Edwin Hurd Conger (1843-1907)

Iowa State Treasurer, State Representative to US Congress,

Ambassador to Brazil and China

As noted in the July/August 2017 issue of Iowa History Journal, Terry Branstad is not the first Iowan to be named as US Ambassador to China.

The first was a man from Dexter, Iowa–Edwin H. Conger.

Edwin H. Conger, a Civil War veteran, moved to Iowa from Illinois (where he’d graduated college and law school) in 1868, settling south of Dexter, where he became County Supervisor of Penn Township. As such, he had a significant role in Madison County by making the historic motion that led to seven covered bridges being built. 

Edwin H. Conger

In 1874 (according to the Annals of Iowa) he moved into Dexter. He was elected as County Treasurer of Dallas County, then in 1880 elected as State Treasurer of Iowa. 

Dexter is a small town in central Iowa, in the southwest corner of Dallas County. Its population never exceeded 790 souls. When Edwin Conger lived there, Dexter had only 704 residents (1880 Census) .

Five years later he became a State Representative to the US CongressMr. Conger was appointed Minister to Brazil in 1891.

President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as Ambassador to China in 1898, a position he held throughout China’s Boxer siege. Conger was also named Ambassador to Mexico, in which he served a few months.


Sarah (Pike) Conger became a friend of Cixi, the Chinese Empress Dowager. Mrs. Conger wrote two books about their time in China, and one was written about the friendship of the two women. Mrs. Conger’s papers have been collected by Harvard University.

Cixi, the Empress Dowager, and Sarah Conger

Books: Letters From China by Sarah Pike Conger.

Old China and Young America by Sarah Pike Conger.

The Empress and Mrs. Conger by Grant Hayter-Menzies.

Mr. and Mrs. Conger (Sarah Pike Conger) later visited the small town of Dexter and drove out to the old homestead. According to the History of Dexter Iowa (1968–Centennial), he said he wanted to review scenes where the happiest moments of his life had been spent.

From History of Dexter, Iowa, 1968, page 106.

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