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Chapter One

". . . why don’t you give him part of my name as a good Democrat?" - William Jennings Bryan

Jennings Randolph was born on March 8, 1902, in Salem, West Virginia, to Ernest and Idell (Bingman) Randolph. The family lived on Main Street, and Jennings’s paternal grandparents lived nearby.1 His father and grandfather, Jesse, were active political figures. Jesse Randolph was a state legislator, the first mayor of Salem, and the founder of Salem College. Ernest Randolph was Salem’s second mayor and an active Democratic politician in Salem. Ernest also was a close friend of famed orator and politician, William Jennings Bryan, Jennings Randolph’s namesake. By naming Jennings for Bryan, his parents knew that he was destined to one day become a revered politician.2

In his early years, Jennings learned how to do many farming tasks, such as milking cows, mowing and pitching hay, and planting vegetables. He also learned at an early age how to ride a horse. Young Jennings developed a strong work ethic, carrying water for the brick layers who laid Salem’s first paved road and working as a paperboy for the Grit newspaper and as a shoe shiner at Bee’s Barber Shop. He also worked in a local grocery store, at a mill owned by one of his relatives, and at a garage on Main Street.3 His work as a youth, however, did not prevent him from gaining an extensive education.
Randolph family

Randolph family. L-R: Jesse Randolph, Ernestine Randolph, Ernest Randolph, Jennings Randolph, and Idell Bingman Randolph

Randolph in basketball uniform

Jennings Randolph in basketball uniform, Salem College Green and White, 1923

Randolph attended public schools as well as the academy at Salem College, graduating in 1920. In 1924, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Salem College.4 While at Salem, Randolph served as president of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Press Association, editor of Salem College’s student newspaper, and editor of The Message, a paper published on occasion in Salem to promote the community and to inform its citizens of upcoming events.5 After graduating from college, he continued his professional career in journalism, working first for the Clarksburg Daily Telegram, then for the West Virginia Review in Charleston.6 He also was co-owner and associate editor of the Randolph Enterprise-Review.7

Jennings Randolph, c.1920s

Randolph at Salem Academy

Salem Academy students, including Jennings Randolph, ca. 1918

Randolph at Salem

Jennings Randolph (front row) at Salem College, 1922. Rush Holt also is in the group (third row, far left).

In 1926, Randolph was invited by a member of the athletic committee of Davis and Elkins College to interview for the position of athletic director and full-time staff member. He became both the athletic director and head of the college’s publicity department.8 Davis and Elkins’s athletic department received national attention after the football team beat Navy in 1928.9
Davis and Elkins basketball team

Jennings Randolph with Cam Henderson and 1927 Davis and Elkins championship basketball team

In 1930, Jennings Randolph made his first run for the U.S. Congress, challenging incumbent Republican Frank Bowman for his seat in the Second District. Despite Randolph’s young age and lack of political experience, he secured the Democratic nomination but lost the general election by only 1,111 votes. In 1932, Randolph ran again for the House of Representatives, this time successfully, beginning his long and active political career.10


1. Jennings Randolph Profile in “Childhood & Youth” Folder, Ms2008-087, Dr. Robert Florian Collection, West Virginia State Archives, Charleston, WV 25305-0300 (hereafter Florian Collection, WVSA).
2. Senator Robert C. Byrd and James E. Casto, “Remembering Senator Jennings Randolph,” Appalachia Magazine, May-August 1998 Issue, (accessed May 17, 2018).
3. Ibid.
4. Robert B. Florian, "Mr. Randolph: The Gentleman From West Virginia" (Unpublished biography of Jennings Randolph), p. 20, Florian Collection, WVSA.
5. Ibid., p. 23.
6. Ibid.; "Randolph, Jennings (1902-1998)," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, (accessed May 17, 2018).
7. Biographical Sketch of Jennings Randolph (1:23), Ms2017-016, Jennings Randolph Collection, WVSA.
8. Florian, "Mr. Randolph: The Gentleman From West Virginia," p. 36, Florian Collection, WVSA.
9. Michael Barone, "Jennings Randolph," E-WV, December 8, 2015, (accessed May 17, 2018).
10. Ibid.

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Jennings Randolph

West Virginia Archives and History