Goodwin Knight

Goodwin Knight
31st Governor of California
In office
October 5, 1953  January 5, 1959
Lieutenant Harold J. Powers
Preceded by Earl Warren
Succeeded by Pat Brown
35th Lieutenant Governor of California
In office
January 7, 1947  October 5, 1953
Governor Earl Warren
Preceded by Frederick F. Houser
Succeeded by Harold J. Powers
Personal details
Born Goodwin Jess Knight
(1896-12-09)December 9, 1896
Provo, Utah
Died May 22, 1970(1970-05-22) (aged 73)
Inglewood, California
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Arville (d.1952)
Children 2
Alma mater Stanford University (B.A.)
Profession Judge
Religion The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)

Goodwin Jess “Goodie” Knight (December 9, 1896 – May 22, 1970) was an American politician who was the 31st Governor of California from 1953 until 1959.[1]


Early years

Knight was born in Provo, Utah, but his family moved to Los Angeles when he was a boy. His father, Jess Knight (son of mining magnate Jesse Knight), was a mining engineer, but Goodwin followed in his mother's (Lille) father's (John B. Milner) footsteps. This grandfather was a judge in Provo, Utah.

Knight attended high school in Los Angeles, at Manual Arts High School. One of his classmates was Jimmy Doolittle. He earned an A.B. in Law and Business from Stanford University, where he was a member of the Stanford Chaparral, in 1919. Knight also attended Cornell University. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War I.


Knight was a judge of the Superior Court in Los Angeles beginning in 1935. He was reelected in 1936 and 1942 without significant opposition. His case load varied from the glamorous to the mundane. He oversaw weddings and divorces for Hollywood starlets.

Left to right: Robert Humphrey, son of Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Governor Goodwin J. Knight, the Hon. Milton Polland, now the Marshall Islands’ ambassador to Mexico, and Howard Hughes personal advisor John H. Meier. The group were the principals of Radiarc Industries, Inc., a high-tech company.

Political career and governor of California

Knight began his political career in 1944, when he pursued the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. He bowed out early, though, to back Fred Houser. He was elected as the 35th Lieutenant Governor of California to serve under Governor Earl Warren in 1946 then reelected in 1950. He became governor himself when Warren resigned to become Chief Justice of the United States in 1953.

As governor, Knight fought for control of the Republican Party of California with U.S. Senate Majority Leader William Knowland and Vice President Richard Nixon. In 1954, Knight was easily elected to his own full term. At first Knight seemed to make an alliance with Knowland, but this began to sour in 1956 when Knowland supported Nixon for renomination as vice president. In 1957, Knowland announced that he would challenge Knight in the 1958 Republican primary for governor. Knight, known as a moderate, and sympathetic to organized labor, faced a serious threat from more conservative challengers. He was induced by Knowland, Nixon, President Dwight Eisenhower, and others to run for Knowland's Senate seat instead of running for governor again. Both Knowland and Knight went down in defeat in 1958, with Knowland losing the gubernatorial race to Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Sr. and Knight losing the Senate race by over 10% to Clair Engle, severely weakening the heretofore-dominant Republicans in the state. This left Nixon in control of the California party and in line for the presidential nomination, which Knowland and Knight had also desired.

Knight was present at the July 17, 1955, opening of Disneyland, and gave a speech following Walt Disney's famous dedication.

In 1964, Knight endorsed Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination against Barry Goldwater. Rockefeller was unsuccessful in stopping Goldwater, the darling of the party's growing conservative wing. Knight never ran for political office again.

Personal life

Knight's first wife, Arvilla, died of a heart attack on 29 October 1952; the couple had two daughters. He married Virginia Carlson (born Virginia Piergue on 12 October 1918 in Fort Dodge, Iowa), the widow of an Army Lieutenant, on 2 August 1954 at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Los Angeles.[2] The couple had no children.


On May 22, 1970, Knight died three months after his daughter, Carolyn, committed suicide. His widow, Virginia, never remarried, and died on 29 November 2010.[3]

Goodwin Knight's funeral took place at a Sacramento Mormon meetinghouse, and he was interred at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.

See also


  1. Staff writers (1 June 1970). "Milestones". Time. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
  3. Valerie J. Nelson (December 1, 2010). "Virginia Knight dies at 92; former first lady of California". The Los Angeles Times. p. AA7. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
Party political offices
Preceded by
William F. Knowland
Republican Party nominee for United States Senator from California
Succeeded by
George Murphy
Political offices
Preceded by
Frederick F. Houser
Lieutenant Governor of California
Succeeded by
Harold J. Powers
Preceded by
Earl Warren
Governor of California
Succeeded by
Pat Brown
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