U.S. Rep. Ambrose Kennedy, 1875-1967, Congressman Ambrose Kennedy was a rarity in early twentieth century Rhode Island politics–a devout Irish Catholic Republican politician of high standing. Kennedy was not only a five-term Republican congressman, he was a lawyer, an educator, an accomplished orator, speaker of the Rhode Island House, and a biographer.
Ambrose Kennedy, a true son of the Blackstone Valley–was born on December 1, 1875 in Blackstone, Massachusetts to Patrick and Mary (McCormick) Kennedy. He attended public schools in Blackstone, received his secondary education at St. Hyacinthe College in Quebec, Canada, where he mastered the French language. He then earned a bachelor’s degree in 1897 from Holy Cross College in Worcester. In 1900, while principal of Blackstone High School, where he taught Latin, Greek, French, and English, he received his master’s degree from Holy Cross. Then Ambrose left his school post to enroll at Boston University Law School and graduated with the Class of 1906. After his admission to the Rhode Island bar in 1906, he practiced for a short time in both Providence and Woonsocket, but after 1908 he concentrated his efforts in Woonsocket.
His first venture into politics came in 1911 when he was elected to the General Assembly as a Republican representative from Woonsocket. Incredibly, his combination of brilliance and ethno-religious background won him the post of House Speaker in 1912. Within a year Kennedy had vacated that powerful office to run for Congress in the newly-created Third Congressional District. He won handily and served for a decade (1913-23) before retiring and resuming the practice of law. During World War I he served on the important House Foreign Relations Committee and gained the respect of his colleagues for his oratorical ability–a skill he had exhibited both in college and law school. He was an advocate of the then current issue of Irish independence.
Kennedy retired as a congressman on March 3, 1923 after declining to run for a sixth term. He had his sights on the governorship but failed three times to gain the GOP nomination.
After his congressional tenure, Kennedy spoke to various audiences on public issues, and as a delegate to the 1932 Republican National Convention he delivered a rousing speech urging repeal of the Prohibition Amendment. He also engaged in the craft of biography writing books on the lives of famed Irish-American Congressman W. Bourke Cockran of New York, a fellow orator, and Monsignor Charles Dauray, Rhode Island’s preeminent Franco-American cleric. This volume, entitled Quebec to New England was an intensive study of the Franco-American religious experience in Rhode Island between 1872 and 1931.
Kennedy married Anastacia G. Leahy and the couple had four sons, all of whom moved beyond the borders of Rhode Island. He died in Woonsocket on March 10, 1967 at the age of ninety-one.
(Dr.) Patrick T. Conley