James Alexander Reed (1861-1944) Papers (KC0443)
James Reed was born on a farm near Mansfield, Ohio. When he was three years old, his parents, John and Nancy Reed, moved their family to Iowa. He attended public school and worked on the family farm on land which later became a part of Cedar Rapids. For a few months, Reed was a student at Parsons Seminary (now Coe College), but withdrew in order to work on the farm. For a while he studied law at night in the offices of Hubbard, Clark and Dowley, one of the first law firms in Cedar Rapids.
In 1887, Reed married Lura Olmstead, and they moved to Kansas City. Within a short time, Reed became well-known in the city, and in 1898 he was elected Public Prosecutor of Jackson County. In 1900 and 1902, Reed won the Kansas City mayoral elections, after which he directed his energies to building up a successful law practice. One of his most famous local cases was the prosecution of Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde in the Swope murder trial in 1910.
Reed won a seat in the United States Senate in 1910, which he held for eighteen years. He was involved in such issues as child labor, Prohibition, the League of Nations, and tariffs. In 1924 and 1928, Reed was a candidate for President. In 1932, it appeared he had a very strong chance of receiving the Democratic nomination, but it went instead to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Throughout Roosevelt's terms as President, Reed spoke strongly against the New Deal and its effects upon the Constitution. Reed was a founder and honorary president of the Jeffersonian Democrats. Although Reed had always been staunchly Democratic and never formally switched political parties, he supported Wendel Willkie, a Republican, for President in 1940.
In the autumn of 1932, Lura Olmstead Reed died. In December 1933, Reed married the popular and successful businesswoman, Nell Quinlan Donnelly, whose kidnappers he had prosecuted the previous year. Reed’s law firm was embroiled in lengthy labor and fair competition litigation directed at the Donnelly Garment Company, of which Nell was founder and president.
In the final years of his life, Reed continued a full speaking engagement schedule, alternated with stays at his ranch in Fairview, Michigan. He died of pneumonia at Reed Ranch on September 8, 1944.
The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence, both personal and professional. Many letters are from admirers and critics on a variety of topics such as economic conditions, Prohibition, agricultural policy, the New Deal, judicial reform, and other political subjects. There are many requests for help in securing employment and appointments, requests for military school recommendations, aid with military deferments and veterans pensions, letters from convicts, and letters congratulating Reed for his speeches and encouraging him to run for public office again. There is a considerable amount of correspondence with family members. Also included are phonograph recordings of Senator James A. Reed’s speeches, particularly concerning the Donnelly Garment Company.
Reed was the attorney for the dissolution and trusteeship of the downtown Newman and Royal Theatres, and there are materials relating to that business. Reed also handled the Interstate Railroad case, for which there are case files. The Universal Oil case began as a patent case, and then a lawsuit to recover legal fees. There are also miscellaneous local cases and legal documents, as well as Reed family estate matters. Also included are the Donnelly Garment Company case files. The papers contain bound volumes of scrapbooks on various labor and political issues. Speech folders may contain handwritten notes, typed manuscripts and drafts, and printed versions of the speeches. Finally there are subject files concerning issues of general interest to Reed. The largest group is on the League of Nations. 1903-1950.
59 cubic feet, 45-phonograph recordings.
© WHMC-KC, University of Missouri
Monday, October 02, 2006
Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Kansas City
(816) 235-1543 WHMCKC@umkc.edu