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Maureen and Mike Mansfield

Maureen and Mike Mansfield in evening wearMike Mansfield's remarkable career as teacher and public servant is rooted in the state of Montana. Mike was born in New York City, the son of Irish immigrants. However, his mother died when he was just a toddler, and his father sent Mike and his two sisters to Great Falls, Montana to live with his great aunt and uncle.

From an early age, Mike yearned to see the world. This desire was made evident by the fact that he made two attempts to run away from home before the age of fourteen. The first time, Mike made it only 20 miles out of town; the second time he reached a Wenatchee, Washington lumber camp 500 miles away.

With the outbreak of World War I, Mansfield, still only 14 years old, lied about his age and enlisted in the Navy, in which he was to serve for the duration of the war. Still seeking to see the world, he then joined the Army for a year as a medical corpsman, followed by a two-year stint in the Marines. Mansfield's Marine service featured time in Manila and assignments in China and Japan -- visits which, while very short, were to instill in him a fascination with Asia that endured throughout his life. Still a teenager with only a seventh grade education, Mike then returned to Montana and worked as a copper miner in Butte.

Mike Mansfield sitting on the steps of the U.S. Capitol BuildingWhile working in the mines, Mike made the acquaintance of Ms. Maureen Hayes, a Butte high school teacher and daughter of one of the city's prominent families, who saw things in Mansfield he may not have seen in himself. They were soon married. With encouragement and financial support from Maureen, Mike quit work as a miner, passed his high school equivalency exam, and then went back to school to complete his education at Montana State University in Missoula (known today as the University of Montana). Mansfield earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1933 and a master's degree in history and political science in 1934. His master's thesis was on Korean-American diplomatic relations.

Following his graduation, Mike accepted a position at UM as an administrator and professor of Far Eastern history. Although he discontinued his work with the University in 1942 to enter politics, he remained a permanently tenured Professor of History at UM for six more decades.

Encouraged by Maureen to run for political office, Mike was elected to the United States Congress in 1942 and went on to serve five terms as Representative of Montana's Western District. Acknowledged as specialist in Asian affairs, he represented President Roosevelt on a fact-finding tour of China during World War II. He survived attacks for his alleged pro-China sympathies during the McCarthy era and, in 1952, was elected Senator of Montana.

Although he was an early supporter of Ngo Dinh Diem, Mansfield led a behind-the-scenes effort to end the Vietnam War beginning in the late sixties. As Senate Majority Leader from 1961 to 1976, Senator Mansfield was also pivotal in the rapprochement between Washington and Beijing. In April 1977, President Carter appointed him American Ambassador to Japan. Reappointed by President Reagan, he continued in that position until 1988, completing the longest tenure of any U.S. Ambassador to Japan. After retiring from public service in 1988, the Mansfields returned to Washington, DC, where Mike worked for Goldman Sachs. He continued to advise American and Asian leaders on large questions related to the Pacific Rim and American-Asian relations until his death, at the age of 98, in 2001.

Throughout his adult life, Mike Mansfield credited Maureen Hayes Mansfield with helping him achieve all he was to attain, and steadfastly refused any honor that did not include recognition of Maureen's role. We are thus proud to have been created as the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center.

Mike Mansfield with Jeanette Rankin
Mike Mansfield with Jeanette Rankin

photo credits: 99.0484, 85.0255, Mike Mansfield Papers, Archives & Special Collections, Mansfield Library, The University of Montana