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Archives and Special Collections: United States Secretaries of State

The Stockton Archives | Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tennessee

United States Secretaries of State Who Graduated from Cumberland University

Cordell Hull (1871-1955) | United States Secretary of State (1933-1944)

Cordell Hull, born October 2, 1871, graduated from Cumberland School of Law in 1891. Hull was born in current-day Pickett County, Tennessee, one of the least populated counties in the state. Interested in education at an early age, Hull attended Montvale Academy in Celina, TN and Normal School in Bowling Green, KY. He went on to attend college at National Normal University between 1889 and 1890. Around this time, he became the Chairman of the Democratic Party in Clay County, Tennessee. In 1891, Hull graduated with an LL.B. from Cumberland School of Law.

After graduating, Hull was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, where he served between 1893 and 1897. In 1898, the Spanish-American War broke out, which Hull promptly joined and served as a Captain in the 4th Regiment of the Tennessee Volunteer Infantry in Cuba. Within the year, he returned to politics and practiced law in Tennessee.

By 1903, Hull was appointed Judge of the 5th Judicial District, where he would serve until 1907. Later, he would be elected to represent a majority of Southern Tennessee (4th district) in the Tennessee House of Representatives beginning on March 4, 1907. He would hold this role until March 3, 1921, losing to Republican Wynne F. Clouse. Clouse’s role lasted one term, when voters continued to re-elect Hull from March 4, 1923 until he retired from the role on March 3, 1931. He totaled twenty-two years in this position and was a Ways and Means committee member for eighteen years. Upon this committee, Hull was credited for helping draft the first Federal Income Tax Bill in 1913 and the Federal and State Inheritance Tax Law in 1916. 

Hull also served as the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1921 to 1924. In 1928, Cordell sought the Democratic nomination for President but lost to Al Smith. One day after leaving his seat in the House of Representatives, Hull took office in the United States Senate on March 4, 1931, serving nearly two years. The role was supposed to last until 1937; however, Hull would leave office on March 3, 1933. The next day, Hull would begin serving on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential cabinet as the Secretary of State. Throughout his career as Secretary of State, he improved relations with Latin America, promoted international trade liberalization, and was a leading force behind the creation of the United Nations to prevent a third World War. Hull resigned on November 30, 1944 due to poor health. His role lasted over eleven years, making him the longest-serving Secretary of State in U.S. history. For his role in creating the U.N. and his visions for world peace, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945, nominated by long-time friend and ally President Franklin Roosevelt. Cordell Hull passed away on July 23, 1955, at the age of 83 from relapsing sarcoidosis. He is buried with his wife at the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea at the Washington National Cathedral.

His legacy is still prevalent, especially in his home state. Cordell Hull Dam and Cordell Hull Lake in Carthage, TN, where he attended school as a young boy, and the “Cordell Hull Highway,” which includes portions of the Kentucky highway system, are named in his honor. The Cordell Hull Building in Nashville, Tennessee serves as offices for the Tennessee Legislature. Additionally, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington D.C. uses Hull’s old office space as a decorated meeting room, rightfully titled the “Cordell Hull Room.”

Cumberland University often credits Cordell Hull as their most famous, distinguished, and honored alum. He has been celebrated various times throughout the years, including, but not limited to, naming the former Law School Library after him. The Cordell Hull Library held over 20,000 items for students to study on the second floor of Caruthers Hall. Throughout the month of October 2021, Cumberland had the “Cordell Hull Peace Forum” for his 150th birthday. The kick-off event featured former Vice President Al Gore, whose grandfather was close friends with Hull, and credits Hull with influencing him to start his political career. This event also featured the unveiling of a seven-foot-tall bronze statue of Hull before Memorial Hall.

First photo here | Second photo here | Third photo here


Haberman, Frederick W. Nobel Lectures, Peace 1926-1950. Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Company, 1972.

Hinton, Harold B. Cordell Hull: A Biography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc, 1942.

Hull, Cordell. The Memoirs of Cordell Hull. Volume I New York: The Macmillan Company, 1948.

Hull, Cordell. The Memoirs of Cordell Hull. Volume II New York: The Macmillan Company, 1948.