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


University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Wearin, Otha Donner
(January 10, 1903–April 3, 1990)

—farmer, state representative, U.S. representative, and author—was born on the same farm (called Nishna) near Hastings that had been homesteaded by his grandfather in 1854. His parents were Joseph and Mary Jane (Donner) Wearin. Nishna was his lifelong primary residence. He attended the Wearin District country school, graduated from Tabor College Academy in 1920, and received a B.A. from Grinnell College in 1924. He married Lola Irene Brazelton (also from Hastings) on January 2, 1931. They had two daughters, Martha and Rebecca. Even with a career in politics and voluminous writing, Wearin operated the family farm with his father until the latter's death in 1937 and then by himself nearly the rest of his life. In 1927 he traveled in Europe, studying farm production and doing research at the Institute of Agriculture at Rome. From his travel experience, he published A farmer Abroad (1928).

    Wearin came from a thoroughly Democratic Party family. He recalled, "My father and grandfather took their shotguns with them to vote the Democratic ticket in Mills County after the civil war."He attended his first Democratic State Convention in 1920 at the age of 17 and served as a delegate to the Democratic State Convention in 1924, 1926, 1928, and 1930. In 1928 he ran successfully for a seat in the Iowa House for Mills County, which normally voted Republican. At 26, he was the youngest member of the legislature. He was reelected in 1930.

    Wearin was an early and enthusiastic admirer of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as far back as 1920, when FDR was assistant secretary of the navy and the Democratic vice presidential candidate. Wearin corresponded with Roosevelt when the latter was governor of New York (1929-1933), and in 1932 campaigned for Iowa's Seventh District U.S. House seat (comprising 13 counties in southwest Iowa) as a staunch supporter of Roosevelt, whose landslide victory in November carried Wearin to victory by a margin of 57,803 votes to his opponent's 44,925. He was the fourth-youngest member of the 73rd U.S. Congress (1933-1935). When he arrived in Washington, the sergeant-at-arms at the door of the House at first refused him entrance, thinking he was just a spectator.

    Wearin served three terms in the U.S. House and was a member of the Ways and Means Committee. He was reelected in 1934 and 1936 but by smaller margins than in 1932. He supported nearly all of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation, and he became one of Roosevelt's favorite Iowa Democrats. In 1938 a backlash within the Democratic Party caused largely by Roosevelt's court plan and a temporary but severe rise in unemployment led many Democrats across the country to run in opposition to Roosevelt, including Senator Guy Gillette in Iowa. Wearin ran essentially as Roosevelt's candidate for the U.S. Senate against Gillette but was defeated by Gillette in the June primary by a margin of 81,605 to 43,044 votes, with three other candidates running far behind.

    Wearin never held partisan elective office again, but that was hardly the end of his political activity. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1936 and 1940; was a member of the Alien Enemy Hearing Board for the Southern District of Iowa (1941- 1944); served on the Democratic State Central Committee (1948-1952); and was a member of the Mills County Board of Education. Despite a severe vision loss in 1944 (which he partially regained by surgery in 1959), he sought statewide office twice. In 1950 he entered the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate but was defeated by Albert Loveland, who in turn lost to incumbent Republican Senator Bourke Hickenlooper. In 1952 he entered the Democratic primary for governor but was defeated by Herschel Loveless, who then lost to incumbent Republican Governor William Beardsley. Later he was a staff adviser to Governor Loveless (1959-1961) and served on the Iowa State Commission on Aging (1965-1969).

    Wearin was a prolific writer and author throughout his life. His books include works on American and European agriculture, history, architecture, biography, American Indian lore, hobbies, and an autobiography.

    Wearin died on April 3, 1990, and was buried in Malvern Cemetery near Tabor, Iowa.
Sources Wearin's autobiographical memoir, Country Roads to Washington (1976), provides a vast store of information on his early life and his years in the state legislature and the U.S. House, with somewhat less information on his activities after he left Congress. For a more intimate view of his personality, see Oral History Interview with Otha D. Wearin: Member of Congress from Iowa, 1933–1939 (1976). Wearin wrote a short article about Lola and himself for Mills County, Iowa (1985). Newspaper articles on Wearin's political activities include the Des Moines Register, 4/25/1938, and the Council Bluffs Nonpareil, 7/30/1948. Feature articles on Wearin and his family are in the Des Moines Register, 2/17/1946 and 10/25/1959. At least 18 books authored by Wearin can be found in libraries of the State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines and Iowa City. Titles include, but are not limited to, Statues That Pour: The Story of Character Bottles (1965), I Remember Yesteryear (1974), Along Our Country Road (1976), Grass Grown Trails (1977), Rhymes of a Plain Countryman (1980), and Uncle Henry (1980).
Contributor: David Holmgren