The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber

THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Rawson, Charles Augustus
(May 29, 1867–September 2, 1936)

–manufacturer, Republican Party organization leader, and U.S. senator—was born in Des Moines, one of four sons of Augustus Young Rawson and Mary L. (Scott) Rawson. His father was a cofounder of Iowa Pipe and Tile Company of Des Moines and served as secretary and manager and later as president. Rawson was educated in public schools in Des Moines and then attended Grinnell College, though he did not graduate. While a student at Grinnell, his roommate was William S. Kenyon of Fort Dodge, who would later serve 11 years as U.S. senator from Iowa. Rawson married Carrie Lillian Hubbard of Polk City on February 1, 1900. They had no children. His brother Harry Rawson eventually became the son-in-law of Iowa Governor and U.S. Senator Albert Cummins.

    After leaving Grinnell, Rawson returned to Des Moines and went to work in his father's business, which manufactured sewer pipe, drain tile, and clay ware. The company's products were marketed across the Midwest. Rawson started as bookkeeper and then was promoted to superintendent, manager, and, from 1895 until his death, president. He later served as president of Eldora (Iowa) Tile & Pipe Company, vice president of the Des Moines Brick & Tile Company, and a director of Iowa-Des Moines National Bank, Coliseum Company, Central Loan & Investment Company, Employers' Mutual Casualty Association of Iowa, Inter State Business Men's Accident Insurance Company, and the Protective Accident Association.

    Rawson was interested in collegiate athletics and worked actively on behalf of athletics at Grinnell College and was also a trustee of the college. He was one of the founders of the Drake Relays and the national intercollegiate games in Chicago.

    Until 1911 Rawson's life centered around his business and civic activities. In that year, Rawson became involved in Republican politics in Iowa and remained active most of the rest of his life. In the fall of 1910 U.S. Senator Jonathan Dolliver died suddenly and was replaced through an interim appointment by Des Moines newspaper publisher Lafayette Young. In the spring of 1911 the legislature needed to choose a permanent replacement for the rest of Dolliver's term, and Rawson's old college friend, William S. Kenyon, then an assistant U.S. attorney general, sought the office. After a deadlock in the legislature lasting several weeks, Rawson's work on the floor of the legislature and in private meetings helped break the deadlock and elect Kenyon to the Senate.

    In 1912, when Kenyon sought a full term in the U.S. Senate, he turned again to Rawson to manage his campaign for the Republican nomination. Shortly after Kenyon's victory in the primary, they both attended the Republican National Convention, where they led a drive to nominate Senator Cummins as a compromise candidate for the presidency. When the party split at the convention between William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican State Central Committee in Iowa, facing a severe challenge in keeping the party organization together, elected Rawson chairman. In that capacity, Rawson helped lead Iowa Republicans through that stormy campaign and get Senator Kenyon reelected.

    Rawson chaired the state Republican Party until 1922, when he resigned to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate. His friend, Senator Kenyon, had resigned to accept a federal judgeship appointment from President Harding, and Governor Nathan Kendall appointed Rawson as interim replacement in February 1922. Rawson resigned as state chairman and also announced that he would not be a candidate to be Kenyon's permanent replacement. In June Republican voters selected Smith Wildman Brookhart in the primary, and he was overwhelmingly elected in November. Rawson's term expired on March 3, 1923, and he returned to Des Moines.

    The preceding 12 years had often been very stormy for the Republican Party both in Iowa and in national politics. Rawson's best talents were in his ability to work with both conservative and progressive factions within the party. He was a party man rather than an ideologist and worked consistently to elect all Republicans to public offices. He exhibited a jovial, extroverted personality and by common consent was considered a reconciler and peacemaker within the party during often tumultuous times. In 1924, when Iowa's national committeeman John T. Adams of Dubuque retired, Rawson was chosen to replace him, and he remained in that position until 1932.

    Rawson died in Des Moines at age 69.
Sources The Charles Rawson Papers are at the State Historical Society, Des Moines. The bulk of the papers are related to his 1922– 1923 interim appointment to the U.S. Senate, but there are also many personal letters and business correspondence. An article on Raw-son is in the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, vol. 27 (1939). There are numerous references to Rawson in George William McDaniel, Smith Wildman Brookhart: Iowa's Renegade Republican (1995), especially in relation to the Senate race of 1922. There are arti cles on Rawson in the Des Moines Register, 6/8/1912, 6/9/1912, 7/11/1912, 2/18/1922, 2/19/1922, and 2/23/1922; a front-page article on his death in the Des Moines Tribune, 9/2/1936; and an obituary notice in the Des Moines Register, 9/3/1936.
Contributor: David Holmgren

Cite as: Holmgren, David. "Rawson, Charles Augustus" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 17 December 2017