William Kent (American politician)

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William Kent
William Kent congressman.jpeg
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from California
In office
March 4, 1911 – March 3, 1917
Preceded byDuncan E. McKinlay
Succeeded byClarence F. Lea
Constituency2nd district (1911–13)
1st district (1913–17)
Personal details
William Kent

(1864-03-29)29 March 1864
Chicago, Illinois, US
Died13 March 1928(1928-03-13) (aged 63)
Kentfield, California, US
Political partyProgressive Republican; Independent
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Thacher Kent
Alma materYale University
Elizabeth Thacher Kent (1868–1952) in 1916

William Kent (March 29, 1864 – March 13, 1928) was an American politician, conservationist and philanthropist from Marin County, California. He served as a U.S. Representative from Northern California between 1911 and 1917, and was instrumental in the creation of Muir Woods National Monument.

Early life[edit]

Kent was born in Chicago, Illinois on March 29, 1864.[1] His parents, Adaline Elizabeth Dutton and meatpacking magnate Albert Emmett Kent (A.E. Kent)[1] moved the family to Marin County in California in 1871, where his father had purchased 800 acres of valley land that would later become the town Kentfield, California.[2][3]

He graduated from Yale University in 1887, where he was a member of Skull and Bones.[4]

Following graduation from Yale, Kent returned to Chicago and took up his father's real estate and livestock businesses, where he had inherited, among other interests, a tenement block adjacent to the Hull House settlement.[3] After he was attacked as a slumlord in an 1894 speech by a Hull House resident, Kent donated the tenements to Hull House, which would later raze the property to build one of the first public playgrounds in the United States.[5][3]

Kent became a donor and volunteer at Hull House, and served on its Board of Trustees, where he would meet Jane Addams and other leading Chicago reformers.[5] Kent subsequently ran successfully for alderman in 1895 and founded the Municipal Voter's League of Chicago in 1896, a group that used publicity to push corrupt politicians from office.[6][3]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

In 1907, Kent returned to California from Chicago and entered federal politics by winning election in 1910 as a progressive Republican to the 62nd United States Congress. For the 63rd and 64th Congresses, Kent was re-elected as an Independent. In total, Kent served in Congress from March 4, 1911 to March 4, 1917.[7]

Kent was a vocal proponent of anti-Asian and exclusionary immigration policies throughout his political career.[8] Campaigning in 1910, Kent told the Asiatic Exclusion League that "I have made a large part of my campaign on the Asiatic Exclusion idea, comparing it with the racial troubles brought on by the needless importation of negroes."[9] In Congress, Kent pushed legislation barring Asian immigrants from owning land, becoming U.S. citizens, and entering the United States altogether.[8] Kent also supported legislation instituting a literacy test for prospective immigrants, explaining he would "rather have a test of blood and race, and confine our immigration to northern Europe, but failing that, the literacy test."[10]


In 1916, Kent was the lead sponsor of legislation in the House of Representatives establishing the National Park Service, with companion legislation in the Senate sponsored by Reed Smoot. The legislation passed the House of Representatives on July 1, 1916, passed the Senate on August 5, and was signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916.[11]

Kent was also responsible for the establishment of Muir Woods National Monument on 611 acres of land along Redwood Creek that Kent and his wife Elizabeth Tacher Kent had originally purchased in 1905 for $45,000 in an effort to preserve the property's groves of old-growth redwoods.[12] After a local water company began condemnation proceedings in 1907 in an effort to create a reservoir on the site, Kent quickly deeded 295 acres of the property to the U.S. Department of the Interior for the establishment of a national monument under the recently-passed Antiquities Act.[13][14] Established as a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt on January 6, 1908, Kent asked the site be named in honor of conservationist John Muir.[12]

Beyond Muir Woods, Kent's efforts to preserve land on Marin County's Mount Tamalpais led to the creation of the Marin Municipal Water District in 1912, which utilized land donated by Kent for its watershed.[13]

Kent's efforts as a conservationist were not exclusive of development and growth. The establishment of Muir Woods as a national monument coincided with the development of the Mt. Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway as a popular tourist attraction, a business in which both Kent and his father had an interest in.[13] In Congress, Kent was a key proponent of 1913 legislation creating the Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir, a stance that ultimately cost him his personal friendship with John Muir, who Kent would call "a man entirely without social sense."[3]

Later career[edit]

After leaving Congress, Kent was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to the United States Tariff Commission in 1917. In lobbying the Wilson administration for his appointment, Kent alluded to a possible run for governor of California, writing Wilson ally Norman Hapgood that "I probably could secure the governorship here if I wanted it, but I do not like the idea of getting down to state matters when my view has been directed at national affairs."[15] Kent served on the Tariff Commission until his resignation in 1920 to make an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate.[7][8]

Personal life and death[edit]

Kent was married to Elizabeth Sherman Thacher on February 26, 1890.[1] Elizabeth Thacher Kent was the daughter of Yale professor and administrator Thomas Anthony Thacher. Together they had seven children including sons Sherman Kent (Yale professor and alumni of the US Central Intelligence Agency) and Roger Kent (US politician). His daughter was prominent artist, Adaline Kent.[1] Sherman Day Thacher was his brother-in-law.

Kent died on March 13, 1928 in Kentfield, California from pneumonia.[6] His remains were cremated in Oakland, California. He was survived by wife, five sons, two daughters, and ten grandchildren.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d Sherman, Thomas Townsend (1920). Sherman Genealogy Including Families of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, England: Some Descendants of the Immigrants, Captain John Sherman, Reverend John Sherman, Edmund Sherman and Samuel Sherman, and the Descendents of Honorable Roger Sherman and Honorable Charles R. Sherman. New York, NY: T. A. Wright. pp. 365.
  2. ^ "Greenbrae and Kentfield - Overview". Realty Of Marin. Retrieved November 6, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e Hyde, Anne F. (1994). "William Kent: The Puzzle of Progressive Conservationists". California Progressivism Revisited: 35–53. ISBN 9780520084704.
  4. ^ "Obituary Record of Yale Graduates 1927-1928" (PDF). Yale University. 15 September 1928. p. 103. Retrieved March 26, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Burlingame, Dwight F. (1992-03-22). The Responsibilities of Wealth. Indiana University Press. p. 129. ISBN 9780253112774. hull house william kent.
  6. ^ a b c "Guide to the William Kent Family Papers". Yale University Library. Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. 1961. Retrieved November 6, 2014.
  7. ^ a b "KENT, William - Biographical Information". bioguide.congress.gov. Retrieved 2019-11-10.
  8. ^ a b c "William Kent: Conservationist and Anti-Immigrant Politician (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved 2019-11-10.
  9. ^ League, Asiatic Exclusion (1908). Proceedings of the Asiatic Exclusion League.
  10. ^ Petit, Jeanne. "Refugees or threat? How we see migrants reveals our competing visions for America". Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-11-10.
  11. ^ Swain, Donald C. (September 1969). "The Founding of the National Park Service". The American West. Palo Alto, CA: American West Publishing Company. VI (5): 6–9.
  12. ^ a b Niekerken, Bill Van (2018-07-25). "How one couple saved Muir Woods from becoming a dammed reservoir". SFChronicle.com. Retrieved 2019-11-13.
  13. ^ a b c Auwaerter, John Eric; Sears, John F. (2006). Historic Resource Study for Muir Woods National Monument: Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, National Park Service.
  14. ^ Valley, Mailing Address: Muir Woods National Monument 1 Muir Woods Rd Mill; Us, CA 94941 Phone:561-2850 Contact. "Stories - Muir Woods National Monument (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved 2019-11-13.
  15. ^ A Centennial History of the USITC (PDF). United States International Trade Commission. November 2017. p. 114.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by
John Raker
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by