Name at birth: George Stanley McGovern
George McGovern was the longtime U.S. senator from South Dakota who was the Democratic candidate for president in 1972. The son of a Methodist minister, George McGovern was born and raised in South Dakota and entered Dakota Wesleyan University in 1940. World War II intervened: McGovern enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. He flew 35 missions as a B-24 bomber pilot in 1944-45, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal along the way. After the war he returned to Dakota Wesleyan and graduated in 1946. He earned a MA from Northwestern in 1949 and a PhD in 1953, and was a history professor at both Northwestern and Dakota Wesleyan before turning to politics in the mid-1950s. A Democrat, he was elected to the U.S. Congress from South Dakota's 1st district in 1956 and reelected in 1958. In 1960 he ran for the U.S. Senate and lost, but joined the administration of new President John F. Kennedy as director of the Food for Peace program. In 1962 he ran again for the Senate from South Dakota, this time successfully. He quickly became known as a grassroots Democrat and an early and staunch opponent of the Vietnam War; he once called the war "a moral and political disaster — a terrible cancer eating away the soul of the nation." His battle against the war led him to run for president in 1972; he won the Democratic nomination but lost the general election in a landslide to incumbent President Richard M. Nixon. (That was the year that Nixon henchmen broke into the Democratic National Committee offices, setting off the Watergate scandal.) McGovern served in the Senate for 18 years, until his defeat by Republican James Abdnor in 1980. He ran for president again in 1984, and later served as a special ambassador to the United Nations. His books include Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern (1977) and a biography of Abraham Lincoln (2009).
George McGovern married the former Eleanor Stegeberg in 1943; they remained married until her death in 2007. They had five children: Ann (b. 1945), Susan (b. 1946), Teresa (b. 1949), Steven (b. 1952) and Mary (b. 1955). Teresa, an alcoholic, died at age 45, prompting George McGovern to write Terry: My Daughter’s Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism in 1996… His loss to Nixon was one for the ages: the final electoral count total was 520-17. McGovern carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia… In the same campaign, he picked Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri as his running mate, only to have it revealed that Eagleton had received electroshock therapy for depression during the 1960s. McGovern at first backed Eagleton but then let him withdraw; he was replaced by Sargent Shriver, but the event was a political catastrophe for the campaign.