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Helen Larson papers

Identifier: IWA0347

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Scope and Contents

The papers date from 1905 to 1996 and measure 2.25 linear feet. The papers are arranged in ten series: Personal, Education, Cornell College, University of Iowa Hospital Department of Ophthalmology, Writings, Correspondence, Greeting Cards, Scrapbooks, My Memory Book, and Photographs.

The Personal series is divided into seven subseries. Autobiographical sketch (undated) contains a one-page handwritten account of Helen Larson's life in the mid 1950s. Certificates (1981, 1996, and undated) awarded Helen Larson from the Methodist Church, the Halley's Second Time Around Comet Club, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars are found in this folder. Clubs presents fragments suggesting Helen Larson's involvement in a literary club (1927-1928), a social club (1982-1983), and a book club (1991-1992), and also contains a program from a women's club convention (1940) in which her mother, Katherine Duncan (Mrs. Henry) Kruse, was a featured speaker. Friendship book (1913) is a book of quotes given to her by her first friend, Ella Lee. A photo of Ella Lee can be found in the General folder of the Photographs series. The Funeral service (1996) subseries consists of the typed version of the eulogy delivered by the minister at Helen Larson's funeral as well as two photocopied newspaper obituaries. Hair contains a lock of hair from Helen Kruse, date unknown. Miscellaneous (1989, 1994 and undated) consists of a Hallmark printout detailing important events in 1899, the year of Helen Larson's birth and created for her ninetieth birthday, as well as an invitation, a poem, a list of things for which she was grateful, and typed notes about the Bible.

The Education series (1905-1917) is divided into Hale Township School and Wyoming High School materials. Hale Township School (1905-1913) consists of report cards, souvenir books from teachers and one piece of artwork. Wyoming High School (1913-1917) contains report cards, graduation materials including her diploma, an essay on Mexico and an incomplete essay on the American Revolution.

The Cornell College series (1884, 1919-1996) is divided into ten subseries. Drawings (undated) contains pencil sketches and Drawing book (copyright 1884) is the text used for instruction and examples. Essays contains undated, handwritten essays from a Bible course and an American Literature course, and an undated note from Helen Larson to her son and daughter-in-law about the essays. The Memory and Fellowship Book (1917-1921) contains photographs, invitations, program notes, and newspaper clippings related to Helen Kruse's four years at Cornell. The first sixteen pages of the book are filled with the signatures and inscriptions of classmates, often recalling first meetings, adventures, shared memories, and best wishes for the future. The invitations and program notes detail Helen Kruse's involvement in campus activities. The last few pages of the book contain wedding announcements and calling cards. The Commencement subseries (1921) contains commencement day announcements, programs, and a commencement greeting card. Tucked inside the front cover of one leather commencement invitation is a note written by Helen Kruse to her parents, thanking them for the opportunity to study at Cornell. Diploma (1921) consists of Helen Kruse's Cornell College diploma for her Bachelor of Arts degree.

Correspondence (1965-1996) contains letters sent to Helen Larson from then-retired professor Clyde Tull and from offices at Cornell. Reunions (1961, 1971, 1981, and undated) contains material related to Helen Larson's 40th, 50th and 60th reunions, including two group photographs of the Class of 1921 printed in Cornell publications. Publications (1921-1986) includes college bulletins, alumni publications, and a chapbook of reminiscences about the founding of the college. A three-page letter from Helen Larson about her favorite professor, Clyde Tull, was printed in the 1965 Cornell College Alumnus. The inside back cover of the 1981 Cornell College Report hosts a picture of Helen Larson with a friend and Dr. Signi Falk of Coe College, who was the foster daughter of Professor Clyde Tull. The 1986 Cornell Report contains an excerpt from a letter sent by Helen Larson in honor of the 100th birthday of Bowman Hall.

The Miscellaneous subseries (1919-1981, and undated) includes various news clippings, speeches, announcements and reprinted photographs concerning Cornell College and its students, alumni, faculty, and campus events. Of special interest are two pages from the 1919 Royal Purple yearbook with Helen Kruse and many of her friends. Many of these pictures are labeled with the names of her friends, and those who participated in the circle letter are indicated.

University of Iowa Hospital Department of Ophthalmology (1956-1973) consists of assorted papers relating to Helen Larson's employment at the Department of Ophthalmology. She worked for nine years as the supervisor of the outpatient clinic, and nine years as librarian and part-time secretary. Included are handwritten observations and memories from working at the outpatient clinic, letters written by patients and handwritten copies of the letters written by patients, brochures from the 1963 and 1967 Iowa Eye Association meetings, and lists of the doctors who worked at the clinic during the years of Helen Larson's employment.

The Writings series (1940-1994 and undated) consists of drafts, notebooks, and publications of Helen Larson's creative writing pursuits. Diary entries, daily logs, and biographical information about family and friends are also found in this series.

Certain themes and entire sections of her writings are repeated throughout her scrapbooks, notebooks, and drafts. Much of her writing is creative non-fiction, consisting primarily of reminiscences of her childhood. Drafts (1985 and undated) contains typed copies of some of her writings. Notebooks (1980-1984 and undated) consists of two spiral-bound notebooks with writing assignments, corrected drafts, poems, quotes and diary entries. These notebooks were used for assignments in the Creative Writing Class for People Over 60. The Speakeasy subseries contains the 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1980 editions of the "Speakeasy" magazine created by the writing class. Notes, clippings, quotes and cards have been pasted into some of the issues. Helen Larson's writing is included in volumes II (1977) and IV (1980). Published writing (1989, 1994) consists of photocopies of two reminiscences printed in newspapers.

The Journal notebook (1940-1991 and undated) consists of loose-leaf pages from a three ring binder. The entries are a mix of diary or log entries, family history and genealogy, typed creative writing drafts, and transcribed quotes and poetry. Some sections of interest have been marked by the addition of a strip of white paper. Such sections include autobiographical information, a log of trips taken, and a roster of Department of Ophthalmology doctors from 1955 to 1975. Greeting cards (1994 and undated) that were loose in the front of the journal notebook binder have been moved to a separate folder.

Miscellaneous contains newspaper and magazine clippings about a fellow creative writing class member, Benita Allen, and the mentor for the class, Dave Morice, as well as assorted writings by fellow class members.

The Correspondence series includes both personal correspondence and letters from politicians and newspaper editors. Personal (1920-1995 and undated) includes letters written by Helen Kruse while at Cornell to her parents telling them about the beginning of the school year (1920) and finding her first teaching job (1921). There is one 1937 example of the Cornell alumnae circle letter with which she was involved. Helen Larson wrote letters to the editor and to various politicians on issues such as humanitarian actions, capital punishment, and labor relations. Drafts of such letters, as well as letters written to her in response, are in the Public figures (1934-1994) subseries. Wendell Willkie, senator Dick Clark, senator Harold Hughes, state senator Tom Riley, and former governor Terry Branstad are among the respondents to her letters.

Greeting Cards (1900s-1995 and undated) consists of two albums in which Helen Larson collected cards sent to her for all occasions. Album I contains cards from the early 1900s through the mid 1990s. There is one card for Helen Larson's ninth birthday, in 1908, as well as other childhood birthday cards from her family. Of special interest are the homemade Christmas cards; the Howell family, the Vance family, and Helen Larson's aunt Etta Stever made custom cards over the years, either with photographs or original artwork. Album I provides ample examples of Helen Larson's continuing friendships with people she met at Cornell College or while working at the bookstore and the Wesley Foundation in Iowa City. Many cards have brief annotations by Helen Larson stating the context in which she knew the sender of the card. The pages from Album II have been placed in four folders. The cards in Album II range from the 1910s to the mid 1990s, and are in no particular order. Many of the cards date from the 1970s and 1980s.

The Scrapbooks series (1910s-1990s and undated) contains seven scrapbooks, identified by their cover art or text on the cover. The materials in each scrapbook range over several decades, with some notes and materials added in the 1990s. Written around the clippings, art, and greeting cards are short autobiographical sketches, inspirational sayings, and samples of Helen Larson's creative writing.

My Dream of Airy Knoll (1914-1992 and undated) contains greeting cards, newspaper clippings, and quotes, as well as some biographical information about Helen Larson and her family. The Wyoming High School Class Day Program (1914) listing Helen Kruse as part of an instrumental duet is pasted into this yearbook. A 1927 clipping from the social pages of an Oklahoma newspaper shows a picture of Mrs. Henry Kruse (Helen Larson's mother) and reports upon her visit to her niece and family. Dates on family members' tombstones at the Wyoming, Iowa, cemetery as well as a family tree and some biographical information about Helen Larson are included. This brief entry covers her birth in 1899 to her divorce in 1957. A poem written by Helen Larson in 1983 is included in this scrapbook, as well as an undated list of the Cornell College women involved in writing the circle letter.

The Indian Corn scrapbook contains more diary entries than the other scrapbooks. Some entries of interest, indicated by a slip of paper, include a 1977 trip to Chicago for the King Tut exhibit, a memory of "putting up ice on the farm," and a 1989 entry about the surviving members of the Cornell circle letter. A family tree and a list of family members and friends who died between 1970 and 1989 are also marked.

The materials in the Whitetail Buck scrapbook span from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s. This scrapbook has very few original entries by Helen Larson. Much of the scrapbook contains handwritten, transcribed quotes and newspaper and magazine articles of interest. A letter written to the Des Moines Sunday Register around 1940, a photograph taken of a Navy ship in the San Diego Harbor in 1955, and a poem written by Helen Larson in 1968 are flagged by strips of white paper.

Helen Larson considered the Renoir scrapbook to be her favorite and "one of the better ones," as noted on the front cover. This scrapbook contains clippings, greeting cards, postcards, some photographs, and diary or log entries. Handwritten entries and a typewritten memoir by a traveling companion detail a 1961 trip to Northern Minnesota. Two photographs from this vacation are found a few pages later. The locations of two other photographs, one of Louisiana and one of kittens, are marked. A list of names near the end of the scrapbook includes the people Helen Larson would like to have in her "town," a mythical, utopian sort of place. Included are friends and relatives, as well as public figures like Danny Kaye, Lloyd Bridges, Boris Pasternak and Leonard Bernstein.

Water Birds contains a few diary entries dating from the 1970s which are marked by slips of paper. A hand-made Mother's Day card from Helen Larson's son James made in 1936 is also marked. Four souvenir photographs of New Orleans in the 1940s are included in this scrapbook. A 1961 company newsletter article about James Larson's enthusiasm for Ham radios is located near the back of the scrapbook.

Blind Man's Buff contains newspaper clippings about Iowa and national history, events, and locations of interest. There are three photographs of the University Hospital (mid 1940s and undated) taken by Helen Larson's son Robert. A 1960 article about Hale, Iowa, Helen Larson's birthplace, is accompanied by some notes in the margin about Helen's parents. A small clipping dated 1968 announces the meeting of the Book Review Club at Mrs. Henry Kruse's house, hosted by Helen Larson. The majority of the newspaper clippings are not dated, nor is it noted from which newspapers the clippings were taken.

The Art Treasures scrapbook contains newspaper and magazine articles about various artists as well as reproductions of their work. There are also a few childhood drawings and paintings by Helen Larson's son James.

My Memory Book (1880s to 1930s and undated) is a photo album compiled by Helen Larson's aunt Edna. Many of the photographs are not labeled or dated. Photographs of Helen Larson include the 1921 May Festival at Cornell College, photographs of pages at Cornell in 1932, and various undated photographs. The location of these photographs has been indicated by a white strip of paper. Also of interest are photographs of Edna Duncan (Helen Larson's aunt) as a child in the late 1880s, and as an adult in group pictures of the Order of the Eastern Star, a women's group of the Masons. Loose photographs have been relocated to a folder in box 2.

Photographs (1917, 1950, 1980, 1994, and undated) contains two subseries. General (1917, 1950, 1980, 1994 and undated) contains eight photographs. Among these are two photographs of Helen Larson and her classmates at the Hale school, a 1950 photograph of Helen Larson's parents, and two photographs of Helen Larson (1980 and 1994). Found in My Memory Book (undated) consists 2 loose photographs from Helen Larson's Aunt Edna's photo album. Photographs may also be found in the Cornell College series Memory and Fellowship Book, Greeting cards Album II, Scrapbooks, and My Memory Book.


  • Creation: 1884-1996


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

Helen Kruse Larson was born on September 6, 1899, in Hale, Iowa. She attended the one room schoolhouse in Hale, and graduated from the high school in nearby Wyoming. In 1917 she entered Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, forging friendships and connections to Cornell that would last her lifetime.

After graduation in 1921, Helen Kruse taught in the Wapello schools for one year, and then moved to Anamosa after her marriage to Robert Larson in 1922. After six years in Anamosa, the family moved to Iowa City while Robert Larson pursued his law degree. The couple divorced in 1937. Helen Larson married William Pruess in 1951, and after their divorce in 1957, she again went by the last name of Larson.

Helen Larson worked at a book shop in Iowa City and for the Wesley Foundation, though the majority of her work experience was at the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Iowa Hospital. First employed as the supervisor of the outpatient clinic in 1955, she later continued on as a part-time librarian for the department when she retired from full-time employment in 1965.

Helen Larson's love of learning continued long after her formal schooling had ended. Literature, art, and creative writing especially appealed to her, and she collected quotations, articles, and reproduced artwork that she arranged in scrapbooks. An earnest and enthusiastic letter writer, she was characterized in her eulogy as having "?kept our mail system in business and many a friend's mailbox dust free as she would write countless letters to keep in touch with those she loved." She remained in contact with many Cornell friends through a circle letter. Her creative writing found an outlet in the Creative Writing Class for People Over 60 sponsored by the Iowa Arts Council and Kirkwood Community College. The Speakeasy, the magazine created by the class and published by the Iowa Arts Council, published some of her stories and reminiscences. Many of the stories are set in Hale, Iowa, and are about her family, friends, and pets.


2.25 Linear Feet

Photographs in box 4 and scattered throughout scrapbooks. boxes

Language of Materials



Anamosa and Iowa City resident who worked for the The University of Iowa Hospital.

Method of Acquisition

The papers (donor no. 475) were donated by Carol Larson in 1997.

Jamie Nelson, 2000.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)