Skip to main content

James A. “Tama” Wilson papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RS 9/1/11

Scope and Content

The collection (1887-1986) contains biographical material, letter press books of private correspondence, addresses, articles, transcripts and tapes of interviews with people who knew Tama Jim, scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, and genealogical material. Correspondence includes letters of recommendation, letters regarding appointments, and letters containing Wilson's opinions regarding professional matters. The letters span Tama Jim's sixteen years as secretary of agriculture. Private correspondents include Henry Wallace, Henry A. Wallace, Henry C. Wallace, Seaman A. Knapp, Raymond Pearson, L.H. Pammel, Marcus Hanna, Charles E. Friley, G.H. Hicks, Andrew Carnegie, William Beardshear, George Washington Carver, Charles Curtiss, W.D. Hoard, General James Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, William Loeb, and Ralph Moore.

In addition, this collection includes reports, speeches, articles, and newspaper clippings in the scrapbooks. These track Wilson's promotion of agricultural education and scientific agriculture. They also document his main concern while secretary of agriculture which was to make America self-sufficient agriculturally. To this end he promoted silk production as well as the growth in America, of sugar beets, tobacco, tea, and rice. The newspaper clippings also trace public opinion regarding the secretary of agriculture and the various political battles he fought during his tenure. This collection also includes information on the Wilson family. It contains various reminiscences about Tama Jim, information on his descendants, miscellaneous material surrounding the construction and opening of Wilson Tower at Iowa State University, and genealogical materials.


  • 1887-1986

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

Open for research.

Use/Re-use Restrictions

Consult Special Collections and University Archives


James Wilson (1835-1920) was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, the first of 14 children. The family emigrated to the U.S. in 1851, settling in Connecticut, but moved to a farm near Traer in Tama County, Iowa in 1855. During his early years in Iowa, James attended Grinnell College, began farming, married Esther Wilbur in 1863, and edited the Traer Star-Clipper. He was elected to the Iowa legislature, then to three terms in the U. S. House of Representatives. In Congress he served on the Committee on Agriculture and the Rules Committee, and acquired the nickname "Tama Jim" to distinguish him from Senator James Falconer Wilson ("Jefferson Jim") also from Iowa.

After his congressional career, Tama Jim returned to farming, and wrote for the Iowa Homestead and other farm journals. In 1891 he was appointed Professor of Agriculture and Director of the Experiment Station at Iowa State College where he placed agricultural instruction on a scientific and practical basis. During his six years at ISC he established a very close relationship with George Washington Carver, often discussing the possibility of applying the principles of plant genetics to improving livestock.

From 1897 to 1913 he served as Secretary of Agriculture under three presidents (McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft). During his supervision the department extended its activities, established experiment stations in all parts of the U.S., inaugurated farm demonstration work in the South, began cooperative extension work in agriculture and home economics, and sent experts and scientists all over the world to gather information for the promotion of agriculture. Also under his tenure, legislation dealing with plant and animal diseases, insect pests, forestry, irrigation, conservation, road building, and agricultural education was enacted.

After retirement from the cabinet he returned home to Tama County and was appointed by the governor to investigate and report on agricultural conditions in Great Britain together with his longtime friend "Uncle" Henry Wallace.


5.8 Linear Feet (9 document boxes)


This collection is arranged into the following series:

Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1887-1991, undated

Series 2: Letters and Correspondence, 1894-1992

Series 3: Speeches and Articles, 1890s-1913, undated

Series 4: Reports of the Secretary of Agriculture, 1895-1913

Series 5: Interviews by Brent Ponsford, 1975-1976

Series 6: Wilson Family Materials, 1915-1976, undated

Series 7: Flora Wilson Materials, 1892-1996

Series 8: Scrapbooks, 1897-1913

Processing Information

Released on 2018-11-01.

RS 9/1/11. James A. “Tama” Wilson papers, 1887-1986
January 22, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives Repository

403 Parks Library
701 Morrill Road
Iowa State University
Ames Iowa 50011-2102 United States
(515) 294-6672