Joseph Fifer was born near Staunton, Virginia, in 1840, and moved with his parents to Danvers, Illinois in 1854. His wife, Gertrude (Lewis) Fifer, whom Fifer married in Illinois, was the granddaughter of New York Governor Bradford. Fifer began his political career at age thirty, when he was elected City Attorney of Bloomington. From there he rose in political office until 1888, when he was elected Governor of Illinois (see timeline). During the campaign he was given the nickname “Private Joe”, reflecting his Civil War service rank, whereas his opponents were decorated officers. Fifer served as Governor from 1888-1892. He resided in Bloomington the rest of his life, and was a favorite speaker on many occasions up to his death in 1935.
The Fifer-Bohrer Collection contains papers, books, correspondence and speeches belonging to Joseph Fifer and his grandson, Joseph F. Bohrer. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence, organized by subject matter and then chronologically. There is a copy of an open letter refuting claims that Joseph Fifer’s pension fund was increased because of his government connections, and copies of two Fifer speeches. The first speech, “Governor Fifer’s Farewell”, was given at the end of his term of office; the second is a speech on apportionment, accompanied by a letter from David Davis IV, stating his appreciation and use of the speech as a supplement to his own arguments on the same subject.