James William Fulbright (1905–1995) was a prominent and gifted American statesman of the 20th century. His unequaled contribution to international affairs and his tenure as the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee distinguished his political career of over thirty years in the United States Congress. He had a profound influence on America's foreign policy, and his vision for mutual understanding shaped the extraordinary exchange program bearing his name.
Fulbright was born on April 9, 1905 in Sumner, Missouri, but moved the following year to Fayetteville, Arkansas with his family. He was educated at the University of Arkansas, earning a BA degree in Political Science in 1925. He then earned an MA degree while attending Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, an experience that changed his life.
Fulbright entered politics in 1942 and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, entering Congress in January 1943 and becoming a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. In September of that year, the House adopted the Fulbright Resolution supporting an international peace-keeping machinery and encouraging U.S. participation in what would become the United Nations. This brought national attention to Fulbright. In November 1944, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and served there from 1945 through 1974, becoming one of the most influential and best-known members of the Senate. His legislation establishing the Fulbright Program passed through the Senate without debate in 1946; its first participants went overseas in 1948. In 1949, Fulbright became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. From 1959–1974 he served as chairman of this committee, becoming its longest serving chairman in history.
After leaving the Senate, he worked as a lawyer in Washington, DC and remained active in support of the international exchange program that bears his name.
Senator Fulbright died on February 9, 1995 at the age of 89.