University Museums

Title: James "Tama Jim" Wilson, Dean of the College of Agriculture, 1897-1902
Name: Portrait
Date: 1944
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 31 x 26 in. (78.7 x 66 cm)
Signed: Signed in black paint, "Allworthy".
Classification: Paintings
Credit Line: Commissioned by Iowa State College. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Location: Iowa State University, Curtiss Hall
Object Number: U90.59
More Information
James Wilson was born in Scotland, the oldest of 14 children. His father John was a farmer who taught his son how to grow crops and raise livestock. When he was 16, the family moved to Connecticut and then west to Iowa, settling in 1855 on the rich soil of Tama County. In 1867, Wilson’s farm work ethic impressed his neighbors and they elected him to the Iowa Legislature, where he served three terms, followed by another three terms in Congress. He returned to Iowa and along with “Uncle Henry” Wallace, formed a coalition of rural Iowans who pushed for restructuring Iowa’s agricultural college to offer more farmers’ institutes and more agricultural courses at the college. The reorganization happened, and Wilson was hired to head the agricultural program. After six years at Iowa State, Wilson was appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture by President McKinley. He also served under Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft, holding the post from 1897 to 1913, thus serving longer than anyone else in the position.

Fast fact: Wilson earned his nickname “Tama Jim” while serving in Congress. At the time, there was another James Wilson from Iowa serving in the Senate. To avoid confusion, the Iowan in the lower House of Representatives became known as “Tama Jim.”