The Spessard Holland Photograph Collection Illustrates Three Decades of Florida Political History

Newly appointed Senator Spessard Holland working at his desk in Florida
Newly-appointed Senator Spessard Holland working at his desk in Florida (1946)

The Claude Pepper Library is home to a collection of over 2,000 photographs from Spessard Holland’s long career representing Florida in the United States Senate and as its 28th governor. These images provide a glimpse into his work on behalf of the state of Florida and with many of the preeminent political figures of the 20th century.

Spessard Holland, far left, with the 24th Aero Squadron in France during World War I
Spessard Holland, far left, with the 24th Aero Squadron in France during World War I

Holland was a lifelong resident of Bartow, Florida. He was born in the central Florida town to Benjamin F. and Virginia Holland in 1892. Despite leaving several times – to Atlanta to earn a bachelor’s degree at Emory University, then to Gainesville to study Law at the University of Florida, and to France during his service in the Army Air Corps during World War I – he always returned to his hometown. He was interred in Bartow in 1971 upon his death. The earliest photographs in the series include portraits of Holland as a child and with his fellow service men while stationed in Paris. However the majority of the images, taken during his thirty years in office, are devoted to Holland’s political work.

Governor Spessard Holland visiting a base in Florida during the second World War
Governor Spessard Holland visiting a military base in Florida during World War II

During the United States involvement in World War II, Holland served as the 28th Governor of Florida. He oversaw Florida’s participation in the wartime defense effort and the development of infrastructure to support this growth. The series of photographs illustrates Holland’s term in office from Election Day in 1940 through his departure in 1945. These images document Florida’s vital work during World War II at military bases, air fields, and shipyards; as well as Holland’s work on issues of tax reform and sponsoring Florida agriculture, which would remain central policy positions throughout his career. The collection also contains several family photos taken during Holland’s term as governor. These depict Mary Groover Holland in her duties as first lady as well as informal photos of family life in the Governor’s mansion in Tallahassee and throughout Florida.

President Truman arriving in Florida for the dedication of Hendricks Field being greeted by Senator Spessard Holland, Senator Claude Pepper, and Governor Millard Caldwell
President Truman greeted on arrival in Florida by Senators Spessard Holland and Claude Pepper
President Lyndon Johnson at the 1964 certification of the 24th Amendment, which had been sponsored by Spessard Holland
Sponsor Spessard Holland with President Johnson at the 1964 certification of the 24th Amendment

Governor Millard Caldwell appointed Spessard Holland to the United States Senate on September 25, 1946 following the death of Charles O. Andrews. Holland was formally elected to the seat in November of that year and served four consecutive terms until his retirement in 1971. The political changes that occurred over this quarter century can be witnessed in the collection. Holland’s relationship with the each Presidential administration, working most closely with fellow Democrats Truman and Johnson, is tacit in the images. Frequent travel, a significant part of the Senator’s life, is documented in this collection. Holland would attend events throughout Florida before returning to his senatorial office in Washington D.C., as well as congressional trips to Central America and up to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

Spessard Holland meeting with Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins
Spessard Holland meeting with Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins

Holland was committed to the success of the Florida space program. The collection contains images from his frequent trips to the Florida Space Coast taken during his ten years of service on the National Aeronautical and Space Committee. These show visits to launch and training sites as well as the crowds watching the subsequent lift-off. Holland met with the crew of Apollo 11 and the Mercury 7 astronauts, receiving inscribed photographs from Gus Grissom, John Glenn, and Alan Shepard.

Senator Spessard Holland meeting with Senator Claude Pepper and Florida Democratic Representatives to discuss VA Hospitals (1949)
Senator Spessard Holland meeting with fellow Florida Democratic Congressmen to discuss VA Hospitals (1949)

Over three decades, the photographs document Spessard Holland’s close relationships with many prominent political figures in Florida, Washington, D.C., and Latin American. Perhaps the most visible of his colleagues were his corresponding Florida Senator Claude Pepper and later George Smathers. The public life of a United States congressman – attending committee meetings, visiting with constituents, luncheons with interest group, and campaign banquets – were often done in conjunction with these men and his fellow Florida representatives.

The images are only part of the Spessard Holland collection. The photographs are held at the Claude Pepper Library along with biographies on Holland’s life, personal correspondence, campaign files, Floridiana, and memorabilia. More images of Spessard Holland during his terms of office can be seen in the Claude Pepper Digital Photograph Collection.

Spessard Holland and Allen Morris looking at a photograph from Holland’s governorship from the collection given to Strozier Library in 1971
Spessard Holland and Allen Morris looking at a photograph from Holland’s governorship, part of the collection given to Strozier Library in 1971