while touring damage from the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Bilbo referred to Booze as "a negress." Hoover's southern supporters, most of them business-oriented Democrats, pointed in reply to racial intermarriage which occurred in Smith's New York.
At the time of his death, Aswell was the dean of the Louisiana congressional delegation. He left an unfinished novel White Sheep based on the politics of Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Pierce Long, Jr.
He died in Washington, D.C., and is interred there in Rock Creek Cemetery. Aswell Hall on the Louisiana Tech campus honors his memory. His papers are deposited in the archives of Northwestern State University. Monnie T. Cheves, an NSU professor who served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from Natchitoches Parish from 1952 to 1960, wrote in 1936 The educational and political career of James Benjamin Aswell, a master's thesis through Louisiana State University.