Dictionary of Virginia Biography

John Wood Fishburne (8 March 1867–24 June 1937), member of the House of Representatives, was born in Ivy Depot, in Albemarle County, and was the son of Clement Daniel Fishburne, an attorney, and his second wife, Elizabeth Wood Fishburne. After attending Pantops Academy, near Charlottesville, he studied languages at Washington and Lee University during the 1884–1885 term. Fishburne then matriculated at the University of Virginia, but he left after his first year of study to teach during the 1886–1887 academic year at Fishburne Military School, founded in Waynesboro by his uncle James Abbott Fishburne. He returned to the University of Virginia and received a B.L. in 1890. On 4 August of that year Fishburne was admitted to the bar. He practiced law in Albemarle County with a partner until 1897, when he opened his own practice. On 15 September 1898 in Charlottesville, Fishburne married Mary Norwood Lyons, daughter of a Louisiana judge. They had five daughters and three sons.

In 1895 Fishburne won election to one of two seats representing Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville in the House of Delegates. During his single term (1895–1896) he sat on the Committees on Courts of Justice and on Schools and Colleges. In 1903 the State Board of Education chose Fishburne to fill an unexpired term on the board of the Virginia State Library (later the Library of Virginia). He was elected in 1905 to the first of two consecutive five-year terms on the board, but he resigned in 1913 after the governor appointed him on 19 March as a judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit to fill an unexpired term. Fishburne presided over Albemarle, Greene, and Madison Counties. The General Assembly elected him to additional, eight-year terms on the bench in 1916 and 1924. Fishburne resigned on 25 March 1930 to run for a seat in the House of Representatives.

When Fishburne announced his intentions, his only opponent seeking nomination in the Democratic Party primary withdrew from the race to support him. In the November general election Fishburne defeated the Republican incumbent, Jacob Aaron Garber, by 13,951 votes to 9,934 votes. In the Seventy-second Congress (1931–1933), he represented the Seventh District, comprising the cities of Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, and Winchester and the counties of Albemarle, Clarke, Frederick, Greene, Madison, Page, Rappahannock, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren. Fishburne sat on the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He spoke little during his term and sponsored two bills only, both for the financial relief of a constituent.

In March 1932 Fishburne announced that he would not seek reelection, citing the expenses of a campaign and his desire to start a law practice with his son as reasons for bowing out of the race. Some state newspapers speculated that Fishburne was graciously ceding his seat to Henry St. George Tucker (1853–1932), a longtime congressman whose former district had been consolidated with Fishburne's as a result of reapportionment. Fishburne returned to practicing law in Charlottesville but still dabbled in politics. In 1936 he served as a presidential elector for the Democratic ticket of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Nance Garner. John Wood Fishburne died of heart failure at his Charlottesville home on 24 June 1937 and was buried in Riverview Cemetery.

Sources Consulted:
Biographies in Philip Alexander Bruce et al, History of Virginia (1924), 4:55, and Robert C. Glass and Carter Glass Jr., Virginia Democracy (1937), 2:295–297 (variant birth date of 8 Mar. 1868); Birth Register, Albemarle Co., and Marriage Register, Charlottesville (age thirty on 15 Sept. 1898), both in Bureau of Vital Statistics, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; John Wood Fishburne Papers and Fishburne Family Papers, both Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.; Election Record No. 214, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Election Records, 1776–1941, Accession 26040, Library of Virginia; Charlottesville Daily Progress, 6 Mar. 1930; Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6, 7 Mar. 1932; Death Register, Albemarle Co. (variant birth date of 8 Mar. 1868), Bureau of Vital Statistics, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; variant birth year of 1869 on gravestone; obituaries in Charlottesville Daily Progress and Richmond News Leader, both 25 June 1937, and Richmond Times-Dispatch, 26 June 1937 (portrait and age at death of seventy), all with variant death date of 25 June 1937; editorial tribute in Charlottesville Daily Progress, 26 June 1937; memorial in Virginia State Bar Association Proceedings (1937), 221–222 (variant death date of 25 June 1937).

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Jennifer Elkins.

How to cite this page:
Jennifer Elkins,"John Wood Fishburne (1867–1937)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2015 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Fishburne_John_Wood, accessed [today's date]).

Return to the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Search page.

facebook twitter youtube instagram linkedin