The people's voice of reason

Lister Hill, one of Alabama's Greatest U.S. Senators

We had a very distinguished congressional delegation from

Alabama during the 30-year span of 1934-1964. The congressmen

from the Heart of Dixie appeared to be born to serve in

Congress. Their pedigrees were all similar. They had pretty

much been born and raised in the town that they would eventually

represent in Congress. Almost all had gone to the

University of Alabama for their education and most had

graduated from Alabama’s Law School. While at the Capstone,

most had been members of Greek fraternities.

In addition to their Greek fraternal affiliation, they were

politically active at the Capstone and also belonged to a mystic

political fraternity known as “The Machine.” This group was

basically a political party that was made up of the fraternities on campus. It was

well organized with secret endorsements made up of the fraternity candidates

and the endorsements were only revealed the day before the election. The fraternity

candidates very rarely lost. It is a legendary political training ground and

almost every member of Congress during this era was a product of

“The Machine.”

After college and law school, these men served a stint in the military. Service

in a World War and then membership in the VFW seemed to be a necessity for

a political career. Alabamians have always had an affinity for folks who served

their country and came home after the war to begin a perfunctory law practice

that occupied them until the congressional seat they had been

preparing for came open. Once they were elected, they planned on staying there.

After all they figured that a congressional career was what they were born for.

They adhered to the adage attributed to many a southern congressman. It was

said many times by the solons from the south as they played poker in the cloakroom

of the House or Senate, “I love being in Congress and the only way

I will leave will be by the ballot box or in a pine box,” and usually it was the


The person, who most perfectly epitomized this prototypical congressman and

senator of this era, was the legendary Lister Hill of Montgomery.

He was both a Congressman and a Senator. He was elected to Congress

at age 28 and served 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He was then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1938, where

he served Alabama with distinction for 30 years. Hill had been

born into privilege. He was the son of Dr. Luther Hill. His father

was one of the first American surgeons to successfully suture the

human heart. Hoping that their son would follow his father into

medicine, the parents named Joseph Lister after the famous European

physician, who was the first doctor to advocate and practice

use of antiseptics.

Young Lister Hill decided one day, after watching his father

operate, that he would not be a doctor. He actually fainted from the sight of

blood. The Hill family was very prominent politically in Montgomery. In fact,

at this time there were two political families who were like political parties. You

had to run in Montgomery as either a candidate of the Hill family or the Gunter


Lister set his sights on politics at an early age, probably dreamed of and maybe

expected to be a U.S. Senator. He entered the University of Alabama at age 16

and became the first student government president at the University. He also

was the founder of the aforementioned “Machine.” He was elected to Congress

at 28 and served with distinction. He served in the U.S. House for 16 years and

rose to be Chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee. He was instrumental

in getting the Maxwell-Gunter military complex in Montgomery.

Senator Hill had a hand in most major national legislation from 1938 to 1968.

However, his greatest legacy was in the field of Public Health. The great

medical center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is because of

Lister Hill. Probably the best-known legislation he was known for was the

Hill-Burton Act. Through this 1946 Act, most of the rural hospitals in

America and Alabama were built. Lister Hill is without question one of our

state’s greatest U.S. Senators.

The views of submitted editorials may not be the express views of The Alabama Gazette.


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