Helen Brown Henderson
almost single-handedly, created, cajoled, communicated, shepherded,
nurtured, and developed services for the mentally ill/retarded
in Iowa - literally, bringing the services from the dark
ages to their present status as among the most enviable in the
nation." - Michael V. Reagen, 1992
Brown Henderson has spent much of her life as an advocate for
the needs of mentally retarded persons. In the late 1940s, as
the mother of a child born with special needs, she was faced
with the reality that the avenues for assistance were limited.
Through her questions and attempts to use the existing system,
she developed an extensive network of supporters. In 1950, she
began a campaign that developed 95 county chapters of the National
Association for Retarded Children (ARC). In 1954, Henderson was
elected the first president of the Black Hawk County chapter.
She was also a founding member of the Iowa ARC, which sponsored
the first three Special Olympics. From 1970 to 1978, she served
as its executive director. She trained hundreds of Iowa parents
in skills to advocate for community-based services to incorporate
all citizens into community life. She also spent many hours volunteering
her time to lobby the State Legislature on issues related to
the education of children with disabilities. Henderson's vision
eventually led to the development of the Area Education Agencies,
designed as a resource to local school districts to enable them
to provide K-12 education for disabled children in their home
communities. She was the executive director of the Polk County
Health Services from 1978 to 1983, where she continued her advocacy
for mentally ill and substance abusing citizens of Polk County.
She was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1992.