Joseph Poindexter

Name Joseph B. Poindexter
Born April 14 1869
Died December 3 1951
Birth Location Canyon City, Oregon

Attorney and governor of Hawai'i at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Joseph B. Poindexter was born on April 14, 1869, in Canyon City, Oregon, the son of Thomas W. and Margaret Pipkin Poindexter, and attended public school in Montana. Upon graduating, he attended Ohio Wesleyan University and Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, where he received his LL.B (Bachelor of Laws) degree in 1892. That same year, he was admitted to the bar of the state of Montana on December 5 and five years later on April 22, 1897, Poindexter married Margaret Conger of Dillon, Montana. After practicing law in Dillon for several years, he was elected county attorney of Beaverhead county and served for three terms until 1903. During his career he served as a judge of the district court of the fifth judicial district of Montana from 1909 until 1915, and from 1915 to 1917 was the attorney general of Montana.

Poindexter came to Hawai'i for the first time in 1917 after President Woodrow Wilson appointed him judge of the U.S. district court on May 14 and he served as a federal judge until February 16, 1924. For ten years, Poindexter engaged in private law practice in Honolulu and became an active leader in the territory's Democratic Party. He held a prominent place in legal circles and from 1932 at 1934 and served as the president of the Bar Association of Hawaii. Poindexter also belonged to the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce, the Commercial Club, and the American Bar Association. In 1934, President Roosevelt appointed Poindexter to become Hawai'i's eighth governor, and he took over the duties of office on March 1 of that year, succeeding Lawrence M. Judd. Poindexter enjoyed the distinction of being Hawai'i's first chief executive to welcome a president of the United States to the territory during a visit in July 1943 by President Roosevelt who later reappointed him governor in 1938.

On December 7th, 1941 , Poindexter signed the proclamation that placed Hawai'i under martial law after meetings with military leaders. In hindsight he mentioned, "I don't like martial law . . . never did. But at that time it seemed necessary." According to Poindexter, it was Major General Walter C. Short, U.S. military commander at the time, who convinced him of the necessity for the proclamation and added that a compelling reason for martial law was the general's expectation of an invasion by the Japanese that same night. At that time, Poindexter believed that the army would lift martial law, "in about 30 days." Instead, it continued with some modifications for more than three years. During his testimony before the Roberts Commission that investigated the Pearl Harbor attack, Poindexter challenged the belief that martial law had been declared upon his insistence and instead attributed its implementation to the army. Poindexter pointed out that "the large Japanese population we have in Hawaii was the reason that was advanced why that could be better handled through martial law than by civilian authorities." Poindexter would later give the same testimony in the 1950 civil suit for damages brought by Dr. Hans Zimmerman who was picked up after the Pearl Harbor attack and detained as a security risk. In 1942, Poindexter retired from office and was succeeded by Ingram M. Stainback who was also appointed by Roosevelt.

Poindexter later served as a Bishop Estate trustee and was survived by a daughter Miss Helen Poindexter who served as his hostess at Washington Place during his governorship and by a son, Everton G. G. Poindexter of New York City. His wife had died earlier in 1918. The former attorney, judge, and Hawai'i governor passed away at Queen's hospital following an extended illness. Poindexter was buried in the family plot in Montana following his cremation.

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , University of Hawai'i

For More Information

Anthony, J. Garner. Hawaii Under Army Rule . Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1975.

"Ex-Governor Poindexter Dies as 82." Honolulu Star-Bulletin , December 3, 1951, 10.

"Services Set Thursday for Poindexter." Honolulu Advertiser , December 4, 1951, 8.

Last updated July 2, 2020, 6:11 p.m..