Polio–Dexter, Iowa

From a 1951 Dexter Sentinel.

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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  1. An interesting look into the past when polio could not be countered in the way it can be today – an advantage of the progress in medicine.

    • Yes! Marilyn is a friend from grade school. She credits her mother with making her go through the exercises, so that now she still plays the piano, even at nursing homes!

  2. Joy, I had almost forgotten that story that I posted on the website. How did you find it? Anyway, people who had had polio were invited to write about it and post it several years ago. Then I got a reply from a little girl in some school in Iowa who wanted to know if she could interview me. Her class had an assignment to find out more about something that happened “in olden times.” So I gave her my number and she called. She had developed the questions to ask and she conducted the interview. I hope she got a good grade because she did a good job on the interview.

    • I googled “polio” when I first worked on the story, and I may have added Iowa to that. Just poking around on the internet and it came up. How long ago was your interview. She will never forget that, Marilyn!

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