J. Wirt Kail (1860-1931)
John Jay Wirt Kail
Sex: Male
Birth: 1861
Father: Gabriel Sells Kail (1814-1888)
Mother: Mary Elizabeth Harper (c1828-1890)
Siblings: Maria Bell Kail (1844-1917)
Virginia Elizabeth Kail (1847-1917)
Albert Kail (1856-?)
Emma Kail (c1857-?)
Spouse/Partner: Katherine Randall (1861-?)
Marriage: January, 1890
Washington, DC
Children: Katherine W. Kail (1894-?)
Harriet R. Kail (1895-?)
Flora K. Kail (1901-?)
2nd Spouse: Margaret Graham (1885-1975)

Jay Wirt Kail was an American actor, poet, printer and journalist. He was also the son of accomplished poet Mary E. (Harper) Kail.

Birth and Ancestry[]

Jay Wirt Kail was born 1861 in Perry Township, Carroll County, Ohio to parents Gabriel Sells Kail and Mary Elizabeth (Harper) Kail. He was the youngest of five children. The father was a farmer, native to Ohio, and Jay's mother came with her sister Virginia Harper from Washington DC to Perry Township at an early age, when the two girls were orphaned, to reside with their nearest relative James Harper. Jay's paternal grandparents were George Kail and Mary Capper of Virginia. His maternal grandparents are believed to have been Irish immigrant Andrew Harper and Mary McDermott-Roe of Philadelphia. Andrew was likely the brother of Hugh Harper who also immigrated from County Donegal, Ireland to Washington, DC, in the early 1820s.

By 1870, the Kail family moved to nearby Leesville, Ohio, where they remained until the early 1880s.

Acting Career[]

Prior to arriving in Washington in May, 1884, Jay Wirt Kail is reported to have toured the west as an actor, "achieving great success." There is little information available on his specific performances during this time, although there were a few reviews published, such as one from a magazine in Boston dated April 1884 which stated "J. Wirt Kail is getting many pleasant words for the dramatic ability he is displaying through the west. He will probably soon become connected with one of the Eastern stock companies, where his chances will be better."

In July, 1884, Jay Wirt Kail played the role of the Duke in "The Merchant of Venice" at the National Theatre in Washington, DC. He was listed third on the bill. Kail also appeared as the character Tubal in the performance, and it was reported that "his impersonation of the Jew was a pronounced success, his powerful acting even inspiring Shylock, and at the close of their great scene, he and Mr. Bangs received a storm of applause, which did not terminate till both gentlemen appeared before the curtain."

Around Christmas of 1884, Kail was an actor for the Rose Eytinge Company. (Rose Eytinge was a well known actress at that time, having played Cleopatra at the Broadway Theater."

Jay Wirt Kail was a member of the cast of the American premier of Sardou's "Theodora." He was fourth on the bill, playing the part of Marcellus. The show opened September 13, 1886, at Niblo's Garden in New York.


In September, 1884, Jay Wirt Kail did a recitation of his poem "The Vagabond" at the largely attended Parlors of Josephine Logan in Washington, DC, a series of events featuring numerous musical acts.

Another of Kail's poems was featured in his mother's book "Crown Our Heroes and Other Poems," which sold 250,000 copies.

Late 1880s[]

During the late 1880s, Jay resided near 14th and P Streets in Northwest Washington, DC, with his widowed mother, poet Mary E. (Harper) Kail. They lived together until her death in 1890.

Marriage to Katherine Randall[]

In January of 1890, just two weeks prior to the death of his mother, Jay married Katherine Randall in Washington. Together, they had three children, namely Katherine, Harriet and Flora.

Early 1900s[]

In both the 1900 and 1910 censuses, Jay resided with his wife and children at 917 Florida Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, where the Floridian condominiums now stand. During this time, he worked as a typesetter and a journalist.

Move to North Carolina[]

By 1920, Jay had moved to Burlington Township, Alamance County, North Carolina, presumably after the death of his wife Katherine. In Burlington, he remarried to Mrs. Margaret (Graham) Laws, and resided with her and her children from her previous marriage. While in North Carolina, he started out working as an editor and printer for a newspaper, and by 1930 he was a printing manager. Perhaps he was following the footsteps of his mother, who had once been the editor of the Connotton Valley Times in Ohio.