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Meryl Norton Hearst

Meryl Norton Hearst

Meryl Norton Hearst was born in Algona, Iowa on May 2, 1903. Her parents, Burton Everington Norton and Nettie Norton, farmed land in Algona, Iowa for a majority of their lives. Along with Meryl, the couple had three other daughters: Lulu (Norton) Copp, Cleroa (Norton) Loss, and Bernice (Norton) Richardson. 

In 1921, Meryl entered nursing school at the University of Iowa. While attending medical school, she roomed with her friend Carmelita Calderwood. During this time period, Meryl and Carmelita were part of a select group of female medical professionals. Meryl specialized in surgical care, while Carmelita focused on orthopedic nursing. 

After traveling around Europe together, Meryl returned to the states where she was a nurse in Alaska. At the time, two of her sisters were in Alaska teaching. She later returned to Dubuque, Iowa, where she became the Educational Director at Finley Hospital. She continued her nursing career, and between 1934-36 she was the Director of Nursing Education at Moline and later moved to Washington. In Washington, where she lived with her mother, she was a public health nurse. 

During this time, her friend Carmelita worked in New York for The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. In 1944, after knowing each other for twenty years, Carmelita and James Hearst married. After Carmelita's death from cancer in 1951, James and Meryl began corresponding through letters. In 1953, they married and continued to farm, travel, and host famous writers such as Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. Despite James's handicap, Meryl made it a point to find ways for him to be able to travel comfortably. 

The couple continued to live in Cedar Falls, where James was a faculty member at the University of Northern Iowa. During his career, Meryl kept accurate records of his work. Toward the end of his career, Meryl maintained a scrapbook of all his poems, newspaper articles, and review of his books. In her spare time, she typed his prose manuscripts. In the final years of his life, Meryl helped him edit his autobiography, My Shadow Below Me.  

Before James' death from cancer in 1983, he gave UNI a donation in order to establish the Meryl Norton Hearst Endowed Chair. Later, this endowment became known as the Meryl Norton Hearst Lecture Series. After James' death, Meryl continued living in Cedar Falls. She died on October 22, 1987. 

Works Cited

"Meryl Norton Hearst." Cedar Falls, IA. Cultural Services Division, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.

Witt, Sandra. "The Poet's Wife: An Interview with Meryl Hearst." Iowa Woman Dec. 1986: 9-14. Print.


-- -- Ellen Rhodes & Leah Wauters