Edward Retilla Hays attended rural schools near Fostoria. He got education at Heidelberg College, Tiffin, Ohio. He studied law.
Edward Retilla Hays was admitted to the bar in 1869 and commenced practice in Knoxville, Iowa. He elected as a Republican to the Fifty-first Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Edwin H. Conger and served from November 4, 1890, to March 3, 1891. He was not a candidate for renomination in 1890 and resumed the practice of law.