Thomas Sterling

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Thomas Sterling
STERLING, THOMAS. SENATOR LCCN2016858418 (cropped).jpg
United States Senator
from South Dakota
In office
March 4, 1913 – March 3, 1925
Preceded byRobert J. Gamble
Succeeded byWilliam H. McMaster
Dean of University of South Dakota
College of Law
In office
July 1, 1901 – June 10, 1911
Preceded byposition established
Succeeded byMarshall McKusick
Personal details
Born(1851-02-21)February 21, 1851
Amanda, Ohio
DiedAugust 26, 1930(1930-08-26) (aged 79)
Washington, D.C.
Political partyRepublican
RelativesJohn A. Sterling (brother)

Thomas Sterling (February 21, 1851 – August 26, 1930) was an American lawyer, U.S. Senator, and the first dean of the University of South Dakota College of Law.

A Republican, he served in the United States Senate from 1913 to 1925. He later served as dean and law professor at George Washington University Law School. The University of South Dakota School of Law awards "Sterling Honors" to their graduating top 10% in honor of their first dean.

Early life[edit]

Sterling, was born near Amanda, Ohio. He moved with his parents, Charles Sterling (1821-1905) and Anna Kessler (1827-1908) to McLean County, Illinois in 1854, where he attended the public schools and graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University at Bloomington in 1875. He was superintendent of schools of Bement, Illinois from 1875 to 1877.[1] His brother John A. Sterling, became a U.S. Representative from Illinois.

Legal career[edit]

Sterling studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1878, commencing his practice in Springfield, Illinois. He became the city prosecuting attorney in 1880 until 1881. In 1882 he moved to the Territory of Dakota and located in Northville, in then Dakota Territory. He moved to Redfield in 1886 and continued the practice of law, serving as district attorney of Spink County, South Dakota from 1886 to 1888. In 1889 he became a member of the State constitutional convention, and a year later in 1890 a member of the State senate. From 1901 to 1911 he was the first dean of the University of South Dakota College of Law at Vermillion.

Political career[edit]

He was elected in 1912 as a Republican to the United States Senate, was reelected in 1918, and served from March 4, 1913, to March 3, 1925. During this time, he served on the Overman Committee investigating seditious German and Bolshevik activities. He was an unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1924. During the Sixty-sixth Congress he was the chairman of the Committee on Civil Service and Retrenchment. In the Sixty-seventh Congress he served on the Committee on Civil Service, and on the Committee on Post Office and Post Roads during the Sixty-eighth Congress. While he served in Congress he served with William Williamson and Royal C. Johnson, two of his first graduates from the College of Law.

Later life and death[edit]

He practiced law in Washington, D.C., and served on the faculty of National University Law School, now George Washington University School of Law. He was appointed by President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 as field secretary of the Commission for the Celebration of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of George Washington.

Sterling died in Washington, D.C. on August 26, 1930.[2] He was interred in Cedar Hill Cemetery.


In honor of their first dean, the University of South Dakota School of Law awards "Sterling Honors" to students who finish in the top 10% of their class.


  1. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. XV. James T. White & Company. 1916. p. 287. Retrieved December 24, 2020 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ "Sterling Dies In Washington". Argus Leader. Redfield. AP. August 26, 1930. p. 1. Retrieved December 24, 2020 – via

External links[edit]

Party political offices
First Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from South Dakota
(Class 2)

Succeeded by
William H. McMaster
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Robert J. Gamble
U.S. senator (Class 2) from South Dakota
Served alongside: Coe I. Crawford, Edwin S. Johnson, Peter Norbeck
Succeeded by
William H. McMaster