Benjamin Campbell, attorney and mayor of Houston, was born on July 27, 1858, in Maringo County, Alabama, to Dr. Farquhar and Gabriella (Singleton) Campbell. The family moved to Walker County, Texas, in 1859 where Campbell attended the public schools of Walker County. He studied law in the offices of Abercrombie & Randolph in Huntsville, Texas, and was admitted to the bar in 1882. In the following years he served as the county attorney for Walker County (1884–86) and the district attorney for the Twelfth Judicial District of Texas (1886–90). In 1890 he entered into a law partnership with Col. Thomas H. Ball in Huntsville, Texas.
On December 5, 1883, he married Ella Smither. Together they had six children: Benjamin, Farquhar, Ella (later married to Sewall Meyer), Robert, Wilbourn, and Sue (later married to Norman Pillot). They moved to Houston the same year they were married, and Campbell became a member of the law firm Hutcheson, Campbell & Sears with Joseph Chappell Hutcheson, Sr., and William Gray Sears. In 1910 he joined with Sewall Myer to form Campbell and Myer. In 1911 Sterling Myer joined them, and the firm became Campbell, Myer and Myer.
In 1913 Campbell was elected mayor of Houston. He served two terms, through the year 1917. His administration was recognized as progressive and signified the change from an antiquated city government to a modern one. One of Campbell’s first accomplishments was the construction of a sewage disposal plant, which freed the city from unhealthy conditions due to sewage being dumped into the bayous. Furthermore, his administration specified that drainage should be supplied before a street was paved. Several storm sewers were laid, numerous wood bridges and culverts replaced with concrete structures, and streets improved.
Campbell favored strong municipal support for the development of a city park system, and some of Houston’s earliest parks were established under his administration, including Houston’s most significant urban space, Hermann Park. Houston’s first civil service system was put into place during his administration, and an eight-hour work day for city employees was established. In 1913 Houston school children received free textbooks, five years before the state textbook law was enacted. To reduce the city’s floating debt to a third of its $1 million, Campbell inaugurated a profit-sharing plan between the city and the Houston Lighting and Power Company. The Campbell administration worked incessantly until the Houston Ship Channel was finally completed, and the first wharves and docks on the turning basin were built during his tenure as mayor.
After serving as mayor, Campbell went back to practicing law at Campbell, Myer, Myer, and Freeman (John H. Freeman joined the firm in 1916).
In his private life Campbell was an active member of the First Methodist Church and a member of the Scottish Rite, Arabia Temple, Knights Templar, the Shriners, and of the Holland Lodge No. 1 of Masons. He was a thirty-second-degree Mason.
Mayor Campbell had been retired for about four years when his health began to fail. He died at his home in Houston on March 19, 1942. Services were held in the Campbell residence at 2501 Crawford. He is interred in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.