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Horace Mann Towner

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Iowa's 8 district
In office
Preceded by William Darius Jamieson
Succeeded by Hiram Kinsman Evans

Born October 23, 1855(1855-10-23)
Belvidere, Illinois
Died November 23, 1937 (aged 82)
Corning, Iowa
Political party Republican

Horace Mann Towner (October 23, 1855–November 23, 1937) served over six terms as a Republican United States Representative from Iowa's 8th congressional district, and six years as the appointed Governor of Puerto Rico. In an era in which the federal government's role in health and education was small, he was an early leader of efforts to expand that role.



Towner was born in Belvidere, Illinois, the son of John and Keziah Towner. He was educated in the public schools at Belvidere, at the University of Chicago, and at the Union College of Law, while also teaching school. He was admitted to the bar in 1877, and initially practiced law in Prescott, Iowa, in Adams County. In 1880 he was elected county superintendent of schools at Corning, Iowa, in which capacity he served until 1884. He resumed the practice of law in Corning. In 1887 he married Harriet Elizabeth Cole, at Corning. They had three children, Leta, Horace, and Constance.

In 1890, he was elected as a judge of the third judicial district of Iowa. He also served as a lecturer on constitutional law at the University of Iowa from 1902 to 1911.

He was also a pianist and a composer, who set to music "Iowa, Beautiful Land," once Iowa's official song.[1]


In 1910 Towner ran successfully as a Republican to succeed retiring Democrat William Darius Jamieson representing Iowa's 8th congressional district in the U.S. House. He was re-elected five times. From 1919 to 1923, he was served as the House Republican Conference Chairman.

He was the co-author (with Texas Senator Morris Sheppard) of the first federal law to offer matching federal funds for social welfare or to offer grants-in-aid to states for health purposes. That law, known as the Sheppard-Towner Act or the Maternity and Infant Act, was designed to lower the United States' relatively high rates of infant mortality, and established maternal and child health services in each state. First offered in 1919, it passed in 1921. Although the program it created was chronically underfunded after passage and was allowed to expire in 1929, it paved the way for many similar state-federal social welfare programs in the New Deal era and thereafter.[2]

Towner was also the co-sponsor of the Towner-Sterling bill, which would have created a cabinet-level department of education.[3] It failed to pass during his tenure in the House, and over fifty years would pass before its objective would be fully realized.

Governor of Puerto Rico

During his congressional service, Towner was chairman for four years of the United States House Committee on Insular Affairs, a committee with oversight responsibility over protectorates and territories. In early 1923, President Warren G. Harding appointed Towner Governor of Puerto Rico, a post he held until September 29, 1929. His incumbency was characterized by the construction of a great number of public works projects, such as the system of aqueducts in various sectors, the irrigation system in Isabela, the School of Tropical Medicine building in Puerta de Tierra and the penitentiary.[4] He also implemented a retirement law for public employees and a new tax law.[4]

Towner resumed the practice of law in Corning, until his death on November 23, 1937. He was interred in Walnut Grove Cemetery.

He is the namesake of Horace Mann Towner Primary School in Comerío, Puerto Rico.


  1. ^ "H.M. Towner Died Tuesday," Adams County Free Press, 1937-11-25 at p. 1.
  2. ^ Edward Schlesinger, "The Sheppard-Towner Era: A Prototype Case Study in State-Federal Relationships,"57 Am J. Pub. Health 1034 (1967).
  3. ^ "A New Department,"Time Magazine, 1923-03-10.
  4. ^ a b "Chronology of U.S. Governor (1898-1946)," Puerto Rico Encyclopedia (accessed 2009-01-25).
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William Darius Jamieson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Iowa's 8th congressional district

Succeeded by
Hiram Kinsman Evans
Political offices
Preceded by
Juan Bernardo Huyke
Governor of Puerto Rico
Succeeded by
James R. Beverley


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