John McDonald Ramsey
Posted By: Deb Gerischer (email)
Date: 2/8/2009 at 20:27:50
A Narrative History
The People of Iowa
SPECIAL TREATMENT OF THEIR CHIEF ENTERPRISES IN
EDUCATION, RELIGION, VALOR, INDUSTRY,
EDGAR RUBEY HARLAN, LL. B., A. M.
Curator of the
Historical, Memorial and Art Department of Iowa
THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Inc.
Chicago and New York
HON. JOHN MCDONALD RAMSEY is an Iowa newspaper man with a continuous record
of forty years' association with one paper, the Clarksville Star. These
years have been rich in other service to his community and state, especially
noteworthy having been the eight years he spent in the Legislature at Des Moines.
Mr. Ramsey was born on a farm a mile north of Clarksville in Butler County.
February 25, 1870. He is Scotch ancestry and through his mother is
classified with that stock known as Scotch-Irish, due to the fact that a family long
seated in Scotland moved across the channel to Northern Ireland, whence
representatives came to America. Mr. Ramsey is a son of Charles and Margaret Jane
(Gabby) Ramsey. His grandfather, Adam Ramsey, came from Edinburgh,
Scotland. He was a cabinet maker by trade and was a young man when he sought home
and fortune in the new world. Charles Ramsey was born at Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania, in 1836, and as a young man located at West Union, Ohio, where in 1861
he married Margaret Jane Gabby. Her father, Alexander Gabby, was born in
Londonderry, Ireland, was also a cabinet maker, and on coming from Ireland to
America settled in Washington County in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Adam Ramsey
and Alexander Gabby were both members of the Masonic fraternity and very
devout United Presbyterians, maintaining their religious activities strictly
according to the rites of that substantial old church. Both served as
superintendents of their Sunday School. Charles Ramsey after his marriage tried to get
accepted for service in the Union army, but for some reason was rejected.
However, he was with the Ohio Home Guard and was called out for active duty at
the time of the Morgan raid through the southern part of the state. Morgan
made one of his camps on the Gabby farm.
In 1865 Charles Ramsey brought his family to Iowa, acquiring a tract of land
a short distance northeast of Clarksville. Later he moved to the property
of M. B. Wamsley, one mile northwest of Clarksville, and two years later he
bought a farm four miles southeast of Greene. He had acquired the skill of a
cabinet maker from his father and was always an adept with tools and
machinery. The furniture and other equipment for his Iowa home were made by his own
hands during his hours of leisure. He developed a fine farm and in later
years was a representative of the International Harvester Company. He died in
1906, at Sioux City, Iowa.
His wife was born in 1840 and died in 1887. Charles Ramsey took an active
part in local affairs, serving as trustee, treasurer and clerk of his
township and as a school director. He was a member of the Independent Order of Odd
Fellows at Greene and voted Democrat, though two of his sons became very
staunch Republicans. There were eight children in all, only two of whom are now
living. Arthur died in infancy. George passed away in 1878, when a small
boy. Ida Ellen died in early girlhood. Agnes Euphemia became the wife of W.
W. Moss and died at Osage, Minnesota. William M., a farmer and carpenter, died
at Clarksville in 1905. Charles met an accidental death at Sioux City in
1921. The only surviving child besides John M., is Mrs. J. L. Caskey, of Akron,
Farm life during the years when John McDonald Ramsey was a boy was not a
series of prosperous years. There were crop failures, and with a large
household to provide for Charles Ramsey had need to economize and there was little
money to provide the children with advantages outside of those of the community
church and school. Consequently John M. from early boyhood buckled down to
a routine of hard work, and his earnings paid for all his education beyond
the limited advantages of the neighborhood school. Part of the time he carried
water for a gang of section hands at fifty cents a day. It was more or less
of a struggle for him to complete the work of the Greene High School.
Borrowing money, he enrolled as a student in the Cedar Rapids Business College.
His training there made him a good penman and a capable accountant, and for
several years he was employed in the clerical department of the Chicago Great
Western and Rock Island Railroads.
His political career began before he reached his majority, when he was
elected township clerk. Following that he was made recorder of Clarksville, for
ten years was township assessor and five years township trustee, and for five
years was assistant state game warden.
In 1920 Mr. Ramsey went to the Legislature. He represented Butler County
four years in the Lower House and for four years was in teh Senate from the
district comprising Butler and Bremer counties He proved himself one of the
most valuable members of both Houses, being hard working, taking an intelligent
attitude toward all public questions and was given important committee
assignments, being a member of the judiciary, ways and means, text books, cities
and towns, and was chairman of the committee on education. He was in the
Legislature during the code session, and he read proof on the revised laws. His
legislative experience gave him a wide acquaintance with prominent men all over
His first lessons in the printing trade were acquired in the office of a
Waterloo newspaper. For twenty years he was an employee of Edward Madigan,
owner of the Clarksville Star, and in 1909 he bought the paper, so that for fully
forty years he has been associated with that live publication. His newspaper
files are mines of historic interest for this section of the state. Mr.
Ramsey is a master of a forcible newspaper style and his editorials and comments
on public questions have been widely quoted in the press of the state. He
has for twenty-five years been attending state Republican conventions and
twenty-two years of that time has been a delegate. He is a member of the Iowa
Press Association and National Editorial Association, is a past chancellor
commander of the Knights of Pythias Lodge at Clarksville, and has taken all the
degrees of Odd Fellows.
The record of his life shows that he has been a very busy man, but he has
hobbies, one in particular being geology. He has gone about with an observing
eye examining the rocks and soils of Iowa, and in collecting specimens
illustrating geologic history he has been naturally drawn to the kindred
investigations in local archaeology and has gathered up many interesting specimens and
Mr. Ramsey married Miss Della Shafer on September 30, 1893, daughter of the
late W. W. R. Shafer, who passed away in 1929. Mrs. Ramsey was born in
Butler County. They have two daughters, Georgia Edna and Alice Lavon. Georgia is
the wife of Gay Jackson, and they have three children: Robert G., Barbara A.
and Billy Joe. Both daughters graduated from the local high school and
attended the State Teachers College at Cedar Falls, and Alice Lavon is also a
graduate of the Ingram School of Expression.
Butler Biographies maintained by Karen De Groote.
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