Ansel was the first person of German ancestry to occupy the governor’s chair in South Carolina.
Governor. Martin F. Ansel was born in Charleston on December 12, 1850, the son of German immigrants John Ansel and Frederica Bowers. He received his basic education within the common school system in Walhalla, where the family had moved in 1857. He began to read law in 1868 under the auspices of Columbia attorney James H. Whitner. Admitted to the South Carolina Bar in September 1870, Ansel left his native state and established a law practice in Franklin, North Carolina. In 1876 Ansel returned to South Carolina, relocating to Greenville, where he was among the leading attorneys in the upcountry. On February 21, 1878, Ansel married Ophelia Speight. The couple had two daughters. Three years after Ophelia’s death in 1895, Ansel married Addie R. Hollingsworth Harris.
Ansel served Greenville County in the S.C. House of Representatives from 1882 until 1887. In 1888 Ansel was elected solicitor of the Eighth Judicial District, an office he held for thirteen years. In 1902 Ansel made an unsuccessful bid for the gubernatorial nomination in the Democratic Party primary. Although losing to Duncan C. Heyward, Ansel’s strong showing convinced supporters that he would be successful in a future election. In 1906 Ansel became the nominee for governor in the Democratic primary. He ran unopposed in the November general election and garnered 30,251 votes in that token contest. He was the first person of German ancestry to occupy the governor’s chair in South Carolina.
Inaugurated on January 15, 1907, Ansel held a first term that was most memorable for the abolishment of the controversial state liquor dispensary system by the General Assembly. Although a statewide ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages became law, counties were permitted to exercise the local “option” of retaining dispensaries. It was a notable victory for Ansel, who campaigned as a leading advocate of local option and personally favored prohibition. Ansel also pushed legislators to increase financial support to South Carolina’s public schools and place secondary schools under direct state supervision. Other developments during Ansel’s governorship included the founding of the Confederate Veterans’ Home in Columbia and the creation of the South Carolina Office of Public Health. In addition Ansel successfully urged the establishment of the State Department of Insurance. South Carolina voters approved of Ansel’s first term performance. In 1908 his reelection was without opposition in both the primary and general elections. By gaining 61,060 votes in the second contest, Ansel had nearly doubled his previous electoral mandate.
After retiring from office in January 1911, Ansel resumed his private legal practice in Greenville. In 1920 he was elected judge of the Greenville County Court, and he remained an influential figure in state politics until his death on August 23, 1945.
Wallace, David Duncan. The History of South Carolina. 4 vols. New York: American Historical Society, 1934.