Robert Archer Cooper

63rd Governor of the State of South Carolina 1919 to 1922

Date Born: June 12, 1874

Date Died: August 7, 1953

Place Born: Laurens County, SC

Place Buried: Laurens City Cemetery

Residence: Laurens County, SC

Occupation: Lawyer


Polytechnic Institute, San German, Puerto Rico

South Carolina House of Representatives: 1901-1904

On November 5, 1918, Cooper was elected to his first term without opposition, receiving 25,267 votes.

On November 2, 1920, Governor Cooper was re-elected without opposition, receiving 58,050 votes.

May 20, 1922 – Governor Cooper resigned to become a member of the Federal Farm Loan Board

Federal Farm Loan Board: 1922-1927

US District Judge for Puerto Rico: 1934-1947


Robert Archer Cooper was born in Laurens County, SC, on June 12, 1874, the son of Henry Addison Cooper and Elizabeth Archer (Jones) Cooper.

Judge Cooper was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1898 after reading for the law from 1897 to 1898 with John L. M. Irby. Some biographies indicate that he received a law degree from the University of South Carolina Law School. He then established a law firm with Mr. Irby. His official biography states, however, that he received a Doctor of Laws degree (LL.D., honoris causa) from the Polytechnic Institute (now the Interamerican University) in San German, Puerto Rico. The honorary degree was granted on May 4, 1947.

On March 22, 1899, Robert Archer Cooper married Mamie Eugenia Machen, with whom he had one daughter. Mamie Cooper died in 1914. On November 15, 1917, Robert Archer Cooper married a second time, to Dorcas Ray Calmes, and they had one son.

Robert Archer Cooper held many private and government positions. From 1899 to 1900 he acted as a Magistrate of the State of South Carolina. He was a Trustee of Furman University in Greenville, SC and of Anderson College in Anderson, SC.

In 1900, Robert Archer Cooper was first elected as one of three men to represent Laurens County in the House of Representatives of the:
- 64th General Assembly that met from 1901-1902
- 65th General Assembly that met from 1903-1904

He was then elected three times to be the Solicitor of the 8th Judicial District of SC, and served from 1905 to 1917.

Twice he was elected Governor of South Carolina, in 1918 and in 1920. He is known as having been a progressive governor. He established mandatory state-wide school attendance and a seven-month school term; he procured higher salaries for teachers, expanded healthcare and improved roadways; he enacted legislation to limit work hours in textile mills; and he urged the enactment of stricter tax laws and the revaluation of state property to finance his progressive measures.

Shortly before completing his second term, Robert Archer Cooper resigned as Governor to accept a position with the Federal Farm Loan Board, a position he held for five years.

He then resumed the practice of law and served as assistant to the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party from 1929 to 1932. He returned to public service when he was selected by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to organize the Community Credit Corporation, where he served briefly as General Counsel.

On January 8, 1934, President Roosevelt appointed Robert Archer Cooper to succeed Judge Ira Kent Wells as the federal judge in Puerto Rico, and assumed his duties on January 29, 1934.

Robert Archer Cooper arrived in Puerto Rico during a period of local political conflicts. In 1936, he presided over the trial and re-trial of Ponce attorney Pedro Albizu Campos and other Nationalist Party leaders for conspiracy to overthrow the Government of the United States in Puerto Rico by force, inciting rebellion and the recruitment of soldiers to take part in acts of armed hostility against the United States. (The Grand Jury had indicted them for planning and carrying out the murder of Colonel Elisha Francis Riggs, the Chief of Police.) On June 9, 1937, two days after Albizu Campos was taken from Puerto Rico to a prison in Atlanta, GA (he and the other Nationalists had been found guilty after the re-trial), there was an attempt on Judge Cooper's life. Fifteen shots were fired at him while he was driving home, but he was not harmed.

On October 22, 1937, by Executive Order 7731, President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated and appointed Associate Justice Martín Travieso of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico to perform and discharge the duties of a district judge of this Court in the trial against the persons charged with attempting to kill Judge Cooper. The reason for the designation and appointment of Justice Travieso was because Judge Cooper was a necessary witness for the government in the trial and was under legal disability to act as a judge in the case.

Judge Cooper retired in 1947, having been the longest serving federal judge in Puerto Rico up to then. He died just six years later, on August 7, 1953, at 79 years old. He was buried in the Laurens City Cemetery.


Robert Archer Cooper was born in Waterloo Township, Laurens County, SC. He received an LL.D. from the Polytechnic Institute in San German, Puerto Rico and was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1898. He was Magistrate of Laurens, SC in 1899 and 1900 and a member of the SC House of Representatives from 1900 to 1904, and was elected three times to the position of Solicitor of the 8th Judicial District of SC. He was also a Trustee of Furman University in Greenville, SC and Anderson College in Anderson, SC. As governor, Cooper launched a progressive program that sought to establish a seven-month school term in the state, compulsory statewide school attendance, higher teacher salaries, expanded public health services, and increased road construction. To finance these efforts, he urged a revaluation of state property and more rigorous enforcement of the tax laws. In addition, legislation was enacted limiting the hours of work in textile mills to ten hours daily or fifty-five hours weekly. During Cooper's administration, an agricultural depression began that plagued South Carolina for a number of years. Cooper resigned shortly before completing his second term as governor to accept appointment to the Federal Farm Loan Board, a position that he held for five years. He resumed the practice of law but returned to the federal goverment when asked by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help organize the Commodity Credit Corporation, on which he served briefly as General Counsel. He also was assistant to the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee from 1929 to 1932 and a U.S. District Judge for Puerto Rico from 1934 to 1947.

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