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Edwin Hurd Conger and Sarah Pike Conger

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 named 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.
In 1874 (according to the Annals of Iowa) he moved into Dexter, a small town in central Iowa, in the southwest corner of Dallas County. Its population never exceeded 790. When Edwin Conger lived there, Dexter had only 704 residents (1880 Census).  He was elected County Treasurer of Dallas County, then in 1880 elected as State Treasurer of Iowa.

Five years later he became a State Representative to the US Congress. Mr. Conger was appointed Minister to Brazil in 1891.  President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him Ambassador to China in 1898, a position he held throughout China’s Boxer siege. Conger was also named Ambassador to Mexico, but he only 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.

Years later, Mr. and Mrs. Conger (Sarah Pike Conger) visited the small town of Dexter and drove out to the old homestead. According to the History of Dexter Iowa (p. 106), Conger said he wanted to review scenes where the happiest moments of his life had been spent.

See also:
History of Dexter, Iowa : centennial, 1868-1968.  pub. 1967/68.

Sarah Pike Conger.  Letters from China: With Particular Reference to the Empress Dowager and the Women of China.  Chicago: A. C. McGlurg & Co. 1910.  Available on Google Books.

Sarah Pike Conger. Old China and Young America.  Chicago: F.W. Browne & Co., 1913.  Available on Google Books.

Grant Hayter-Menzies. The Empress and Mrs. Conger: The Uncommon Friendship of Two Women and Two Worlds.  Hong Kong University Press, 2011.