Joseph Dysart (1820-1893)

Joseph Dysart was born on July 8, 1820 on the family farm, Eden Hill, in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, one of three sons of James and Jane Dysart. His family hired a tutor who introduced him to the classics and then he attended the early public schools of the county. When nineteen, he traveled to Iowa for the land sales that were expected in October 1839. When these sales were postponed he and a friend returned home on foot, covering an average of forty miles a day. Soon after, he entered Dickinson's Preparatory School and then the College in the class of 1845. He was an exemplary student, was elected as a member of the Union Philosophical Society, and on graduation with his class gave the valedictory speech. Following his degree, he became principal of the Hillsboro Male Academy on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Falling ill, he left Hillsboro in 1847 and took up teaching in Mississippi, first as a private tutor and than as principal of the Aberdeen Male Academy in Aberdeen, Mississippi between 1851 and 1853. In his spare time, he studied law and passed the Mississippi bar. He then traveled to Lee County in Illinois where he owned land and took up farming. Selling up to the railroad at a healthy profit, he moved on once again in April 1856 to the town of Vinton in Benton County, Iowa.

The majority of the remainder os Dysart’s professional life was spent in Iowan politics. Arriving in Vinton intending to practice law, he took up the editorship and part ownership of The Vinton Eagle a Republican newspaper that had been founded the year before in 1855. Experienced as he was with southern slavery he began involving himself in Republican politics, which was on the rise in the state. In 1857 he took on the Republican nomination for County Judge, losing narrowly, and then in 1858 he became County Superintendent of Schools. When a special election for the state senate ensued following the enlistment of the incumbent in March 1861, Dysart was elected as the representative from Benton and Tama Counties. He subsequently served in the 9th, 10th, 13th, and 14th General Assemblies. After four terms as senator Dysart was elected Lieutenant Governor of the state of Iowa on October 14, 1873 under Governor Carpenter. At the end of his term in 1876 he retired to his farm in Tama County. He was elected a trustee of the State Agricultural College of Iowa by the 20th General Assembly and he also earlier served on the board of the Iowa College for the Blind. In 1873, a town near his family farm in Tama County was named Dysart in his honor.

Joseph Dysart had married Ester E. Wayne from Georgetown, South Carolina in Pickens County, Alabama, in October 1849. The couple had four children; Wayne J., Paul Ivan, Estelle V., and May Alberta. After a lengthy retirement during which he remained interested in local politics and local history, Joseph Dysart died at the age of seventy-three on September 7, 1893 in Dysart, Iowa.

Author of Post: 
Dickinson College Archives
Date of Post: 
College Relationship: 
Alumnus/Alumna Class Year: