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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Magdalena "Helen" Tylee papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1917-1988
Creator: Tylee, Magdalena "Helen" (1894-1988)
Extent: 2.25 linear feet.
Collection Number: IWA0471
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: A German war bride who came to Iowa in 1922. During World War II she ran the family farm while her husband was serving in the armed forces.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Box 4.

Access: The papers are open for research.

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

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 779) were donated by Peggy Stokes in 2001.

Preferred Citation: Magdalena "Helen" Tylee 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

Magdalena "Helen" Gerhard Tylee was born in 1894 in Kindel, Germany, to Johann and Suzanna Gerhard, and came to Iowa as a war bride in 1922. She was the fourth of ten children. As a teenager, Helen Gerhard lived with and worked for a wealthy German family in Alf, Germany, where she learned English from the family's two daughters. During World War I she cooked for Russian POWs. In 1921, she met her husband, Ben Tylee, an American soldier who was stationed in Andernach, Germany, with the American occupation army following World War I. They married in 1922 and moved to Iowa where they took up farming in Linn County. Tylee lived the rest of her life in Iowa but made numerous trips back to Germany throughout the years. The Tylees raised one daughter, Peggy Drymon Stokes. In 1942, the Cedar Rapids Gazette published a feature story about Helen Tylee titled "She's a Soldier, Too." The article, complete with photos, emphasized that German-born Helen Tylee opposed the Nazis and was doing her part on the home front--while her husband served in the armed forces--to defeat them. The Tylees had been married sixty-six years at the time of Helen Tylee's death in 1988.

The Magdalena Tylee papers date from 1917 to 1988 and measure 2.25 linear feet. The papers are arranged in four series: Biographical, Diaries, Photographs, and Scrapbooks.

The Biographical series (1921-1988) includes many letters Helen Tylee wrote to her husband during his service in World War II, and also a large collection of letters she received from family members in Germany (written in German). Tylee's letters to her husband illuminate her daily life managing the family farm while he was stationed in Texas and Florida during World War II. The radio transcript in this series is an interview with Tylee that aired on a Waterloo, Iowa, radio station; the topics covered include why she came to Iowa, how Iowa differs from Germany, and how she managed to handle the farm without her husband. The poetry and a brief memoir of Helen Tylee's mother-in-law, Frances "Frankie" Tylee, a telephone operator in Toddville, Iowa, are also included. Frankie Tylee's poetry addresses many themes including her work, her religious convictions, family issues, and historical events such as World War II and JFK's assassination.

The Diaries series (1936-1987) include nearly twenty diaries Tylee kept over her lifetime. Entries in the late 1930s, 1940s and 1950s are scattered and sketchy, while those of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s are more regular and detailed (1970 is the only year for which there is no diary in these later decades). Tylee described her activities on and off the farm, always noted the day's weather and temperature, and sometimes pasted in short newspaper clippings. A travel diary she kept during a trip to Germany in 1958 is also included.

The Photographs series (1917-1984) holds a substantial collection of photographs of Tylee's family members in Germany; most are undated, but appear to be from both the World War I and World War II eras. The series includes a few photos of the Tylees later in life, but the majority of them were taken before 1970. Also included (in folder 5) are the original, 8x10 prints of photos, taken by the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 1942, of Helen Tylee doing farm chores during her husband's military service in the Second World War. The Gazette published the photos in an article on Tylee called "She's a Soldier, Too." A copy of the article is in the photo album in this series. The photo album also includes family photos taken from the 1940s-1980s.

The Scrapbooks series consists of three albums of newspaper clippings. The bulk of the first and third albums have clippings from the late 1930s through late 1950s including stories about family and friends, and news of interest to Helen Tylee such as articles about the Dionne quints, the British royal family, and inspirational poems. The second album is full of editorial cartoons about World War II, and includes a copy of "She's a Soldier, Too.

Browse by Series:
Series 2: DIARIES

  • Series 1: BIOGRAPHICAL
  • Box 1:
  • Funeral book and message - 1988
  • Correspondence: Letters to Ben Tylee (3 folders) - 1921-1945
  • Correspondence: Letters from Germany - 1927-1937, 1948-1963
  • Correspondence: Letters from Germany - 1967-1988
  • German - 1922-1985
  • Marriage certificate - 1922
  • Military documents of Ben Tylee - 1942-1945
  • Newspaper clippings - 1981-1983
  • Passports - 1922-1983
  • Box 2:
  • Poetry and memoir of Frances (Frankie) Tylee - 1942
  • Radio transcript - 1942
  • Wedding anniversary celebrations - 1972, 1987
  • Series 2: DIARIES
  • Box 2:
  • Chronological - 1958-1965
  • Chronological - 1966-1969
  • Chronological - 1971-1975
  • Box 3:
  • Chronological - 1976-1979
  • Chronological - 1980-1982
  • Chronological - 1983-1986
  • Chronological - 1987
  • Series 3: PHOTOGRAPHS
  • Box 4:
  • General (8 folders) - 1917-1984
  • Photocopies of photos, undated
  • Photo album - 1942, 1972
  • Series 4: SCRAPBOOKS
  • Box 5:
  • Scrapbook - 1927-57
  • Box 6:
  • Scrapbook - 1940-1943
  • Box 7:
  • Scrapbook - 1942-1986