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Carmelita Calderwood Biography (1901-1951)

Carmelita Calderwood Photo 1

Carmelita Calderwood

Growing Up

Carmelita was born in Linn County, Iowa on August 4, 1901. Her mother was a native of Iowa and her father from Ireland. He worked as an engineer on the Northwestern Railroad and perished in a train derailment when Carmelita was one. Her mother later died after her marriage to James Hearst. Events of her childhood and teenage years are unknown. 

In her late twenties in 1929, Carmelita visited Ireland. She was probably in the company of her best friend, Meryl Norton, with whom she travelled throughout Europe. She and Meryl would continue to be friends until Carmelita’s death.


Being a Nurse

Carmelita decided to become a nurse during a time when the main occupations for women were either nursing, teaching, or domestic duties. This would come to define much of her life. To become a nurse, she attended college and received her BA at St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. She later attended the University of Northern Iowa to receive her nursing degree. Prior to her marriage, she completed graduate work at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She was clearly an intelligent, driven, well-educated woman.

As a nurse, Carmelita became an expert in treating polio and battling the polio epidemics throughout the United States, especially in Texas and Minnesota. Her work was so influential that she even received a letter prior to her death from Eleanor Roosevelt, which said, "Dear Mrs. Hearst: I have just heard you [are] ill and I am very sorry. You have done so much for others I am sure you feel a great sense of satisfacation to have ben able to contribute so much. With my very best wishes, I am very sincerely yours, Eleanor Roosevelt” (misspelling original).

As proof of her knowledge and success as a nurse, the nursing textbook she co-wrote, Orthopedic Nursing, became a standard text in nursing programs for years after its publication in 1941. 


Married Life with James Hearst

As a woman of her day and age, Carmelita had an abnormally successful career, which often required her to travel across the country. While traveling she helped treat polio epidemics and work with assistances on treatment options. In part of her success and the uncertainty of their Irish heritage, she didn't accept his marriage proposal the first time he asked.

After some convincing, Carmelita finally accepted Hearst's proposal in 1943. They had a small catholic wedding of only a few friends and family. She was both a loyal and loving wife, but also independent and strong woman. She would leave to spend time in New York or elsewhere to do polio panels or treat polio patients. During these times, she always made sure someone watched over James Hearst in her absence.

When she was not working to fight polio, she spent time at the Hearst family farmhouse. Some days, she worked at Sartori Hospital in Cedar Falls. Other days, she worked on writing her Orthopedic Nursing and her Bonesetter’s Brawl books. She always had plans for Sunday, though, as a devoted Catholic she attended Catholic services at St. Patrick’s near downtown Cedar Falls. Even though James was Protestant, their religions were not a barrier for their love.

Overall, Carmelita and James Hearst were there for each other. Hearst was there for her when she had problems with her car, and she was there for him with any physical difficulty that arose. For roughly seven years, they had a mutually fulfilling and happy relationship.



Carmelia was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, and for several years she was in remission. She died from it in 1951.n October 8th. After receiving special permissions from Catholic authorities, she was buried on October 8th in the Hearst plot in the Fairview Cemetry of Cedar Falls. A picture of her gravestone as well as a picture of the Hearst family stone can also be seen at right.

In memorial of her funeral, James Hearst later wrote‪ "Scatter the Petals," which was put to music by William Latham, a member of the University of Northern Iowa and then North Texas State University. The text of the poem and the audio of the performance can be seen below. The audio is from a concert performed on January 9, 1969, at North Texas State University. 

Hearst would eventually move on and marry Carmelita's best friend, Meryl Norton.





‪Calderwood, Carmelita and James Hearst. Bonesetter’s Brawl. Ardmore,                 P    Pennsylvania: Dorrance & Company, 1979. Print.

‪Calderwood, Carmelita, and Robert V. Funsten. Orthopedic Nursing. Second      E   Edition. St. Louis, MO: The C.V. Mosby Company, 1949. Print. 

‪clio. "Carmelita Calderwood 1901-1951." Findagrave. Ancestry. 8 Aug 2014.                                          W  Web. 8 May 2014. 

‪Hearst, James. My Shadow Below Me. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University         P    Press, 1981. Print.

‪Hearst, James, and G S. Cawelti. The Complete Poetry of James Hearst.                I    Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001. Print.

‪Hearst, James. My Shadow Below Me. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University               P    Press, 1981. Print.

‪Peterson, Gerald. Personal Interview. 1 May 2014. 

Carmelita Calderwood Biography (1901-1951)