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Stanley Wellington Finch 1872-1951

Former Baker Student Who Was the First Director of the Bureau That Became the FBI

by Jerry Weakley

Stanley Wellington Finch was born in Monticello, New York on July 20, 1872. He attended Baker University in Kansas, the Corcoran Scientific School in Washington, D.C., and business colleges and law schools in Albany and Washington, D.C.


Though born in New York, Finch later moved to Kansas with his family it is thought in the 1880’s. He attended High School in Iola while his father, Solomon Phineas “Phinney” Finch was a doctor in the nearby town of Chanute, about 19 miles away from Iola. Due to the loss by fire of all of the Kansas (and several other states) Census Records that were contained in the Commerce Department building in Washington DC in 1921, information regarding the family’s exact residence during that year has been unable to be located.


While at Baker, Finch studied in what was then referred to as the Academic Department which was in what was known as the Baker Academy. He spent parts of the years 1891-1892 at Baker. While on campus Baker University Alumni records listed his residence as “Old Castle Hall” which was the first building constructed on the property dedicated for use as the college’s campus and in which classes were first held beginning in 1858. Old Castle continues to serve the University to the present day as a museum.


Following his days at Baker, Finch accepted appointment as a clerk in the Department of Justice in 1893, where he worked off and on for 40 years. During this time, like so many other future FBI personnel, he was also studying at night at National University (now George Washington University) Law School. He earned two law degrees by 1909 and he was admitted to the Bar in Washington D.C. in 1911.


Over the next 15 years, he rose to become chief examiner, the highest-ranking investigative official in the organization. In this position, he audited the books of the U.S. Courts and Prisons and oversaw the work of other examiners.


Everyone who has more than a passing knowledge of FBI history is familiar with J. Edgar Hoover, who led the Bureau for nearly five decades. But while Hoover was officially the first director of the organization that became known as the FBI in 1935, after he had already served 11 years, the Bureau today actually traces its history back to 1908 and to the leadership of Stanley Finch.


Around this time, Department of Justice investigators were hired literally on a case-by-case basis; most agents were U.S. Secret Service employees working within the Treasury Department. In December 1907, Attorney General Charles Joseph Bonaparte (grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte’s youngest brother, Jerome) informed Congress that he needed his own detective force. Six months later, Congress instead banned the Secret Service from loaning its personnel.


That left the Department of Justice in a bind, but Bonaparte, Finch, and their colleagues were already developing a plan. A Stanley Finch memo dated April 29, 1908 said the Department should create “a small, permanent force of special agents” to meet its investigative needs. In late June and early July, the department quietly hired 34 investigators. On July 26, Bonaparte directed his attorneys to refer most investigative matters to Finch for handling by one of these agents. And thus, the Bureau was born.


Finch led the new group capably, keeping close tabs on its work. He was officially named “chief” of the newly titled Bureau of Investigation in March 1909.


Through Finch’s work in this capacity with the Bureau he developed a real passion for curbing the trafficking of young women. As urban centers grew, many criminals during this time preyed on women leaving their rural homes in search of marriage, riches, and fame, instead trapping them in a life of prostitution. What is now known as sex trafficking ensnared an estimated 250,000 women and girls nationwide, most between the ages of 13 and 25.


Finch began speaking out against this and lobbied Congress to make it a federal crime. In 1910, a bill sponsored by Rep. Horace Mann Towner (R Iowa) was enacted, criminalizing prostitution and the transportation of women across state lines for prostitution. Money to enforce the law quickly followed, allowing the Bureau to add dozens of new personnel.


To enforce the law, the Department of Justice created a new organization led by a separate commissioner. In 1912, Finch was named its head, leaving the Bureau of Investigation and moving his office to Baltimore. Working with a core group of agents, Finch hired upstanding and well-positioned citizens, usually attorneys in major cities, to work with local law enforcement to map out brothels and identify patrons and victims.


The plan was ambitious, but despite some early successes, it ultimately failed. In 1914, Finch’s organization was consolidated into the Bureau of Investigation, and Finch left government for a series of jobs in journalism and humanitarian organizations. In 1922, he returned to the Department of Justice as a special assistant to the attorney general. He also served as inspector of prisons before retiring in 1940.


Finch was not just known for fighting crime. His hobby was inventing, especially toys for children. He formed the General Novelty Manufacturing Company and went on to earn more than 100 patents. One of his ideas was for an inline skate, a prescient proposal, especially coming from an early 20th century lawyer and investigator.




Finch died in November 1951 at his home in Washington, D.C., having spent nearly half of his eight decades serving the Department of Justice, mostly in a variety of leadership roles. His four years running the young Bureau gave it a strong start, including growing expertise in investigating fraud, civil rights violations, anti-trust matters, Indian Country crime, and sex trafficking—key areas of the FBI’s responsibility that continue to this day.


References for this article taken from:

Baker University office of Alumni Relations; Baker University Archives; The Federal Bureau of Investigation archives; Wikipedia; The U.S. Commerce Department website.

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