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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Arlene Gardner Hall papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: ca. 1912-1999
Creator: Hall, Arlene Gardner (1908-1999)
Extent: 10.00 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0411
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Rural Mt. Ayr, Iowa woman who worked in local homes as a washerwoman and housekeeper.

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright has been transferred in part to The University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 592) were donated by Linda Smith in 1999.

Preferred Citation: Arlene Gardner Hall papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Arlene Ivie Graham, the only child of John and Lena May Graham, was born on June 6, 1908 in Blythedale, Missouri. In 1923, Arlene Graham and her mother moved to a farm south of Mt. Ayr, Iowa. Married and widowed three times throughout her life, Arlene Graham's main relationships were with her daughter and her mother. Described by the donor (her cousin Linda Smith) as an "everyday woman" with an eighth-grade education, Arlene Graham worked as a housekeeper and washerwoman in several Mt. Ayr homes while raising a daughter. The majority of her days were spent busy with domestic chores. Several of her clients were lawyers and judges of Ringgold County; they helped Graham through her divorce and with raising Ruby.

Arlene Graham's first marriage occurred in 1931. She married Ralph Hopkins; they had one child, Ruby Kathleen Hopkins. This marriage was apparently an abusive one; the donor described Arlene Hopkins during this time as a "battered wife." After divorcing Ralph Hopkins, Arlene Hopkins married John Henry Hall in 1936. This union was a happier one; after the death of her third husband, Arlene Hall kept her second husband's name for the rest of her life. John Hall worked as a barber in Mt. Ayr. In 1949, Arlene, John, and Ruby Hall joined the Baptist Church. John Hall died in 1960. In 1962, Arlene Hall married Frank Porter, who passed away in 1963. In her later years, after Frank Porter's death, Arlene Hall sold greeting cards and Avon supplies to supplement her income.

In 1985, Arlene Hall entered the Health Care Center in Mt. Ayr, where she resided until her death in 1999. There, she was known for her love of a good card game and for the thoughtful greeting cards she sent. Arlene Hall was not close to her daughter during her last years.

The Arlene Gardner Hall papers date from ca. 1912-1999 and measure 10 linear inches. The papers are arranged in three series: Biographical Information, Photographs,and Diaries. The collection focuses on the activities of a rural, working woman of the twentieth century and the details of her daily life and relationships. The majority of the collection consists of Hall's personal diaries from the early 1930s to 1995, which document a youthful courtship; three marriages--one apparently abusive, one long and happy, one very short; the raising of her daughter and the ensuing estrangement between them; the relationship between Hall and her own mother, both of whom had three husbands and worked as housekeepers and washerwomen; the particular aspects of daily life in rural southern Iowa; as well as almost fifteen years of life in a home for the elderly.

The Biographical Information series consists of photocopies of obituaries, eulogies, and funeral programs relating to Arlene Hall and her family. There is also a letter containing some genealogical information. Included in this series are handwritten obituaries by both Arlene Hall and John Hall.

The Photographs series (ca. 1912-1997?) consists of twenty black and white photographs depicting Arlene Hall and her family. The portraits range from Hall as a young child in Blythedale, Missouri to Hall as an older woman in the Health Care Center in Mt. Ayr, Iowa. They also include images of Hall's parents, her daughter Ruby, her second husband John Hall, her third husband Frank Porter, and other relatives.

The Diaries series (1930s-1995) consists of thirteen journals written by Arlene Hall. Most cover a period of two to five years and have daily entries. Hall also supplemented her entries, at times, with newspaper clippings, population and weather statistics for the area, and lists of local marriages and deaths.

The 1930s diary documents a youthful courtship with Vernon Lloyd Arnold. It gives details on each date: where they went, how much money was spent, and what time they got home. This diary provides a glimpse into what courtship was like in rural Iowa in the 1930s.

The 1934 diary documents a year of marriage to Ralph Hopkins, during which Hall was caring for her baby daughter and working in several Mt. Ayr homes.

The diaries from the period 1941-1959 concern Hall's marriage to John Hall, her daughter Ruby's adolescence and marriage, and daily events in Hall's Mt. Ayr working life.

The diaries from the period 1960-1969 document the deaths of both John Hall and Frank Porter, in addition to the estrangement of Arlene Hall from her daughter Ruby. Throughout these diaries, Hall talks often of her own mother and their relationship.

The diaries from the period 1985-1995 record Hall's daily life in the Health Care Center in Mt. Ayr. This record is valuable in giving a sense of what life was like in a nursing home in the late twentieth century. Hall describes both her daily activities and her state of mind in these entries.

An undated notebook, probably from the late 1920s,consists of poems and lyrics written in Hall's hand. Titles from this notebook include "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde Parker," "It Ain't Gonna Rain No More," "Rich and Racy," and "Closing Out Public Sale." Full of irony, wit, and patriotism, they seem to give a sense of the popular culture of the time.

Browse by Series:
Series 3: DIARIES

  • Box 1:
  • General
  • Obituary of Arlene Hall written by Dorothy Canfield Stagner Newton and Linda Smith - 1999
  • Obituary of Arlene Hall written by Arlene Hall, undated
  • Eulogy material for Arlene Hall from Rev. Holland - 1999
  • Funeral service program for Arlene Hall - 1999
  • Letter giving genealogical information - 1988
  • Obituary and funeral service program of Lena M. Goldsberry, Arlene Halls mother - 1968
  • Obituary and funeral service program of John R. Graham, Arlene Halls paternal grandfather - 1965
  • Obituaries and funeral service program of John Hall, Arlene Halls second husband - 1960
  • Obituary of Sarah Smith, Arlene Halls great-grandmother, and other newspaper clippings relating to the family - 1948
  • Series 2: PHOTOGRAPHS
  • Box 1:
  • 20 photographs - 1912-1997
  • Series 3: DIARIES
  • Box 1:
  • Courtship diary - 1930-1939
  • Fragments from courtship diary - 1930-1939
  • Diary - 1934
  • Diary - 1937-1941
  • Photocopied diary - 1942-1946
  • Diary - 1947-1950
  • Diary - 1951-1955
  • Diary - 1956-1959
  • Box 2:
  • Diary - 1960-1964
  • Diary - 1965-1969
  • Newspaper clippings from diaries - 1937-1969
  • Diary - 1985-1987
  • Diary - 1988-1989
  • Diary - 1990-1991
  • Diary - 1990-1995
  • Poetry and lyrics notebook - 1929