Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

HAIRE, ROBERT (1845-1916)

Political and social activist Robert Emmett Haire was born on August 29, 1845, in Freedom, Michigan. He graduated from normal school in Ypsilanti, Michigan, served as a sailor on the Great Lakes, studied law at the University of Michigan, and then joined the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. Haire formally studied theology at the University of Louvain in Belgium and Saint Mary's of the West in Cincinnati, and remained an independent scholar of literature, economics, and linguistics throughout his life. He took the middle name William prior to his ordination in Detroit, Michigan, on March 1, 1874.

Haire relocated to Dakota Territory in 1879 after serving as a priest in Detroit and Flint, Michigan. He built a sod church and braved the extremes of the Great Plains climate to tend forty-two mission stations between southwestern Minnesota and present-day southeastern North Dakota. With his outgoing personality, he cultivated friendships with both Protestants and Catholics. Attracted by Haire's activism, the Presentation Sisters established Saint Luke's Hospital and a parochial school in Haire's newly created parish in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Haire also published the Dakota Catholic American newspaper to promote social reform in the Northern Plains. His advocacy brought support to the issues of prohibition, women's suffrage, workers' rights, and increased voter participation in the political process. His reformist agenda and presidency of the newly established Dakota Knights of Labor, however, prompted Bishop Martin Marty to suspend him from parish work in May of 1890.

Haire remained a practicing Catholic priest throughout his life, but in his later years he became increasingly involved in politics. He gave strong speeches at Populist Party conventions and specifically promoted the statewide initiative and popular referendum that South Dakota adopted in 1897. Haire's leadership skills led state Republicans to name him commissioner of charities and corrections and Populist governor Andrew E. Lee to nominate him to the state board of regents. By 1900 Haire also claimed founding membership in the Socialist Party, and he remained active in the local branch until his death on March 4, 1916. Catholics and Protestants from diverse backgrounds filled Sacred Heart Church to attend Haire's funeral, testimony to the influential life of this Great Plains activist.

See also POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT: Populists (People's Party).

Robert W. Galler Jr. Western Michigan University

Atwood, E. Francis. A Memoir of the Life of Father Robert W. Haire: Pioneer, Priest, and Scholar, Founder of Socialism in the Dakotahs. Sisseton SD: Socialist Party, 1916.

Sannes, Erling N. "Knowledge Is Power: The Knights of Labor in South Dakota." South Dakota History 22 (1992): 400–430.

Webb, Daryl. "'Just Principles Never Die': Brown County Populists, 1890–1900." South Dakota History 22 (1992): 366–99.

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