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Herbert Seely Bigelow was born in Elkhart, Indiana, on January 4, 1870. He attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, graduating from the latter institution in 1894.
He then enrolled at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. After graduating from the seminary and being ordained as a Congregationalist minister, Bigelow became the pastor of the Vine Street Congregational Church in Cincinnati. As a minister, Bigelow became interested in Progressivism. This interest ultimately led him into politics. The minister was instrumental in gaining passage of the direct primary in Ohio, which became law in 1906. Ohio's direct primary law required a primary election for candidates running for state, county, and local elections. He and his supporters also founded the Direct Legislation League, which lobbied the state legislature for passage of the initiative and referendum. Ultimately these issues were addressed in Ohio's Constitutional Convention in 1912. The convention's delegates wrote the initiative and the referendum into constitutional amendments , which Ohio voters then approved later in the year. Bigelow served as a delegate to the convention, and his fellow delegates elected him president of the convention. He was also elected to the state house of representatives that year and served for one term. When World War I began, Bigelow was vocal in his opposition to American entry into the war and to conscription. Many Ohioans viewed him as unpatriotic or even a traitor to his country. In 1917, someone abducted the minister and dropped him off in the wilderness after roughing him up. Although Governor James M. Cox and President Woodrow Wilson denounced the attack, the mayor of Cincinnati argued Bigelow received "what's coming to him." It would be some time before Bigelow returned to the political arena, but in 1936, he was elected to the Cincinnati City Council. The same year, Bigelow ran successfully for a seat in the United States House of Representatives as a member of the Democratic Party. He was not successful in winning reelection in 1938. Bigelow returned to the Cincinnati Council in 1940 and 1941, before returning to the pulpit of the Vine Street Congregational Church. Bigelow died in Cincinnati on November 11, 1951.