James R. Garfield

a black and white photo showing a young man

Quick Facts
Son of President James A. Garfield
Place of Birth:
Hiram, Portage County, Ohio
Date of Birth:
Oct. 17, 1865
Place of Death:
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio
Date of Death:
March 24, 1950
Place of Burial:
Mentor, Lake County, Ohio
Cemetery Name:
Mentor Municipal Cemetery

James Rudolph Garfield, second son of James and Lucretia Garfield, was born in Hiram, Ohio on October 17, 1865. The two oldest Garfield sons moved through most of their early lives together, even though they were two years apart in age and very different in looks and temperament. Hal was brown eyed and stocky and resembled his father in sociability. But he was a plodding student, deliberate in thought and action. Jim had his father’s fair complexion and promise of his height, but a lanky frame. He was moody, quick-tempered, and more resistant to correction than Hal, but a quicker learner.

Jim and Hal were with their father at the White House on the morning of July 2, 1881. Their mother and the younger children were in New Jersey, but the plan was to reunite with Mrs. Garfield and Mollie that day for a trip to Williams College, where the two young men would be enrolled for the fall semester. The youngest sons were going home to Mentor for the summer. Hal and Jim followed their father to the train station in a separate carriage. When they stepped out at the depot, they heard shots fired, and went in to find their father bleeding on the floor of the ladies waiting room. Their world was completely changed.

Jim had attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, Massachusetts with Hal, was tutored by Dr. Hawkes at the White House, and then the two went on to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. After graduating in June 1885, they attended Columbia University’s Law School. Jim worked in the law firm of Bangs and Stetson in New York, while Hal studied in England.

After being admitted to the Ohio bar in 1888, and establishing the Garfield and Garfield law firm, James married Helen Newell on December 30, 1890 in Chicago, Illinois. Helen was a friend of Hal’s wife, Belle, and the daughter of John Newell, president of the Lake Shore Railway. The couple built a home just west of Lucretia Garfield’s Lawnfield estate, calling it Hollycroft. There they raised four sons: John Newell, born February 3, 1892; James A. II, born April 18, 1894; Newell arrived August 1. 1895; and Rudolph Hills on September 13, 1899.

Of all the Garfield sons, James R. was the most involved in politics, at both the local and national levels. He served on the Mentor Village Council and the school board. In 1889, he organized a committee to consider creating a free public library for the village. He was named president of the group, and organized the fundraising and book collecting effort—even persuading his younger brother Abram to design the library building.

James R. Garfield became an active, reform-minded Republican and served two terms in the Ohio Senate from January 1896 to April 1898. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to the Federal Civil Service Commission, which had been established as a result of his father’s assassination. The next year, Roosevelt made Jim Commissioner of Corporations in the Department of Commerce and Labor.

In 1907, Jim was named Secretary of Interior and quickly became part of Roosevelt’s inner circle, the “tennis” cabinet. Thought by many to be the best interior secretary to that time, James R. modernized the department, spearheaded Roosevelt’s efforts to conserve public resources, and was active in American Indian affairs. President Roosevelt visited the James R. Garfield family at their home in Mentor during this time. Jim was later closely associated with the Progressive Party.

Jim returned to his Cleveland law practice in 1909 and was the senior partner in the firm of Garfield, Baldwin, Jameson, Hope and Ulrich. He played a prominent role in Cleveland civic and charitable organizations. He was one of the founders and a trustee of the Community Fund, vice-president of the Cleveland Welfare fund, and the first legal counsel for the Cleveland Foundation. He also served as a trustee for various groups including the Speech and Hearing Clinic, the Humane Society, Lake View Cemetery, Lake Erie College, Williams College, and the Western Reserve Historical Society. The five children of James and Lucretia Garfield donated their parents’ Mentor home and immediate surrounding property to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1936, and James R. delivered the dedication speech at the grand opening of Lawnfield later that year.

Helen Newell Garfield died in a car accident in August 1930, and Jim sold Hollycroft in the 1940s. The house was lost to fire in 1965. James R. spent his last years living with his younger brother, Abram. He died on March 24, 1950 and is buried near Helen at Mentor Cemetery.

James A Garfield National Historic Site

Last updated: September 17, 2020