Louisiana Division
New Orleans Public Library
Administrations of the Mayors of New Orleans
William J. Behan (1840-1928)
William J. Behan, the first Mayor of New Orleans under the new city charter, was born in New Orleans, September 25, 1840. His father, John Holland Behan, was a native o Dublin Ireland, and his mother, Katherine Behan was also a native of that country. From this marriage there were three sons, William J., Frank, and Isaac D.

HE was educated partly in Louisiana and partly at the Western Military Institute, Nashville, Tennessee. His military training came in very handy during the War between the States when he served as an artillery officer in the Confederate Army. He was the youngest officer in that branch of the service, under General Lee’s command. At the time of his death, he is believed to have been the last surviving commissioned officer to fight with the Washington Artillery in the War between the States. He rose from rank of noncommissioned officer to General.

After the war he returned to New Orleans and engaged in business as a merchant, manufacturer and sugar planter; at the time of his nomination for mayor, he was junior partner in the grocery house of Zuberbeir and Behan.

He was nominated by the regular Democrats and his political campaign was in charge of two veterans in that organization – James D. Houston and Major E. A. Burke. His administration was a rather hectic one, relative to financial matters. As it drew to an end, it could clearly be seen that he could not count on the support of his party although there was a feeling that renomination was due him for the reason that his administration had lasted only two years, whereas under the new charter, the incoming Mayor would serve four years. However, he declined the proferred honor. The party convention met on March 24, 1884 and nominated J. Valsin Guillotte for Mayor.

A popular demand arose at once for the renomination of Mayor Behan, a group of twenty-five citizens headed an independent movement which supported him. At a meeting in the Masonic Hall on March 24, a full ticket was named. The struggle which followed, though brief, was exceedingly bitter. Up to the campaign of 1884 there had never been in New Orleans “a ring” properly so called. However, this election was a mockery, the popular vote was nullified, popular voice was stifled and free citizens were robbed of their dearest rights. The people cast the ballots, but the “ring” counted them.

Beham left the ranks of the Democratic Party when they proposed to put sugar on the free tariff list. He joined the ranks of the Republican Party during the Cleveland Administration and served as chairman of the Republican State Executive Committee from 1900 to 1912. He was a Republican candidate for the office of Governor in 1904.

On June 7, 1866 he married Miss Kate Walker of New Orleans, daughter of William Walker.

He also aided in organizing and commanded the Crescent White League which stormed the customhouse September 14, 1874 and restored white supremacy. He was made Major-General in charge of the Louisiana National Guard at that time and served until the time of his election to the post of mayor in 1882. He also served as Major-General commanding the United Confederate Veterans from 1899 to 1901. He was active in the affairs of the Confederate Veterans’ Organization until his death and was visitor to many of the annual encampments of the thinning ranks of the gray heroes.

William J. Behan died May 4, 1928 at his home, 1207 Jackson Avenue from a heart attack, at the age of eighty-seven and lies buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Two daughters survived him, Mrs. Andre Dreux and Mrs. Bessie Behan Lewis, also a grandson, William Dreux.


Members of Behan the Administration
November 20, 1882-April 28, 1884

Name Office Notes
Jones, Joseph, Dr. Board of Health President
Rowley, R. B. Chief of Police
Buck, Charles F. City Attorney
Ball, H. S., Mrs. City Hall Archives Custodian
Culbertson, Mary C., Mrs. City Library Librarian
Taylor, J. D. City Notary
Brosman, D. M. City Surveyor
McNamara, M. Clerk of Council
Mealey, P. Commissioner of Police and Public Buildings
Fitzpatrick, John Commissioner of Public Works
Guillotte, J. V. Comptroller
LeMonnier, Y. R., Dr. Coroner
O'Connor, Thomas Fire Department Chief Engineer
Wiltz, Pierre S. Public Administrator
Walker, C. L. Secretary
Walshe, B. T. Treasurer

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11/19/2002