StoryCorps: Her Mother Voted After The 1918 Pandemic. Now, Voting Is 'Sacred' Helen Merrill and her granddaughter, Elizabeth Hartley, remember their family's matriarch, whose determination to vote in 1920 drove her to the polls even though she was recovering from the flu.
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Her Mother Voted In The Wake Of The 1918 Pandemic. Now, Voting Is A 'Sacred' Ritual

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Her Mother Voted In The Wake Of The 1918 Pandemic. Now, Voting Is A 'Sacred' Ritual

Her Mother Voted In The Wake Of The 1918 Pandemic. Now, Voting Is A 'Sacred' Ritual

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  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hey, it's Friday, which means it's time again for StoryCorps. More than a century ago, Blanche Reeves was living in rural Iowa when she got sick during the 1918 flu pandemic. She still managed to cast her vote in the 1920 presidential election. Decades later, her daughter Helen Merrill, who's 91, recalled her mother's determination and talked about it with her granddaughter Elizabeth Hartley.

HELEN MERRILL: When Mom became so very ill and the doctor came to their farm home, it was late afternoon, and he went into the bedroom. Mom was apparently in a coma because she can hear everything said, but she couldn't respond or move or anything.

And she remembered hearing Dad ask the doctor about his wife. And he said, well, she won't live till morning. So, he said, I'm going to fill out the death certificate and leave it on the table, but I'm not going to sign it, and I'm not going to put in the time of death. And Mom remembered him fainting over the foot of the bed. And when the doctor came back the next day and saw that she was alive, he couldn't believe it.

So fast-forward. November 1920 is coming, and Mom had intended to vote, but she had not really fully recovered from the flu of 1918. So that morning, Dad came into the bedroom and told her he was going to go vote. And she said, well, I'm going with you. And he said, you can't go vote; you're sick. And she raised up in bed. And she said, I'm going to go vote.

So Dad went out and hitched up the team of horses, and he put some fresh straw in the bottom of the wagon. And he went in and wrapped Mom all up and still in her nightgown and carried her out the wagon, covered her up and drove to a country school. He carried her in. She voted - put her back on the wagon, took her home, and she went back to bed.

She had this determined nature. If something was right, hell or high water wasn't going to stop her from doing it. So to not vote to me would just be - I think she would come back and haunt me in some way.

(LAUGHTER)

ELIZABETH HARTLEY: Do you remember the first time that you went to vote?

MERRILL: Yes, it was 1948. I had just graduated from high school, and I was 18. And in all the years I've been eligible to vote, I've only missed one time. That was long ago. I missed a school board election.

HARTLEY: Wow.

MERRILL: I received my absentee ballot today. And I'm going to take it down, drop it in the box at the courthouse. And to me, it's almost a sacred thing. Going to the polls, no matter how you feel, is the one way in our country where every person is equal. My vote counts as much as someone who is a multibillionaire, who is a rock star or a movie star. My vote at the polls means just as much. And that - that's really important to me.

INSKEEP: Ninety-one-year-old Helen Merrill and Elizabeth Hartley remembering their family's matriarch Blanche Lois Folks Reeves. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIENNA TENG, ALEX WONG ET AL.'S "ANTEBELLUM")

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