Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: 1931-1935
Born in Westfield, Massachusetts, Joseph B. Ely graduated from Williams College in 1902, before earning a degree from Harvard Law School in 1905. He returned to Westfield and practiced law as a partner of Ely & Ely and expanded his practice to Boston in 1926. Governor David I. Walsh appointed him to serve as District Attorney for Massachusetts' Western District in 1915; he was elected in his own right to this position the next year, serving until 1920. Mr. Ely became active in the Democratic Party, serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1924 and 1928.
In 1930, Mr. Ely challenged incumbent Governor Frank Allen, defeating him in the popular election by a narrow margin. Chief among Governor Ely's concerns was contending with the effects of the Great Depression. He began a series of public works projects to relieve unemployment. Highway construction in Massachusetts' was accelerated by this work, which was supported by the imposition of a gasoline tax. Ely advocated substantial reductions in state salaries during the depression, but met with overwhelming legislative resistance. In concert with the City of Boston, Ely established a permanent Boston Police Academy to increase the training of public safety officers.
Ely declined to run for reelection in 1936 and returned to Westfield where he remained active in state and national Democratic politics. He ran for Democratic Presidential nomination in 1944, losing to Franklin Delano Roosevelt by a substantial margin. Joseph Ely is well remembered in his hometown, where Westfield State College's Governor Joseph B. Ely Library is named in his honor.