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Thomas W. Palmer

thomas w. palmer, john w. palmer
Thomas Witherell Palmer January 25, 1830 – June 1, 1913 was a US Senator from the state of Michigan He is considered to be one of the most significant figures in the history of Detroit, Michigan

Palmer was born in Detroit, where his mother was the daughter of the third Michigan Territorial Judge James Witherell, while his father was a New England merchant who had settled in the city following the War of 1812 Palmer attended the public schools, Thompson’s Academy in Palmer now St Clair, and studied one year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor He traveled to Spain and South America and then entered the real estate business in Detroit in 1853 and then engaged in lumbering and agricultural pursuits with his future father-in-law, Charles Merrill, beginning in 1855 He served on the first board of directors and as the first president for the Michigan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals now known as the Michigan Humane Society

He served on the Board of Estimates of Detroit in 1873 and was a member of the Michigan State Senate 1879–1880 He was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1883 to March 4, 1889 He was not a candidate for reelection He was chairman of the Committee on Fisheries in the Forty-ninth Congress, and the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry in the Fiftieth Congress While in the Senate, he became known as an advocate for the women's suffrage movement, immigration restrictions, and homesteader rights He is credited with coining a phrase widely adopted by latter-day reformers, Equal rights for all, special privileges to none On February 6, 1885, he delivered a noted speech arguing in favor of an amendment to the US Constitution granting women's suffrage

Palmer was appointed United States Minister to Spain on March 12, 1889 by US President Benjamin Harrison and served from June 17, 1889 to April 19, 1890 He was president of the National Commission of the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago 1890–1893 He retired to his Wayne County farm near Detroit

Palmer and his wife, Lizzie Pitts Merrill Palmer, became known for their generous gifts to the city of Detroit Among his activities, Palmer was one of the major benefactors of the Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Monument erected at Campus Martius In honor of his mother, he built the Mary W Palmer Memorial Church He was also one of the founders and the first president of the Detroit Museum of Art now known as the Detroit Institute of Arts, to which he contributed $16,000 and its current building stands on the site of Palmer's former home

Lizzie Palmer in 1901 commissioned the Merrill Fountain in Campus Martius, dedicated in honor of her father New York architects Carrere and Hastings are responsible for the design The fountain was moved to Palmer Park in 1926 She bequeathed $3 million to found the Merrill-Palmer Institute in 1916, which is a national center for child and family development and is now affiliated with Wayne State University and located in the former house of Charles Lang Freer

In 1897, Palmer donated 140 acres 60 hectares of land along Woodward Avenue to the city for use as a public park This land formed the basis of Palmer Park Palmer had inherited the land from his grandfather Michigan Territorial Judge James Witherell In 1885, the Palmers had had the prominent architecture firm of Mason & Rice design a rustic log cabin-style summer house on the land, which still remains in the park, although it is currently closed to visitors

Palmer was a Unitarian and a member of the Freemasons He died in Detroit and is interred in Elmwood Cemetery


  • Dictionary of American Biography
  • Burton, M Agnes "Thomas W Palmer" Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society Collections 39 1915: 208-17
  • Burton, Clarence "Thomas W Palmer," The City of Detroit, Michigan: 1701-1922, v VI Detroit: SJ Clarke Publishing Company, 1922
  • Ziewacz, Lawrence E "The Eighty-First Ballot: The Senatorial Struggle of 1883" Michigan History 56 Fall 1972: 216-32

External linksedit

  • Works by or about Thomas W Palmer at Internet Archive
  • PreserveDetroitcom'
  • Text of Palmer's Women's Suffrage speech
  • Detroit Free Press article about Palmer's cabin
  • United States Congress "Thomas W Palmer id: P000044" Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 
US Senate
Preceded by
Thomas W Ferry
US Senator Class 2 from Michigan
Served alongside: Omar D Conger and Francis B Stockbridge
Succeeded by
James McMillan
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Perry Belmont
US Minister to Spain
Succeeded by
E Burd Grubb

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