Joel Sutton Kendall, teacher and first president of North Texas Normal School (now the University of North Texas), the son of Reuben Kendall, was born in Wilkes County, Georgia, on November 4, 1849. He attended such country schools as could be found in Georgia in the Civil War era, then enrolled in high school at Jonesboro, Georgia, where he studied under Allen D. Candler, who subsequently served as state governor. Though Kendall attended a number of colleges, he never earned a degree. He entered the University of Georgia as a junior in 1870, but a dearth of funds caused him to withdraw before the end of the year. He then secured a teaching position at a private school in Brownsville, South Carolina, where he remained until the fall of 1872. That year he entered the University of Virginia, where he remained for two years. There, in addition to editing the campus magazine, he took classes in Latin, English, French, and German literature, languages, history, political economy, and a number of other subjects. Although he accumulated more credit hours than were required for the master of arts degree, his courses were not concentrated in any one field or area and were in no planned sequence, so he did not meet the requirements even for a bachelor's degree.
In 1874 Kendall moved to Honey Grove, Texas, and taught in a country school there for four months. The following year he helped organize Honey Grove High School, which he served as vice principal until 1881, when he organized a private school, the Walcott Institute; he served as principal of this institution for four years. From 1884 until 1891 he was president of the Pritchett Institute in Glasgow, Missouri. He returned to Honey Grove in 1891 and served as superintendent of schools for seven years, during which he directed a number of summer normal schools. He was elected president of the Texas State Teachers Association in 1895.
The statewide contacts made possible by his tenure as head of the TSTA figured in Kendall's election to the position of state superintendent of public instruction in 1898 and again in 1900. In this position he was also secretary ex officio of the State Board of Education, which, among other responsibilities, oversaw the operations of teachers' colleges.
In May 1901 Kendall resigned as superintendent of public instruction to become the first principal (the title "president" was not extended to the heads of Texas teachers' colleges until about 1910) of North Texas Normal College in Denton. He took charge of the new college, which previously had been a private institution, in July 1901. During his first year at the school Kendall apparently received an honorary M.A. degree from Pritchett Institute. He was principal until his death. During his tenure he pressed for increased state funding for the construction of new facilities and the repair of existing facilities on the ten-acre campus and for improved health and sanitation standards in Denton.
The school was new. Its physical plant was in poor condition. It sought to function in a state that had no compulsory school-attendance laws, little public secondary education, and a general educational framework that was decades behind those of some older states. These factors severely limited the improvements that Kendall could make as principal. He is credited, nonetheless, with establishing the school and with convincing the state legislature of the school's need for increased funds for building and improvement. Kendall married Ellen Woodson of Honey Grove on September 7, 1876. The couple had two children. Kendall died in Denton on October 7, 1906, and was buried in Honey Grove.