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Stewart Udall Biography

Stewart Udall talks with Bill Moyers about his time as Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy and Johnson cabinet, the myth of the American West, and the state of the environment.

Stuart Udall
Stewart L. Udall represented Arizona’s second district in the U.S. Congress from 1954 until 1961, when President John F Kennedy appointed him Secretary of the Interior. During his four terms as a Congressman and eight years of service as Interior Secretary, Udall worked tirelessly to promote just labor laws, cooperation with Native American communities and environmental conservation. In 1969, Udall retired from government service, but has continued to make invaluable contributions as an author, environmental advocate, lawyer and historian.

Stewart Udall has deep roots in Arizona. His grandfather, Davis King Udall, helped found the small Mormon community of Saint Johns, Stewart’s future hometown. Stewart’s father, Levi S. Udall, was a Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court for thirteen years. Both of Levi’s sons followed in the family tradition of public service: when Stewart left the House to become Secretary of the Interior, his brother, Morris "Mo" Udall, took over his seat and served as an Arizona Congressman for three decades.

Long before venturing to Washington, D.C., Stewart Udall left his rural origins to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson. In 1940, he took an extended leave of absence to work as a Mormon missionary in New York and Pennsylvania and later serve as a gunner in Europe during World War II. After completing his undergraduate degree and J.D., Udall opened his own law practice.

Udall began his influential career in government when he was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1954. His membership in a joint committee devoted to Navajo-Hopi Indian affairs in the late 1950’s ignited his advocacy on behalf of America’s first settlers. Two decades later, in 1978, Udall represented Native American uranium workers in their case against the federal government. Also a member of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs and the House Education and Labor Committee, Udall developed a thorough knowledge of government policy and a lifelong commitment to environmental protection. As Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Udall was instrumental in the passage of The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the creation of The Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Since leaving the political stage, Udall has furthered his work to protect the majestic landscapes of his youth and chronicle America’s development as a land and a people. A prolific writer, he has authored many books, including THE QUIET CRISIS (1963), TO THE INLAND EMPIRE (1987) and THE MYTHS OF AUGUST (1994). His most recent title, THE FORGOTTEN FOUNDERS, debunks the myths of the Wild West, offering a true account of early pioneers.

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