Willard Duncan Vandiver, Who Linked Missouri to the Phrase “Show Me,” Dies: May 30, 1932

William Duncan Vandiver
Public Domain

William Duncan Vandiver, congressman from Missouri who is perhaps most known for saying “I’m from Missouri, and you have got to show me,” died on this date in 1932.

William Duncan Vandiver was a notable figure in Missouri politics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born on March 19, 1854, in Hardy County, Virginia (now West Virginia), Vandiver was the son of John W. Vandiver and Nancy Ann Duncan. His early life was marked by the turbulence of the Civil War, which deeply influenced his views and aspirations.

After completing his primary education, Vandiver attended what was then Central College in Fayette (now Central Methodist University), where he graduated in 1877. Vandiver initially pursued a career in education, becoming a professor and chair of science at what is now Southeast Missouri State University. He served as president of the school from 1893 to 1897. His ambitions soon led him to the field politics.

In 1896, Vandiver was elected as a Democratic Representative to the Fifty-seventh Congress, representing Missouri’s 10th district. During his term, he became known for his eloquent speeches and strong advocacy for fiscal responsibility and transparency in government. He famously declared, “I’m from Missouri, and you have got to show me,” a phrase that became emblematic of our state’s skeptical and no-nonsense attitude. Although it isn’t clear if his speech was the sole cause, many people also attribute this speech as the origin of our nickname, “the show me state.”

Vandiver served in Congress until 1905, after which he served as chairman of the State executive committee, State insurance commissioner, and later Assistant Treasurer of the United States. His work in this role further solidified his standing as a dedicated public servant. In 1921 Vandiver finally retired from public service and lived on his farm outside Columbia until his death on May 30, 1932. He is buried in Columbia Cemetery.