Oscar Wilder Underwood

Congressman, Statesman

Oscar Wilder Underwood, born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1862, was educated at the University of Virginia, graduating in 1881 and receiving his law degree in 1883. He moved to Alabama in 1884 becoming a resident of Birmingham. In 1886 he married Eugenia Massie of Virginia by whom he had two children: John Lewis and Oscar W., Jr. After the death of his wife in 1900, Mr. Underwood, four years later, married Bertha Woodward, daughter of prominent Birmingham resident Joseph H. Woodward. There were no children from this union.

Soon after moving to Birmingham, Oscar W. Underwood became chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee of the Ninth District and chaired the committee that adopted the present 1901 Constitution of Alabama. He was continuously reelected to the succeeding eight Congresses where he was a member of many important committees. He is credited with the Democratic "sweep" in 1910 and the election of Woodrow Wilson to the Presidency. Elected to the Senate in 1914 and in 1920, he became the majority leader of that body, the first Democrat since Henry Clay to have been the leader of his party in both houses of congress. He is remembered as the designer of the Underwood Tariff Act of 1913 and other history-making legislation. He was described as knowledgeable, alert and cool in the administration of his duties. Jointly with Senator John H. Bankhead he was responsible for the development of Muscle Shoals water power at Wilson Dam, for explosive nitrogen during wartime and for agricultural nitrogen in peace.

Senator and Mrs. Underwood purchased Woodlawn Plantation, once owned by George Washington and located on the Potomac, fifteen miles from Washington, D.C. The Underwoods lived at Woodlawn during his later years. After the Senator's retirement he divided his time between there and Birmingham. He died in 1929.

Oscar Wilder Underwood was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame in 1990.