Polio–Dexter, Iowa

Imagine being a 7-year-old child from rural Dexter, in a Des Moines hospital for isolation with other sick children, only able to see your family through an outside window (along with other families, who were also in tears), later taken in a wheelchair to visit a neighbor boy who was in an iron lung, losing the use of your arm because of a virus for which there was no vaccine, then enduring weeks of painful therapy, even after returning home to your family’s farm.

Marilyn Lawson’s neighbor boy, Kenneth Carter, age 10, died in that iron lung.

The Dexter Museum has a copy of Marilyn (Lawson) Bode’s children’s story called “My Mean Mom,” about when she endured polio and its ravages in late 1952. What a frightening time for parents back then, not knowing how the disease was spread, and doctors could only isolate the patient, letting the virus run its course, then assess how much muscle damage had been done before starting physical therapy. The Dexter Library also has a copy of Marilyn’s book, which was illustrated by her grandson.


For more of Marilyn’s story.

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Dexter First and Second Grade students with teacher Nell Bookout. Receiving the Salk Vaccine, May 1954.

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