Notable People

Robert Johns Bulkley - United States Senator

292 Corning Drive
Senator Robert Johns Bulkley
Senator Robert Johns Bulkley

Carved on an Italian mantelpiece in Robert Bulkley’s Bratenahl living room is this inscription: “I drive away the biting winds and harrowing cares.” Bulkley, whose days, like most eminent public figures, had been stormy at times.

Robert Bulkley set aside all matters that might make for personal advancement to measure his abilities and energies for country causes fully. For example, Bulkley withdrew from the Cleveland mayoralty race, a contest that he was sure to win, to act in an advisory capacity for the Council for National Defense, an organization formed during World War I to coordinate resources and industry in support of the war effort.

Mr. Bulkley brought himself to the forefront in citizenship, law, and finance.

His two terms in Congress gave him a name and standing as a public servant who desired, above all, to aid in the making of legislation to benefit his constituents, his state, and his country. As a lawyer, his talents were highly recognized in a city filled with legalistic stars. In finance, he was the president of the Morris Plan Bank and numerous other institutions.

Bratenahl has a right to call Robert Johns Bulkley all it's own. He was born on October 8, 1880, to Charles Henry and Roberta Johns Bulkley. He was raised at 11475 Lakeshore Boulevard in Glenville on the Lake, which is now Bratenahl.

Robert attended University School and Brooks Military Academy. While at University School, he was editor-in-chief of University School News, Ohio’s oldest school paper. The first issue appeared on January 18, 1898.

He took both academic and law courses at Harvard law school and received a bachelor of arts in 1902 and a master of arts in 1906. Passing the Ohio bar in 1906, he began to practice with Henderson Quail & Siddell, and in 1909, formed the firm of Bulkley & Inglis.

The Bratenahl native’s long career in national politics started when he was elected a congressman in 1910.

Bulkley was elected as a Democratic U. S. Representative for the 21st District to the  62nd Congress from 1911 to 1915. As a Banking & Currency Committee member, he helped frame the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and the Federal Farm Loan Act. During World War I, he served as chief of the legal section of the War Industries Board.

In 1930, Bulkley ran to fill the unexpired term of Senator Theodore Burton. Advocating Prohibition’s repeal, he won and was elected again in 1932. He supported the New Deal and backed Roosevelt’s plan to enlarge the Supreme Court, which contributed to his defeat by Republican Robert A. Taft in 1938.

The senator belonged to one of the country’s few social, wealthy Democrat families. He was part of the New Deal and a friend of President Roosevelt, his Harvard classmate. Senator Harry Truman had a luncheon at his home, and Vice-President Alben Barkley stayed at the house. Xavier Cugat, the Spanish-American bandleader, was a guest during the Great Lakes Exposition.

Returning to Cleveland, He became a senior partner in the Cleveland law firm of Bulkley & Butler. He also headed the Bulkley Building Co. and helped found the Morris Plan Bank of Ohio, serving as president and chairman of the board for over 30 years. The company constructed the Bulkley Building at 1501 Euclid Avenue that opened in 1921. The eight-story office building had a front of sandstone, and an impressive feature, the Allen Theater. The architect was C. Howard Crane.

During the depression, Bulkley kept his office in his home because job-hunting lines in front of the Bulkley building disrupted regular business. Five secretaries were running around his house.

Under his leadership, the Northern Ohio Opera Association was formed in 1927, the first of its kind. He retired from leading the organization in 1937.

Bulkley was a trustee of University School. Social memberships included The Country, Hermit, Tavern, Union, and University clubs, plus the Harvard Club of New York and the Montana Club of Helena, Montana.

Robert met Katherine Pope of Helena, Montana, at a wedding party, and they were married at her home on February 17, 1909. Katherine was born on August 9, 1886. They had three children: Robert Johns Jr., was born on July 11, 1911; William Pope was born on September 3, 1913, and died on January 6, 1926, at age 12; and Katherine was born on January 7, 1916.

His wife had been ill since 1931. During several months in Washington D.C., Katherine suffered a heart attack and was brought back to Bratenahl on June 20, 1932. Her condition gradually grew worse. She died July 17, 1932, at age 46 from another heart attack.

Katherine was active in work for the disabled children of Cleveland. She belonged to the Cleveland Garden Club, the Intown Club, and the Women’s Auxiliary of the Cleveland Orchestra.

Two years after Katherine's death, Bulkley married Helen Graham Robbins, born on July 6, 1904, in Ontario, Canada. She was a thirty-year-old widow from Chicago, and he was a fifty-three-year-old widower. They had one child, Rebecca Johns, born on December 1, 1939.

Robert Bulkley died on July 21, 1965, at age 85. Helen died on October 31, 1987. Robert, Katherine, and Helen are buried together in Lake View Cemetery.