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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

FINLEY, IRA MONROE (1886–1981).

Born in southeastern Missouri on December 7, 1886, political leader Ira Monroe Finley was the son of George Washington and Sarah McLain Finley. Young Finley grew up in a poor farming family that nevertheless had a proud historical tradition for its active participation in the pre–Civil War local underground railroad. His childhood environment deprived him of even the most basic educational opportunities. Finley came to southeastern Oklahoma as a self-educated day laborer in the first decade of the twentieth century. On November 30, 1911, he married Faye Church, and to this union four sons were born, of whom only two survived childhood.

Soon after arriving in Oklahoma, Finley became a rank-and-file member of the Oklahoma Socialist Party. Later, his long and stormy political career included active participation in the Socialist Party, two terms as president of the Oklahoma Federation of Labor, three terms in the state legislature, and service as Gov. William H. Murray's director of relief for Oklahoma County. He also served as president of the radical labor group Veterans of Industry of America and ran a historically decisive campaign as a candidate for governor in 1938.

Throughout the 1930s he organized seven initiative petition campaigns aimed at securing old-age pensions, rural land reform, homestead exemptions, and overall tax reform. Finley's 1938 campaign for governor occurred during a period in which Oklahoma's election laws made no provision for a primary runoff. Consequently, the candidate receiving the highest number of votes, although short of a majority, would win their party's nomination. Finley represented a substantial portion of his party's left-leaning element, and his entry into the 1938 governor's race divided the liberal vote and enabled anti–New Deal candidate Leon C. Phillips to emerge as the winner, setting the stage for the ultimate triumph of conservatism. Following his retirement from politics, Finley enjoyed the constant companionship of a wide circle of friends, followed current events as a private citizen, and succeeded in his Oklahoma City real estate development activities until his death on May 14, 1981.

R. O. Joe Cassity, Jr.


Patrick E. McGinnis, Oklahoma's Depression Radicals: Ira M. Finley and the Veterans of Industry of America (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1991).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
R. O. Joe Cassity, Jr., “Finley, Ira Monroe,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=FI005.

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