James A. Hamilton, New York City Correction Commissioner from 1918 to 1922 under Mayor John F. Hylan, had served as State Senator from the Bronx before heading the Department and later became New York State's Secretary of State and still later State Industrial Commissioner.
Born January 24, 1876, the third of nine children (seven of them girls), Hamilton sold newspapers on the city streets as a boy to help contribute to the family upkeep and later worked as a newspaper copyboy, proofreader and typesetter while attending New York Evening High School from which he received his diploma in 1892.
He began his college studies at Peddie Institute in Hightstown, New Jersey, but later transferred to the University of Rochester from which he received a bachelor of arts degree and Phi Beta Kappa recognition for his scholarship. He also played on Rochester's varsity football team as a quarterback.
While teaching in the city's public schools, Hamilton pursued post graduate and law studies at Columbia and New York Universities, earning masters (1903), law (1904) and Ph.D. (1909) degrees with specialties in history, economics and constitutional law.
Dr. Hamilton was elected State Senator from the Bronx in 1914, serving one term. Since Bronx as a county dates only from 1914, Hamilton must be considered among the first state legislators to represent Bronx County.
On January 1, 1918, Mayor Hylan appointed him Correction Commissioner, succeeding Burdette G. Lewis. Besides heading DOC, Commissioner Hamilton played another key role early in the Hylan administration, heading its central purchasing committee and later the Board of Purchase.
While still Correction Commissioner, Hamilton became Bronx County Democratic Committee chairman. He served as such in 1921 and 1922. Hamilton had been active in Bronx civic and political affairs during a period that included the struggle of the borough to become a separate county. For decades, he led the Arthur H. Murphy Democratic Association in Bronx's then 8th A.D.
Also while still Correction Commissioner, he ran successfully for the position of New York State Secretary of State. The Office of the Secretary of State, tracing back to 1778, is one of the oldest agencies in the administration of New York State government.
The State Secretary continues to perform the historic role as Keeper of Records as well as a wide range of additional activities. On the business side, the Department of State's customers include the financial community, corporations and attorneys. It licenses more than 650,000 individuals, including the real estate and cosmetology industries, private investigators and notaries.
In Hamilton's time, the State Secretary post was an elected office. He served as State Secretary in 1923 and 1924 but lost his re-election bid.
Governor Alfred E. Smith, who had headed the ticket, appointed Hamilton as State Industrial Commissioner, an office with responsibilities regarding workplace conditions and other labor-related matters. The appointment was generally well received among union leaders who recalled his pro-labor record as a legislator. Among notable undertakings by him as Industrial Commissioner was a study of labor conditions faced by boys and girls, 14 and 15 years of age, in workplaces of that era, a research project that harkened back to his own child labor days.
Hamilton served as State Industrial Commissioner until January, 1929 when the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration took over in Albany. Hamilton had been a delegate to the 1928 Democratic National Convention that nominated Gov. Smith as its Presidential candidate. Smith lost to Republican Herbert Hoover.
A resident of Washington Avenue, the Bronx, for 40 years, Hamilton served as County Register in 1933. He was member of the board of trustees for Bronx Eye and Ear Hospital, and charter member and one-time president of the Bronx Boy Scout Council. His other memberships included Theta Delta Chi and the Masons. Dr. Hamilton died May 7, 1950, after a brief illness. He was 74. A widower, he was survived by five children, four grandchildren; a brother and three sisters.
-- Thomas McCarthy, NYCHS webmaster