James Harlan statue unveiled Thursday
MT. PLEASANT — James Harlan is home.
Actually, James Harlan has been home for close to 150 years but now he looks over the east end of the Iowa Wesleyan College campus, a perfect bookend to Belle Babb Mansfield, his neighbor on the western front of the campus green.
Harlan came back to Mt. Pleasant in the form of an 8-foot 3-inch, 2,500-lb. statue that until recently was on display at the U.S. Capitol.
However, Harlan had to move to make room for Norman Borlaug, his replacement in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Each state is allowed two statues of prominent state residents in the hall and Harlan accompanied Iowa Gov. Samuel Kirkwood as the Iowa representatives from 1910 until 2013.
When the 2011 Iowa Legislature approved the statue of Harlan with Borlaug, Iowa’s governing body approved permanently loaning the statue to Iowa Wesleyan College, a college Harlan served as president of twice and also served as a member of the college’s board of trustees until his death in 1899.
Harlan also was elected to the U.S. Senate four times, serving 16 years (1855-1865 and 1867-1873). He also served in President Andrew Johnson’s cabinet as Secretary of the Interior for a year, resigning due to differing opinions with Johnson.
Harlan was good friend and ally of President Abraham Lincoln, and his daughter married Lincoln’s son and the Harlan family and also the younger generation lived in what is now known as the Harlan-Lincoln House on the campus of IWC.
Thursday’s unveiling of the statue drew numerous dignitaries to the IWC campus including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Mary Cownie, State Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mt. Pleasant, State Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mt. Pleasant and other area state senators and representatives.
Although rain forced movement of the program from the campus lawn to the chapel auditorium, precipitation could not put a damper on the praise and esteem that speakers had for Harlan, who is buried with his family at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Mt. Pleasant.
Most of the speakers cited Harlan’s vision and dedication, not only for Iowa Wesleyan but for his community, state and nation.
“There is a lot to be proud of in Mt. Pleasant,” stated Branstad. “This is the first time a statue has come back to its appropriate home.”
Other speakers echoed Branstad’s sentiments — the statue was where it belonged.
“Welcome to the college James Harlan helped build,” IWC President Steven Titus said in opening remarks. “James Harlan knew a little bit about forging the future. James Harlan’s vision reached well beyond Iowa Wesleyan and Iowa …This institution stands today because James Harlan had vision.”
Cownie called the statue’s new permanent home “the rightful and fitting home of his statue…These two statues (Mansfield and Harlan) of remarkable Iowans will bookend the campus.”
“This is a proud moment for our state,” Reynolds said. “I am honored to pay tribute to James Harlan.”
Branstad touched on the Harlan-Lincoln relationship. “You think of the role that Harlan and Lincoln played in our county’s history and you have something really important.
“Sen. Harlan has a strong and historic connection to Iowa Wesleyan College and Iowa … He truly left his mark on this college, community, state and nation. This is the most appropriate place for his statue.”
Titus touched on some of Harlan’s accomplishments while heading the college. He launched a fund-raising campaign immediately after accepting the college’s presidency (he turned the job down once before consenting when it was again offered a short time later) which resulted in the construction of the college’s second building, Old Main.
While he was serving as the president, the college’s name was changed from Mt. Pleasant Collegiate Institute to Iowa Wesleyan University and it began offering a bachelor of arts degree. The college also offered law and pharmacy degrees until 1874.
A native of Indiana, Harlan came to Iowa in 1845. In addition to his experience in college administration (he accepted the principal position in 1846 at Iowa City College, now better known as the University of Iowa), he was an ordained Methodist minister and was admitted to the Iowa Bar in 1850. He also served as Iowa Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1847.
“We are the stewards of his legacy,” concluded Titus. “His legacy will inspire others to lead, serve and be bold.”
Welcome home James Harlan.