Robert Floyd Kerr Collection
Robert Floyd Kerr was born 12 April 1850 in Sugar Grove, Indiana, to Andrew Jackson and Nancy Sayers Kerr. Kerr attended De Paul University from 1872 to 1877, during which time he met and became good friends with Samuel H. Elrod. After graduating from De Paul, Kerr held a position as county superintendent of schools for one school year. In 1879 and 1880, he spent eighteen months teaching math and English in Hirosaki, Japan. After returning to the United States, Kerr spent 1881 through 1882 working as a civil engineer with a railroad survey crew in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. From 1882 to 1885, he was assistant principal with the public schools in Blair, Nebraska.
Kerr came to Brookings, Dakota Territory, in 1885 as principal of the preparatory department of the Agricultural College (now South Dakota State University). He also held a chair in political science and history. In 1891, he left the college and pursued several interests, including traveling in Europe, working for a publishing house, and serving as superintendent of schools for Brookings County. Returning to the college in 1899, Kerr served as principal of the preparatory department and as librarian until 1905.
Always a staunch Republican and active in politics, Kerr was appointed private secretary to Governor Samuel H. Elrod, serving his old friend in this capacity from 1905 to 1907. Kerr apparently had considerable political influence and was highly respected, but his association with Governor Elrod put him in the stalwart camp, which was swept from power by the Crawford insurgents in the 1906 election. After this two year leave of absence from the college, Kerr did not return to school work. Instead, he and twenty other business and professional men in Brookings formed a company and took over a local farm paper. By the spring of 1908, they were publishing a monthly paper with Kerr as editor. By October of the same year, the Minnesota and Dakota Farmer was coming out twice a month and subscriptions had doubled. As editor, Kerr attempted to make the paper current, seasonally topical, and practical. In November of 1910, the paper was sold to the Orange Judd Company and the name changed to Northwest Farmstead.
In November the 1910 election, Kerr was elected as a representative to the state legislature, where his major efforts were spent in the area of farm legislation. In 1912, he was reelected as an independent. During this period of insurgent Republicanism, he may have found it more expedient to run as an independent than as a stalwart Republican.
Throughout his life, Kerr was involved in numerous projects and business ventures: he was president of the State Historical Society, Brookings manager of the Chautauqua, author of Block Map and Manual of South Dakota, a real estate agent, and a founder of secretary of the Brookings Building and Loan Association. In addition, he had interests in gold mines and various other companies. He was also active in the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Masonic Lodge. Robert F. Kerr died on October 16, 1921 in Brookings.