Biography of James Henderson Kyle

James Henderson Kyle, the late Senator from South Dakota, was a man of remarkable dedication and integrity. Born in Ohio in 1854, he overcame financial challenges to pursue his education, eventually becoming a pastor and entering politics. Elected to the United States Senate in 1891, he served with unwavering commitment and played a significant role in various committees. Notably, he chaired the United States Industrial Commission and advocated for the establishment of Labor Day as a national holiday. Senator Kyle’s tireless work ethic, genuine compassion, and unwavering faith left an indelible mark on those who knew him.

James Henderson Kyle.— The late Senator James H. Kyle, of South Dakota, died in the early evening of July 1, 1901. He was buried the afternoon of July 4, eleven years — almost to an hour — after he delivered an address which gave him a seat in the United States Senate. Since his serious illness at Cleveland, September 1898, he had not been well, although his appearance otherwise indicated. His vitality was gone. The wire and fiber of his constitution were wasted and worn, and a complication of ills overtaking him, the thread of life was easily broken, and in a few days he crossed the dark river. The Christian faith, his guide through life, sustained the departing spirit, and with perfect confidence, he beheld the opening scenes of his eternity.

James Henderson Kyle was born at Cedarville, near Xenia, Greene County, Ohio, February 24, 1854, and was the second of a family of six children — three brothers and three sisters — of whom one brother and two sisters survive. His father, Thomas B., was born at the Kyle homestead, near Xenia, Ohio, January 24, 1824, and when seven years of age, moved with his father to the then territory of Kentucky. When it was admitted as a slave state, they returned to the Senator’s birthplace and near where his father was born. The father served as a Union soldier and officer in the Civil War, and in the fall of 1865, with his family, moved to Urbana, Champaign County, Illinois, where he still resides. The influencing reason for the selection of this home was on account of the proposed location of the State University, affording an opportunity for the education of his children. The Senator’s grandfather was born in Pennsylvania in 1773 of parents who came from Scotland to this country in a very early day. The Senator’s great-grandfather, with six brothers, served their country during the Revolutionary War. His mother, Jane Henderson, was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, May 30, 1829, to parents who came from the north part of Ireland.

While living in Xenia, Ohio, the Senator attended the common schools and received his primary education. At Urbana, he graduated from the high school and entered the State University at Champaign in 1871. Not being able to secure the course of study he desired, he entered Oberlin College, Ohio, in 1873, and graduated from that institution in 1878. While attending school and the University of Illinois, he worked on a farm during vacation, and when at Oberlin College, he also worked on a farm and taught school to defray his expenses, and very largely supported himself while obtaining his education. He then entered the Western Theological Seminary at Allegheny, Pennsylvania, where he wholly sustained himself by giving private lessons in Greek, Latin, and mathematics until his graduation in 1882.

April 27, 1881, Mr. Kyle was married in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Miss Anna Isabel Dugot, who, with two children, Miss Ethelwyn and James H. Kyle, Jr., survive.

After graduating from the seminary and receiving his license to preach, he accepted service with the Board of Home Missions and located at Mount Pleasant, Utah. There he had charge of a seminary in connection with his church duties. To secure a climate more healthful for his wife, he removed to the then territory, now state, of South Dakota, in 1885 and was in charge of the Congregational church at Ipswich, in that state, until 1889 when he removed to Aberdeen and became pastor of the First Congregational church. At a celebration of the Fourth of July, 1890, at Aberdeen, he delivered a memorable address. A spirit of political unrest prevailed in the state, and an advanced position was taken in the remedies proposed. This speech attracted marked attention and provoked much discussion, not only at his home but throughout the state, and from that date, he was well known by all its people. The next day, the “Independents” of his senatorial district held their convention and, without effort and against his will, a unanimous nomination was tendered. His election followed, and early in January 1891, the duties of the office were assumed. He was a man of imposing presence, a fine specimen of physical manhood and intellectual force — vigorous in mind, acts, and the accomplishment of results. To the duties of this office, he applied himself with rare fidelity and honesty of purpose and immediately won the respect, confidence, and esteem of his colleagues in that body. Although inexperienced in legislation, his evident desire to be right and do right was apparent, and his industry, kindness, and courtesy were unfailing. A just measure commanded his support with the certainty that day follows night, and in the perfection of details, he never wearied. February 16, 1891, he was chosen United States senator to succeed Gideon C. Moody, receiving the combined independent and Democratic votes. In 1897, he was re-elected for a second term, expiring March 3, 1903. During his term of office, he served on the committees of Indian affairs, patents, territories, pensions, irrigation and reclamation of arid lands, Indian depredations, forest reservations and the protection of game, and was chairman of the committee on education and labor.

Senator Kyle’s ability for hard and effective work was fully recognized in his appointment as chairman of the United States Industrial Commission, created by an act of Congress on June 18, 1898, and the volumes of testimony taken under his personal direction and supervision and his exhaustive reports upon the subject justified the confidence reposed. He did not live to see the completion of the work of the commission; but the vast amount of testimony and the great variety of subjects covered in the report show that the plans were well conceived and carried to a successful conclusion. The work done by the commission will undoubtedly be of great assistance in shaping future legislation.

Another notable and salutary congressional act proposed and accomplished by him was the designation of Labor Day and making it a national holiday. For all time, this day will be recognized and observed by the laborer and his friends. Labor never had a better friend than Senator Kyle, and no one better understood its needs or extended a more sympathetic and helpful hand. As a boy, he worked on the farm to aid in securing the education he so eagerly sought and highly prized; as a man and senator, he did not forget the labor of his youth. His experience taught him the true dignity of labor and its necessity in every walk of life.

In times of the nation’s danger, party politics are laid aside and animosities forgotten. In the events leading up to and during the Spanish-American War, Senator Kyle was not an exception to this rule, although not identified with the party in power. He stood loyally with the President and fearlessly supported the administration in war measures and in every detail that would assure a speedy and successful termination of the conflict. When the war ended, Senator Kyle earnestly and consistently worked to secure the ratification of the treaty of peace. He did not stop here. As a true American, he kept pace with the progress of our country’s development, cheerfully, courageously, and hopefully accepting the burdens necessarily assumed as a result of the war.

The accurate and eloquent tributes of affection and esteem paid to his memory by members of Congress who were so long associated with the Senator and who knew him best show the record and impression he made in that body. He performed every duty to which he was assigned with conspicuous zeal, industry, and ability. His patient attention to the details of business, even when pressed upon him by those not entitled, indicates the kind heart that always influenced him, and his candor and fairness inspired all with confidence. In manner, he was unassuming, caring little for society, bending his whole energy to the performance of official duties. He was charitable in act and thought. His modest, quiet, kindly way endeared him to a host of friends who mourned his loss with personal grief. He was a dutiful son, of tender sensibilities and noble impulses, a kind and loving husband and father, an upright, pure, and courteous gentleman, most loved by those who knew him best. When death called him, he was at the zenith of his power, absorbed in public duties with such energy that he was unable to withstand the strain, and the desire, unconsciously in his mind, found expression in his last words, evidencing as well his Christian faith: “Now I shall rest.”


Robinson, Doane, History of South Dakota: together with mention of Citizens of South Dakota, [Logansport? IN] : B. F. Bowen, 1904.

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