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William G. Donnan

William G. Donnan (June 30, 1834 - December 4, 1908) was a pioneer lawyer, Civil War officer, and two-term Republican U.S. Representative from Iowa's 3rd congressional district during the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Born in West Charlton, a hamlet in Saratoga County, New York, Donnan attended the district schools and Cambridge Academy. He was graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York, in 1856. He moved to Independence, Iowa, in 1856. After studying law, he was admitted to the bar in 1856, and commenced practice at Independence in 1857. From 1857 to 1862, he was the treasurer and recorder of Buchanan County, Iowa.

In 1862, he entered the Union Army as a private in Company H, 27th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to the grade of first lieutenant and brevetted captain and major. He was adjutant on the staff of Gen. James Isham Gilbert. His hundred twenty-eight letters written to his wife Mary during the War are a valuable historical resource.

Following the War, he was elected to the Iowa Senate, initially serving in 1868 and 1870. He was largely instrumental in securing the establishment of the Mental Health Institute (formerly called the Iowa State Hospital for the Insane) at Independence.[1]

In 1870, incumbent Republican Third District Congressman William B. Allison focused on winning election to the U.S. Senate, and thus declined to seek re-election to his House seat. Donnan was elected as a Republican to succeed him, serving in the 42nd United States Congress. Donnan was re-elected two years later (in 1872), to serve in the Forty-third Congress. He declined to be a candidate for reelection in 1874. In all, he served in Congress from March 4, 1871 to March 3, 1875.

After his term ended, he resumed the practice of law at Independence, and remained active in politics. He was again elected to the Iowa Senate, serving from 1884 to 1886. He served as delegate-at-large to the 1884 Republican National Convention, and as chairman of the Republican State Central Committee from 1884 to 1886.

He later became president of the First National Bank of Independence.[2] He died in Independence, on December 4, 1908. He was interred in Oakwood Cemetery.

The now-disincorporated town of Donnan, Iowa, in Fayette County was named for him.


  1. Benjamin F. Gue, "History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century," Vol. 4 (William G. Donnan), pp. 79 (1902).
  2. Hon. William G. Donnan, "A Reminiscence of the Last Battle of the Red River Expedition," VI Annals of Iowa No. 4, p. 241, footnote* (1904).
PD-icon This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

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