110 Years Ago, When An Iowa City Girl Saves Drowning Friend

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Courtesy Library of Congress

Iowa City in 1908 in this photo by Frederick J. Bandholtz.

In the summer of 1907 it wasn’t unusual to find a gaggle of kids playing on the wharf at the foot of Dubuque Street in Iowa City near the home of physics department head Dr. Karl Guthe. It was a favorite spot for kids of university professors.

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Iowa History, a weekly column, appears at IowaWatch on Saturdays.

Cheryl MullenbachCheryl Mullenbach is a former history teacher, newspaper editor, and public television project manager. She is the author of four non-fiction books for young people. Double Victory was featured on C-SPAN’s “Book TV” and The Industrial Revolution for Kids was selected for “Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People.” Her most recent book, Women in Blue traces the evolution of women in policing.

Visit her website at: www.cherylmullenbachink.com

On Monday, June 17, 8-year-old Margaret Hayes, daughter of Professor and Mrs. Samuel Hayes and 11-year-old Marjorie Coast, daughter of Professor and Mrs. Preston C. Coast, were with a group of kids playing along the banks of the Iowa River. Margaret was on the Dubuque Street dock using a pole to test the depth of the water when she lost her balance.

As the little girl floundered in the swirling waters, her friends watched helplessly from the shore. Newspapers reported they were paralyzed with fear as they watched Margaret sink below the surface in the 7-feet-deep waters. Twice the girl disappeared. “Drowning seemed her certain fate,” according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Just as it seemed Margaret was doomed to “an awful fate,” Marjorie dashed down the hill to the water’s edge. Flinging herself into the “booming” river and with what the newspaper reported as “superhuman power,” Marjorie made her way to her drowning friend.

Luckily, Margaret’s skirt floated on the top of the water; and Marjorie was able to grasp hold of the ballooning fabric. Shoving the struggling girl toward a plank that was floating near the dock, Marjorie managed to hang onto the little girl until some of the boys rushed down the embankment to help haul the two up out of the water.

Witnesses said it was a miracle that Margaret had survived the incident. News of Marjorie’s heroic deed spread around Iowa City. Before long the Hayes family and other Iowa City residents decided to recommend Marjorie for the Carnegie Hero medal.

In 1904 Andrew Carnegie had established and funded the award to recognize people “who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.” Carnegie wanted to honor these “heroes of civilization” so their descendants “may know and be proud” of their deeds.

In September 1908 Marjorie received her medal. It was made of silver and engraved with her name, as well as the date and nature of the deed. Andrew Carnegie’s profile graced the front.

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Sources

Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, http://mychfc.org/Awardee.aspx?hero=1795
“Daring Deed of Juvenile Heroine,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 18, 1907.
“Heroic Rescue By Little Girl,” Daily Times, (Davenport), June 19, 1907.

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