Iowa Board of Regents

The Presidents: J.H. Trewin

James Henry Trewin, the first president of the Iowa State Board of Education (later named the Board of Regents, State of Iowa), served from the Board’s inception in 1909 until 1915. He was appointed by Governor Beryl Carroll, following the Board’s creation by Iowa’s 33rd general assembly. Shortly after members had been chosen by Governor Carroll, the Board met for the first time at the State Capitol to elect Trewin its president. 

Trewin was born November 29, 1858 in Du Page County, Illinois. He attended school at the Bradford Academy in Nashua before enrolling at the Cedar Valley Seminary in Osage. He finished his education at Lenox College in Delaware County.

Trewin was a schoolteacher from 1874-80. He was admitted to the Iowa Bar Association in 1883 and practiced law in Earlville, Lansing, and Cedar Rapids. He married Martha Rector of Earlville, on April 14, 1883 and had one son, Harold. After Martha’s death in 1911, Trewin married Nellie Hatton of Cedar Rapids on April 15, 1915. 

He served in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1894-96, and in the Iowa Senate from 1896-1902. While serving in the General Assembly, Trewin’s primary interests were education and the codification of Iowa law. He was chairman of the committee on schools and was chair of the committee that formulated the Iowa Code of 1897. Trewin’s work on the Code Commission was impressive enough that he was invited to chair the commission even after leaving elected office. 

It was his passion for education, however, that earned him notice from Governor Carroll in 1909. Trewin considered his service to the Board “The highest honor and the greatest opportunity for service that ever came to him.”

Trewin and the rest of the first Board held to the general principle that the Board was a governing body, not an administrative body, and that it’s duty was to “keep a sense of proportion” among the three institutions. The first duty of this Board was to “become thoroughly acquainted with the institutions thus placed under its control.” Following extensive study, the first Board decided one of its main tasks was reducing duplication of programs and putting an end to rivalry. It met resistance in this area almost immediately. 

The Board’s 1912 action on duplication recommended sweeping changes to the institutions and was particularly controversial. The action called for the abandonment of the State University’s (University of Iowa) engineering program, the transfer of the State College’s (Iowa State) home economics program to the State University, and an order for the State Teacher’s College (UNI) to become a “training place for elementary teachers only.” Alumni were upset, and senators and representatives discussed legislation that rescinded the Board’s action. In April 1913, five members of the Board met and rescinded the action by a 4-1 vote. 

Trewin left the Board after his six year term concluded. His leadership during the Board’s formative years helped shape the direction and scope of future Board priorities. Following his retirement, he practiced law in Cedar Rapids as a member of the firm Trewin, Simmons and Trewin. He was listed in the Marquis Who’s Who in America, which highlights “distinguished Americans,” in 1927, the year of his death. 

Senators Fred Gilchrist of Cedar Falls, Joseph Frailey of Fort Madison, and Willis Haskell of Cedar Rapids read a resolution to the 42nd general assembly in Trewin’s honor. The three described Trewin as “One of the last of the old oaks; sturdy, steadfast and true to all in which he believed and held convictions… He has left our state his debtor.”

© 2024 Iowa Board of Regents. All rights reserved.