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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Harriet E. Palmer papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1912-1926
Creator: Palmer, Harriet E. (1904-1999)
Extent: 2.50 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0839
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Scrapbook featuring the professional and social life of an Iowa nurse in the 1920's.

Access: The papers are open for research.

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

Acquisition: The papers were donated by Debra Harris in 2008.

Preferred Citation: Harriet E. Palmer 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

Harriet E. Johnson Palmer was born in Seymour, Iowa in 1904 to John C. and Rilla E. Johnson. After she earned her nursing degree in 1925 from Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines, Palmer was a practicing nurse throughout eastern Oregon, including a stint as head nurse at Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg. Palmer's obituary memorialized her as an avid traveler and camper, frequently fishing and hunting in eastern Oregon's abundant parks and forests. She died at the age of 94 in 1999 in Sutherlin, Oregon, sixty miles outside of Eugene.

Harriet Palmer's aunt, Coral Rose Johnson Harris was born in 1891 in Seymour, Iowa to William and Harriet Elizabeth Johnson. After spending her youth in Whittier, California, Johnson returned to Iowa to attend the State University of Iowa's School of Nursing, where she was one of twelve nurses to graduate in the 1912 class. Shortly after graduation, Coral Johnson married Eugene Harris in Burns, Oregon She worked as a practicing nurse in various cities along the west coast into the 1960s. At the time of her death in 1982, Coral Harris was the last surviving member of her 1912 class.

The Harriet E. Palmer papers date from 1922 to 1926 and measure 2.5 linear inches. The papers consist of Coral Rose Johnson's 1912 commencement program from the State University of Iowa College of Medicine and a scrapbook kept by Harriet Palmer from 1922 to 1926. The photographs, letters, and newspaper clippings in the scrapbook portray a young woman surrounded by her friends and nursing school cohort, engaged both her profession and a social life that calls to mind the "Roaring Twenties."

Several of the photographs depict friends Palmer refers to as "The Bunch" or "The Dirty Five" clad in their nursing uniforms at school. Off work, the women are photographed picnicking in Ames and Greenwood Park and posing by the water on seaside vacations. Newspaper clippings include wedding announcements, police reports of public intoxication, and articles on local nursing schools or hospitals. Toward the end of the scrapbook, several photos captioned "The Juana Scenes - Scenes at La Jolla," depict Palmer and her friends on vacation in Tijuana, Mexico. One of these photos features two men laughing behind bottles of Oporto and whiskey, with the caption, "Thru Rose Colored Glasses."

The clippings include quotes about success and hard work interspersed with witticisms of a new age: "A flapper is one who bobs her hair, powders her nose, and says to herself, 'Clothes, I am going downtown, if you want to come along, hang on.'" Palmer's clippings also highlight her scholastic life.  Photographs in the scrapbook depict nurses assisting in the operating theater, caring for an African American child, and other aspects of the profession.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: General

  • Series 1: General
  • Box 1:
  • Commencement Program - 1912
  • Scrapbook - 1922-1926