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William S. Kenyon Papers

Identifier: MsC0506

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Scope and Contents

The papers of William S. Kenyon consist of six linear feet of manuscripts dating from 1911-1933. Upon Judge Kenyon's death in 1933, his papers were boxed and shipped to Fort Dodge, Iowa where they were subsequently rediscovered more than sixty years later when the judge's nephew sold the family home. Robert Kenyon donated the Kenyon papers to the University of Iowa in 1998.   The collection is arranged in five series: 1) Correspondence, 2) General subject files, 3) Speeches, 4) U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and 5) Clippings. The correspondence series is arranged chronologically and dates from 1911-1933. It includes several letters from Presidents Taft, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, as well as letters from such Iowa notables as Martin J. Wade, J.R. Howard, N.E. Kendall, John Hammill, and Charles A. Rawson. The general subject files contain a cross section of topics ranging from the Wickersham Commission to political cartoons. Kenyon's speeches make up the third series. He also spoke on a lyceum circuit and some of those programs can also be found in this series. Series four documents Judge Kenyon's career on the bench of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals with all of his court assignments and related correspondence. Twenty six folders of clippings make up the final series of the collection.


  • Creation: 1911-1933
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1920-1929


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Biographical / Historical

William Squire Kenyon was born on June 10, 1869, to the Rev. Fergus Lafayette and Harriet Squire Kenyon in Elyria, Ohio. His family moved to Iowa in 1878. Although his father had hoped that he would go into the ministry, William Kenyon chose to study the law. He attended Grinnell College, and received an LL.B. from the University of Iowa in 1890. The following year he was admitted to the bar. Kenyon began his legal career in Fort Dodge, Iowa where he married Mary Duncombe, in 1893. Two years after graduating from law school he became the prosecuting attorney for Webster County. At age thirty-one he was elected District Court judge, a position from which he resigned after two years because of the low salary. He next became the general counsel for the Illinois Central Railroad.

It was his service as special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General George W. Wickersham prosecuting packing houses and railroad rebate cases that placed him in the political spotlight. In 1911, Kenyon was appointed to fill the unexpired term left in the U.S. Senate following the death of Jonathan P. Dolliver. Kenyon was twice reelected to the Senate as a progressive Republican. He was one of the senators that opposed U.S. entry into World War I. However, after war was declared and our troops mobilized, Kenyon became an ardent supporter of the U.S. war effort.

In 1922, Kenyon resigned his senate seat to accept an appointment by President Warren Harding to serve on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals bench. His most famous judgement involved revoking the Teapot Dome oil leases (part of the infamous Teapot Dome scandal). President Coolidge twice offered Judge Kenyon posts in his Cabinet and the judge declined both times in favor of remaining on the bench. He was also seriously considered for the Vice Presidency. In 1929, President Hoover appointed him to the National Commission of Law Observance and Enforcement (Wickersham Commission).

Judge William Squire Kenyon died of a heart attack on September 9, 1933.


6.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



U.S. senator from Iowa and U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge. Papers relating to his political and judicial careers. Correspondence, subject files, speeches, and clippings document Kenyon's positions on many issues of the day, including the Teapot Dome scandal, prohibition, and WWI.

Method of Acquisition

This collection was given to the University of Iowa by Mike Doyle and Robert D. Kenyon in 1998.

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Repository Details

Part of the University of Iowa Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)