Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sept. 20, 2009.
In the U.S. Capitol, each state's present-day concerns are represented by two senators and a number of representatives determined by the state's population. Each state's past, however, is represented by two statues -- one located in the National Statuary Hall and the second placed in some other prominent location in the Capitol building.
Given that it's been nearly a century since Iowa chose its two statues, it's long past time to re-evaluate which two Iowans best represent the history of the Hawkeye state.
The question took on more political relevance after last week's death of Iowa-born Norman Borlaug. Iowa Rep. Tom Latham recently sent a letter to Gov. Chet Culver and Iowa's Republican and Democratic legislative leaders requesting that state approve a statute to be constructed in honor of the world-renown scientist and placed in the hall. One big problem -- besides raising the money for such an endeavor during these difficult financial times -- is that, to make room for a Borlaug statue, Iowa would have to get rid of one of its current statues.
• The statute for Samuel Kirkwood was unveiled in 1913 and now stands in the Statuary Hall. Kirkwood was governor twice, serving first during the Civil War and then during Reconstruction. Kirkwood, a Republican, also served as a U.S. senator for two partial terms.
• The statue for James Harlan was unveiled in 1910 and now stands in the Hall of Columns. Harlan was a U.S. senator before and during the Civil War and served as secretary of the interior.
Latham didn't suggest which of the two statues should be removed, so the Press-Citizen asked some scholars of state history which two Iowans they would like to see enshrined in Statuary Hall.
Loren Horton, co-editor of "The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa," said that, of the many names in his book, Kirkwood definitely would be among the two he would choose to represent the state's history.
"Harlan was exceedingly important at the time his statue was chosen," said Horton, "but his overarching importance waned in the last quarter of the 20th century."
But Horton added that his second Iowan wouldn't be Norman Borlaug; it would be Henry A. Wallace --Franklin Delano Roosevelt's secretary of agriculture and vice president.
"I met Norman Borlaug," Horton said, "and I admire him greatly. He had a world-wide influence, but not really an Iowan or national influence. He was internationally known, but for work in other places. Whereas Wallace's influence was clearly felt in the state and country."
Timothy Walch, director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, took the question in a different direction.
"We Iowans need to do a better job educating ourselves and our children about the values we cherish as reflected in the lives of those who have lived and worked here before us," Walch said. "Iowa has lots of heroes worthy of statues, but few of these individuals get the recognition they deserve."
Walch, of course, would like to see Herbert Hoover recognized in Statuary Hall, but he also notes that this is an opportunity to expand the list of usual suspects offered to represent Iowa.
"How about George Washington Carver? Carrie Chapman Catt? Nile Kinnick? Jesse Shambaugh?" Walch asked.
If the Legislature is going to discuss giving this honor to someone other than Kirkwood and Harlan, it needs to expand the list of Iowans under consideration.