Tomlinson was from Philadelphia.
In October 1865 he toured Saxton School with Oliver Otis Howard and other Freedmen Bureau officials as well as dignitaries. He served as Superintendent of Education until October 1868. He was succeeded by Horace Neide and then Edward L. Deane.
He served in the Georgia House of Representatives in 1870. He was a candidate in the 1872 South Carolina gubernatorial election, running as an Independent Democrat. He also served as state auditor.
Tomlinson is also credited as a contributor in the introduction and table of contents of Slave Songs of the United States, published in 1867 and known as the first book-length collection of African-American spirituals.
The state of South Carolina has a collection of his correspondence from 1865 until 1867 when he was Superintendent of Education.
- Webster, Laura Josephine (June 4, 1916). "The Operation of the Freedmen's Bureau in South Carolina". Department of history of Smith college – via Google Books.
- "Reuben Tomlinson appointment as Sup. of Schools Oct 1865, South Carolina Leader, Charleston, South Carolina, October 7, 1865, page 2". Newspapers.com.
- "History of the Freedmen's Bureau in South Carolina". Lowcountry Africana.
- Jenkins, Wilbert L. (May 15, 2003). Seizing the New Day: African Americans in Post-Civil War Charleston. Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253028297 – via pages 84, 191, 200.
- "Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of South-Carolina". The State. June 4, 1870 – via Google Books.
- Capace, Nancy (January 1, 2000). Encyclopedia of South Carolina. Somerset Publishers, Inc. ISBN 9780403093472 – via Google Books.
- Ginsberg, Benjamin (April 12, 2010). Moses of South Carolina: A Jewish Scalawag during Radical Reconstruction. JHU Press. ISBN 9780801899164 – via Google Books.
- Allen, William Francis et al. Slave Songs of the United States. New York: A. Simpson & Co., 1867, pp. xxxvii, xxxix.
- Correspondence of Superintendent Reuben H. Tomlinson Dates: 1865-1867, South Carolina. State Department of Education. Superintendent. Series, Correspondence of Superintendent Reuben H. Tomlinson, 1865-1867 Container: 000001