Bullington, Orville (1882–1956)

By: Louise Kelly

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: January 25, 2020

Orville Bullington, lawyer, civic leader, and Republican party leader in Texas, son of William I. and Sarah (Holmes) Bullington, was born in Indian Springs, Missouri, on February 10, 1882. He received his secondary education in a Tennessee academy, then worked his way through Sam Houston Normal Institute, where he graduated in 1901. He taught school for two years before entering the University of Texas law school in 1903; he finished the three-year law course in two years. He opened a law office in Munday in February 1906 and served as county attorney for a term. In June 1909 he moved to Wichita Falls, where he practiced law for the rest of his life. He was a member of the local, state, and national bar associations. He enlisted for service in World War I as a private and was discharged as a lieutenant colonel in the Eighth United States Infantry. On June 28, 1911, Bullington married Sadie Kell, daughter of Frank Kell of Wichita Falls. They had one son. Bullington served as president of the chamber of commerce in 1929 and was active in other movements to advance Wichita Falls. His business investments included the American National Bank, Kemp Hotel Corporation, Wichita Falls and Southern Railroad (he was chairman of the board when the company folded), and oil interests in the Wichita Falls area and the Panhandle. He also had farm and ranch investments.

He began in politics as a Democrat, then resigned from that party in 1918 and became active in the Republican party. As the Republican nominee for governor in 1932, he waged a vigorous campaign. Though unsuccessful, he polled the largest number of Republican votes to that time–317,807 to Miriam A. Ferguson's 528,986. In 1936 he charged that the New Deal was being run by Communists. He was a delegate to eight Republican national conventions and a member of the state executive committee (1947–52), which he served as chairman in 1951–52. In 1948 he was a member of the temporary platform committee for the Republican National Committee. He led the protest demanding that a representative of the Deep South participate in the drafting of the civil-rights plank. As a result Bullington and three other Southerners served on the committee. He was also involved in the battle over the 1952 Republican presidential nomination. To weaken Eisenhower forces in the state, Bullington and the Robert Taft majority among Texas Republicans imposed a party-loyalty pledge for the first time for participants in precinct, county, and state conventions. Later that year he and several others were charged with fraudulently conspiring to defeat Dwight Eisenhower. However, Bullington wavered in his support of Taft, and as state chairman of the Republican party in 1952 he publicly admitted that his own Taft forces were not being fair to the Eisenhower Republicans in delegate selection.

In January 1941 Governor W. Lee O'Daniel appointed Bullington a regent of the University of Texas. He and several other regents determined to cut financing for the university, remove alleged Communists from the faculty and students, and limit the teaching of certain subjects. When university president Homer Rainey denounced the interference, the regents fired him. Bullington was active in the university's B-Hall Association, was a member of the board of the Ex-Students' Association for twenty years and its president (1921–23), and helped formulate plans for the Barker Texas History Center at the university. During his tenure as regent Lula Kemp Kell presented the Frank Kell Collection of Texana and Western Books to the university. With her, Bullington contributed to the endowment and added some of his own books to the collection. He was a patron of the Texas State Historical Association. He also served as president of the Sam Houston State College Ex-Students' Association (1928–32). He died on November 25, 1956, in Wichita Falls.

Paul D. Casdorph, A History of the Republican Party in Texas, 1865–1965 (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1965). Alice Cox, The Rainey Affair: A History of the Academic Freedom Controversy at the University of Texas, 1938–1946 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Denver, 1970). George N. Green, The Establishment in Texas Politics (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1979). Roger M. Olien, From Token to Triumph: The Texas Republicans since 1920 (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1982). Homer P. Rainey, The Tower and the Dome: A Free University Versus Political Control (Boulder, Colorado: Pruett, 1971). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Lawyers
  • General Law

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Louise Kelly, “Bullington, Orville,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 29, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/bullington-orville.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 25, 2020