JOSEPH KEMP TOOLE, the first and fourth governor of Montana, was born on a farm near Savannah, Missouri. After graduating with honors in 1868 from the Western Military Institute in New Castle, Kentucky, Toole studied law and joined his brother in a law partnership in Helena that continued until 1884. In 1872 and 1874 he was elected district attorney of the Third Judicial District. In 1880 he was elected to represent Lewis and Clark County in the Territorial Council (the equivalent of a state senate), where he was chosen president. Four years later, in addition to serving as a member of the Montana Constitutional Convention, Toole was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, winning reelection in 1886. As a delegate to Congress, he pressed for the admission of Montana to statehood, an efforts that was rewarded with approval of the Enabling Act, which provided for the division of the Dakotas into two states and for the people of the Dakotas, Montana, and Washington to form Constitutions and be admitted to the Union. Toole went on to serve as an active member of the 1889 convention that adopted the state’s Constitution, and was elected the state’s first governor—the only Democrat elected on the state ticket that year. In response to the new governor’s recommendations, the state assembly of 1891 established the position of state mineral commissioner, prescribed the duties of the State Board of Examiners, provided for the election of State and county officers and for canvassing of the election returns, and increased the number of district judges to facilitate the movement of cases through the courts. Not a candidate to succeed himself, Toole returned to the practice of law in 1893 and served as chairman of the Arid Land Commission. However, in 1900 he was elected governor once again, this time representing the Populist Fusion section of the Democratic Party. During his second term, Toole was unable to convince members of the legislature to support state constitutional amendments providing for women’s suffrage and direct primary elections. However, he succeeded in securing their support for, among other things, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution providing for the direct election of U.S. Senators, as well as legislation to: ensure mine safety and mineworker protection; authorize county treasurers to collect taxes on personal property, which had previously gone untaxed; establish a workable road law; and eliminate the monopoly that had existed in favor of certain contractors for the provision of public school textbooks. Despite a strong Republican showing in Montana in 1904, Toole won reelection overwhelmingly. Due to ill health, however, he resigned the governorship effective April 1908, after which he divided his time between his home in Helena and San Francisco. He died on March 11, 1929 and was buried in Resurrection Cemetery in Helena.
Downs, Winfield Scott. Encyclopedia of Northwest Biography. New York: The American Historical Company, Inc., 1941.
Obituary (March 12, 1929). Helena Independent Record.
News Article (November 9, 1995). Helena Independent Record.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 3, Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
Montana State Capitol Complex
Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
Thumbnail History of Montana Governors