Thomason, Robert Ewing (1879–1973)

By: Joseph M. Ray

Type: Biography

Published: July 1, 1995

Updated: September 9, 2021

Ewing Thomason, state legislator, United States congressman, and federal judge, was born in Rover, Bedford County, Tennessee, on May 30, 1879, the son of Benjamin Richard and Susan Olivia (Hoover) Thomason. His father was a Confederate veteran who later graduated from the College of Medicine and Surgery at Cincinnati, Ohio. The family moved to Era, Texas, when Thomason was one. Thomason's mother died when he was six; his father subsequently married Mary Maupin, and they had four children. Thomason entered Southwestern University at Georgetown in 1896 and graduated in 1898. One of his classmates was Rentfro B. Creager, with whom Thomason enrolled at the University of Texas law school; the two roomed together. At UT Thomason joined the Athenaeum Literary Society and the Kappa Sigma social fraternity. He also became a debater, and, teamed with Charles S. Potts, defeated the Baylor University team in the first intercollegiate debate the University of Texas ever won. One of their opponents was J. Frank Norris. Thomason graduated from law school in 1900 and set up practice in Gainesville. He was elected district attorney and Cooke county attorney in 1902 and was reelected in 1904. On February 14, 1905, he married Belle Davis. He subsequently became the law partner of W. O. Davis, his father-in-law. In 1911 malaria forced Thomason to seek a higher and drier climate, and he and Belle moved to El Paso in 1912; their two children were born there.

In El Paso he formed a highly successful law firm with Thomas C. Lea, Jr., J. G. McGrady, and Eugene T. Edwards. Thomason was elected to the state legislature in 1916 and reelected to a second term in 1918, during which he became speaker of the house. He was a Democrat and an advocate of prohibition, and he served on the committee that investigated alleged misconduct by Governor James E. Ferguson. The results of this investigation led to Ferguson's impeachment. Thomason ran for governor in 1920 but came in third behind Joseph W. Bailey and Pat M. Neff, and Neff won the run-off. Thomason returned to his El Paso law practice and was busy with it for some years. His wife died in 1921. He was elected mayor of El Paso in 1927, and in that year he married Abbie Mann Long. As mayor he built the first El Paso airport, served as president of the Texas League of Municipalities, and appointed the Southside Welfare Committee, a forerunner of slum-clearance projects. He was reelected mayor, but his real political ambition was realized in 1930 when he was elected to the United States Congress to fill a seat opened by Claude B. Hudspeth's retirement. His district, the largest in the country at the time, extended from San Angelo and Del Rio to El Paso.

In Congress, Thomason succeeded the late San Antonio Republican Harry M. Wurzbach on the Military Affairs Committee, and Fort Bliss flowered in his congressional years. Thomason was reelected thirteen times, usually with negligible opposition. In Congress he obtained bills to establish Red Bluff Dam and Big Bend National Park. He served as ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, advocated universal military training, led the fight for the selective service, and had a hand in most war legislation. The Thomason Act passed about 1939 provided a year's army training for special students. He supported establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority, but voted against the antilynching bill and the Fair Employment Practice Committee bill (see LYNCHING). He was on the bandwagon of the New Deal throughout his congressional career and remained active in national politics through the Roosevelt presidency and World War II. President Harry S. Truman appointed Thomason a federal district judge; he was sworn in on August 1, 1947, and left the court on June 1, 1963, soon after his eighty-fourth birthday. Thomason General Hospital in El Paso was named for him. He died on November 5, 1973.

Thomason: The Autobiography of a Federal Judge, ed. Joseph M. Ray (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1971). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Southwest Texas
  • El Paso

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

Joseph M. Ray, “Thomason, Robert Ewing,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995
September 9, 2021