A native Iowan, Virgil M. Hancher earned his bachelor's and legal degrees from the University of Iowa. He was also a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He became the University of Iowa's thirteenth President in 1940, serving until he retired in 1964. Prior to joining the administration, he practiced corporate law in Chicago.
President Hancher was a strong advocate of higher education, serving terms as chair of the American Council of Education and president of both the State Universities Association and the National Association of State Universities. After retiring as President of the University, he planned to join the law faculty at Iowa; however, he died in 1965.