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Wilson, George Allison
(April 1, 1884–September 8, 1953)

–lawyer, county attorney, district judge, state senator, 28th governor of Iowa, and U.S. senator—was born on a farm near Menlo, Adair County, Iowa, to James Henderson Wilson and Martha Green (Varley) Wilson. He attended nearby rural schools, Grinnell College (1900-1903), and the State University of Iowa Law School (1907). In 1907 he was admitted to the bar and also started his law practice in Des Moines.

    In 1898, at the age of 14, Wilson had first been exposed to politics as a page in the Iowa Senate. As an adult, he joined the Republican Party, where he served in many different posts, including assistant secretary of the Iowa Senate (1906-1909) and secretary (1911). He became assistant Polk County Attorney and in 1914 was elected Polk County Attorney. In 1917 he was appointed a district court judge, resigning in 1921 to return to private law practice in his own firm, Wilson & Shaw. In 1925 he returned to politics, winning a seat in the Iowa Senate. He served there from 1926 to 1935. In 1938 he ran for governor and won, taking office in 1939 and serving until 1943.

    As governor, one of Wilson's first decisions was to eliminate the three-member State Board of Control, due to the board's neglect of the state's prison system–then a total of 15 institutions. His term in office saw the creation of the Tax Commission, the Department of Public Safety, and the Industrial and Defense Commission. In addition, the Board of Social Welfare was reorganized, and he helped to pass the teacher-tenure bill.

    His last political office was that of U.S. senator (1943-1949). He defeated the incumbent, Senator Clyde L. Herring, who had been endorsed by Vice President Henry A. Wallace. He remained as Iowa's governor for a brief interim (from January 3, 1943, when his colleagues in the Senate were sworn in, until he took his own oath as a U.S. senator on January 14, 1943). As a senator, he served on the Small Business, Armed Forces, and Agriculture committees. His reelection bid was thwarted by his opponent, Guy M. Gillette, who defeated him in the fall of 1948 with the endorsement and support of former vice president Henry A. Wallace.

    Wilson returned to Des Moines and resumed his law career, this time with his son George in the firm of Wilson and Wilson. Years later a granddaughter of Wilson would marry a grandson of Wallace.

    Wilson was married to Mildred E. Zehner, and the couple had four children. He died at the age of 69 and was buried in Des Moines' Glendale Cemetery.
Sources include the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005 (2005); and The Encyclopedia of Iowa ( 1995).
Contributor: Dale A. Vande Haar