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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Helen Mercer's efforts on behalf of the Dubuque County Historical Society included nominating buildings for the National Register of Historic Places and training guides of the Dubuque County Courthouse and Jail. Photo courtesy: Melinda Blok
MERCER, Helen. (Ringold Co, IA-Dubuque, IA, 2000). Mercer attended Simpson College where she majored in social science. She then became a social worker in Kenosha, Wisconsin and later Des Moines. (1)

Mercer came to Dubuque in 1939 with her husband, Kenneth E. MERCER. For sixteen years, she served as the assistant to the executive secretary of the Red Cross. She worked with Service to Military Families and organized and managed county fundraising. (2) In 1972 she became the first paid curator of the HAM HOUSE retiring in 1976. (3) A member of the historical society since its 1964 reorganization, Mercer served four years as the historical society secretary and five years as its president. (4)

Deeply involved with the history of this area, Mercer actively participated in the society's Building and Sites Committee which presented annual awards to home or business owners who restored the historic integrity of their property. She also served as the historian of the Dubuque County Fine Arts Society's Living Landmarks Project which required her to train guides for tours of the DUBUQUE COUNTY COURTHOUSE. (5) Mercer's efforts in 1970 saved the DUBUQUE CITY HALL from demolition and saw it placed on the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES in 1972. (6) She, in fact, held a state record of getting thirty county landmarks added to the Register. (7) She supported renovation of the courthouse when she campaigned unsuccessfully for a position on the Dubuque City Council in 1973. (8) The same year, she helped arrange the reburial of the skeleton of PEOSTA which had been on display at the Ham House. (9)

Among the many awards given to Mercer for her civic activities was the first Every Woman's Day award from CLARKE COLLEGE in 1976 for her work in historic preservation. In 1980 she was elected to the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Iowa. The same year she received a Certificate of Commendation from the American Association for State and Local History. Presented on September 5, 1980, the award was given for her "long and distinguished service to historical and preservation organization and causes in the community." She received the first Helen Mercer Historic Preservation Award, named in her honor, from the Dubuque County Historical Society on January 8, 1986. (10) The award was made "in recognition for her dedication to preserving Dubuque history."

In June 1991 Mercer was recognized by the State Historical Society of Iowa which awarded her the Petersen/Harlan Award for her work with historical preservation. (11)



1. Ward, Lori. "Helen Mercer's Hardest Job is Finding Time to Retire," Telgraph Herald, Apr. 15, 1985, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=hCFRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=9dMMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3205,1735499&dq=kenneth+e+mercer+dubuque&hl=en

2. Ibid.

3. "Dubuque Woman Honored," Telegraph Herald, June 15, 1991, p. 3. Online:http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=3WxFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=arwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1874,2416641&dq=helen+mercer+dubuque&hl=en

4. Ward.

5. "Mercer is Project Historian," Telegraph Herald, May 13, 1984, p. 10. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=IDtFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=pLsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4247,1388248&dq=helen+mercer+dubuque&hl=en

6. Ward.

7. Gibson, Michael. "Dubuque Owes Helen Mercer for Its Heritage," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 22, 2000, p. 4A. Online: http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=DQ&p_theme=dq&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EAE41AF9A13FA00&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM

8. Ward.

9. Patenaude, Joel. "Mercer's Love of History Alive in Buildings," Telegraph Herald, January 2, 1996, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Y6BdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=5lwNAAAAIBAJ&pg=2792,205187&dq=history+of+eagle+point+park+dubuque&hl=en

10. "Historical Society Meeting," Telegraph Herald, Dec. 24, 1985, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=lMdFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0ucMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6061,3048387&dq=helen+mercer+dubuque&hl=en

11. "Dubuque Woman Honored."