Biographical / Historical
Charles Farnsley was born on 28 March 1907, the son of Judge Burrell Farnsley and Anna May Peaslee Farnsley. He received his LL.B in 1930, his A.B. in 1942, and an honorary LL.D in 1950 all from the University of Louisville. He also did graduate work in Political Science at the University of Kentucky, University of Chicago, and Columbia University. In 1937 he married Nancy Hall Carter and they had five children.
Farnsley had a varied professional career, interupted by his participation in government. Between the years 1930 and 1948, he practiced law in Louisville. During that time, he created and marketed a low-proof Kentucky whiskey under the trade name "Rebel Yell." He sold these business interests when he became mayor of Louisville, but resumed his law practice in 1954 after the mayoral term expired. For a brief period of time, he also marketed two new brands of whiskey. He and Nancy formed a micropublishing company in 1954 celled the Lost Cause Press. The business specialized in the micrographic reproduction of rare books and documents and sold internationally. Farnsley retired from his law practice in 1964 and in 1986, he and Nancy sold the Lost Cause Press.
From 1936 to 1940, Charles Farnsley served in the Kentucky House of Representatives, and then became a lobbyist at the General Assembly for brewery and whiskey interests. In 1948, on the death of Mayor E. Leland Taylor, the Louisville Board of Aldermen named Farnsley mayor pro tem. The colorful mayor gained national attention for his black string tie and unconventional political style. He was influential in the desegregation of the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library and the University of Louisville, he halted the city's economic decline by attracting new industry and encouraging old industry to remain, and he rebuilt and expanded public facilities, especially parks. He organized the "Louisville Fund," an annual fund drive to benefit arts programs in the city. The Louisville Orchestra and Free Public Library reached unprecedented heights during his tenure. Some of mayor Farnsley's more controversial moves included hiring a professional consultant to run the daily affairs of government so that he could devote his time to solving broader city problems. He based management decisions, in part, on polls conducted by Elmo Roper, his friend, and by holding "beef sessions" in which constituents sat face to face with him to tell him their complaints. By ordering that only driving lanes should be paved, Farnsley managed to double the mileage of road repairs. Raising taxes is often considered political suicide, but Charles Farnsley introduced a one percent occupational tax just before the general election. To his credit, he was reelected. Farnsley also served in the United States Congress in the House of Representatives for the Third District from 1964 to 1966.
Farnsley was also active in many social and civic activities. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Louisville Free Public Library, president of the University of Louisville Alumni Association and a member of the University's Board of Trustees. He was a member of the Masons, Sigma Chi Sigma social fraternity, the Pendennis, Wynn Stay, and Louisville Country Clubs, the Filson Club, the National Democratic Club, and director of the Bank of St. Helens. His support of the arts was continuous. He was a long time member of both the Louisville Philharmonic Association and the American Symphony Orchestra League. He presented papers and participated in debates pertaining to his idols, Thomas Jefferson and Confucious, and their political philosophies.