Iowa Archives - StoryCorps

A Pandemic Couldn’t Stop Her: A Lifelong Voter Finds Inspiration From Her Mother

Helen Merrill, age 91, prides herself on one simple fact: that in her lifetime, she’s never missed a single presidential election. 

It’s a determination that she traces back to her mother, Blanche, a woman who raised twelve children in rural Iowa.

Blanche, like millions of others, had become seriously ill during the 1918 flu pandemic. She was also a supporter of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which was fighting for the right to vote.

By the 1920 election, Blanche had still not fully recovered, but the 19th Amendment had been passed and she was determined to exercise her newly given right.

Nearly one hundred years later, Helen came to StoryCorps with her granddaughter, Elizabeth, to remember how Blanche made it to the polls, and how her strength continues to inspire her to this day.

Top Photo: Helen Merrill and Elizabeth Hartley in 2017. Courtesy of Andrea Hartley.
Middle Photo: Ralph and Blanche Reeves in 1944. Courtesy of Andrea Hartley. 
Bottom Photo: Helen Merrill celebrating Independence Day in July 2018. Courtesy of Andrea Hartley.

Originally aired October 16, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“This is Ours Too”: A Father Instills a Sense of Belonging in His Daughter

When Erin Haggerty was just a teen, her father George Barlow moved the family from Union City, California to the stark, white landscapes of Iowa. At the time, Erin was excited by the prospect of moving to a new place. But she soon realized that, as one of the only Black teens in her community, life would not always be so picturesque.

Photo: (L) George embracing (R) Erin at her high school graduation in 1991. Courtesy of Erin Haggerty.

Erin spent years trying to find her sense of belonging in this new town. But overtime, she began to withdraw into herself. Her father George had always assumed Erin was just a shy teen; someone who kept to herself, was well behaved, and had no interest in high school parties. 

But in August of 2020, Erin opened up to George for the first time about what it was like being a young Black woman in Iowa, and how it was his words and kindness that saw her through those difficult times.

Top Photo: (L) Erin Haggerty and her father (R) George Barlow in 2010. Courtesy of Erin Haggerty.
Bottom Photo: Three year old (L) Erin with her father (R) George in 1975. Courtesy of Erin Haggerty.

Originally aired September 18, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.