William Walton Kitchin (1866-1924)

Written By North Carolina History Project

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, much like Charles Aycock, William W. Kitchin was part of a new wave of Democratic leadership in North Carolina—a group that earned a reputation for being progressive in regard to government regulation while promoting white supremacy.

William W. Kitchin received his initial education nearby his birthplace in Scotland Neck, North Carolina.  He later attended the University of North Carolina and studied law under his father.  Kitchin opened a Roxboro law practice in 1888.

In 1890, Kitchin began his political career and thereby his rise in the Democratic Party.  He served as chairman of the county Democratic Executive Committee.  He became involved in politics during the Fusion Era, a time in which Democrats were out of power for a while in the state; however, in 1896 he successfully ran for a seat in the U.S. House. (That year, he was the only Democrat from North Carolina to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.) As a representative, he supported the idea of an income tax, and he promoted the direct election of Senators. He served in this position from 1897, until assuming his duties as Governor in 1909.  

In the 1908 North Carolina Democratic convention Kitchin sought a gubernatorial bid and to run against the “Simmons Machine” which supported Locke Craig’s candidacy.  After some negotiations and a compromise that Craig would run at a later time, Kitchin secured his party’s nomination. With the most difficult part of gubernatorial campaign accomplished, Kitchin easily defeated the Republican candidate, J. Elwood Cox, in the election.

Kitchin was part of a new wave of Democratic leadership. Among many things, he supported more regulations on business and more anti-trust laws. He also endorsed a ten-hour workday in factories and legislation that prohibited children under 13 from working in factories. In his administration (1909-1912), he increased funding for education and public health, and increased road mileage across the state.  

Kitchin was also known for being part of the White Supremacy Campaign.  The thoughts expressed in this 1888 quote, undoubtedly, influenced in some capacity his entire political career: “You may talk tariff, revenue, corruption, fraud, pensions, and every other evil . . . till doomsday and not one man in ten will remember what you said three minutes after you stop. . . . But when you talk negro equality, negro supremacy, negro domination to our people, every man’s blood rises to boiling heat at once.”  

In 1912 Kitchin, the brother of Claude Kitchin, ran against Furnifold Simmons, Charles Aycock, and Walter Clark for a U.S. Senate seat.  Longtime incumbent Simmons won.  

After the election, Kitchin returned to practicing law.  He died in 1924.