Walter Splawn, public servant, son of William Butler and Mary Marshall (Collins) Splawn, was born at Arlington, Texas, on June 16, 1883. His education included a B.A. (1906) and an LL.D. (1925) from Baylor University, a B.A. (1908) and an M.A. (1914) from Yale University, and a Ph.D. (1921) from the University of Chicago. Howard Payne College, in Brownwood, Texas, awarded him an LL.D. in 1923. Splawn married Zola Isabel Lay on July 21, 1912, and they had two daughters. He taught social science at Baylor (1910–12, 1916–19), was admitted to the bar in either 1909 or 1912, and practiced law in Fort Worth from 1912 to 1915. He taught economics at the University of Texas from 1919 to 1928 and was appointed president of UT just as oil was discovered in large quantities on the university's West Texas lands. Splawn fostered development of the graduate school during his presidency (1924–27). Meanwhile, he served just under two years (1923–24) on the state Railroad Commission. He proceeded to national prominence. He served as a referee on the War Claims Commission in 1927. He negotiated with labor and management groups as chairman of the Board of Arbitration of Western Railroads and Group of Employees in 1927 and settled disputes under the War Claims Act, 1928–30. From 1929 to 1934 he was dean of the graduate school of American University, Washington, D.C. In the early 1930s he also acted as special counsel to the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the House of Representatives. His studies of the railroading, securities, and communications industries lent momentum to Interstate Commerce Commission regulation of railway holding companies, to the enactment of regulatory statutes on securities, and to the passage of the Federal Communications Act (1934). Splawn served as consultant to Samuel T. (Sam) Rayburn when he was chairman of the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. Through his friendship with Rayburn he became prominent in New Deal policy circles. In 1934 Splawn began a nineteen-year tenure on the Interstate Commerce Commission. He studied aviation, the latest of the transport businesses, and contributed to government control of that industry. He wrote several works on economics and public-utility regulation: A Review of the Minimum Wage Theory and Practice, with Special Reference to Texas (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1921), (with W. B. Bizzell) Introduction to the Study of Economics (1923), Consolidation of Railroads (1925), Government Ownership and Operation of Railroads (1928), and Regulation of Stock Ownership in Railroads (1951). After retiring from the ICC and public service in 1953, Splawn wrote a treatise, The University of Texas: Its Origins and Growth to 1928, which has not been published. While a commissioner he battled failing eyesight, but he did not allow the impairment, which eventually became total, to detract from his duties. After a long illness he died, on January 17, 1963, in Washington, D.C., and was buried in Lincoln, Virginia.
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Thomas K. McCraw, Prophets of Regulation: Charles Francis Adams, Louis D. Brandeis, James M. Landis, Alfred E. Kahn (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1984). I. L. Sharfman, The Interstate Commerce Commission (New York: Commonwealth Fund, 1937). Walter M. W. Splawn Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Law and Business
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
William R. Childs,
“Splawn, Walter Marshall William,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 15, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
June 1, 1995