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  • "Thinking Like a Person":A Filial Perspective on the Career of Helen M. Ingram
  • Mrill Ingram (bio) and Maia Ingram (bio)

What ignites a career? Where does someone find the determination to buck the status quo and push into territory few others travel? These are significant questions to ponder about Dr. Helen Ingram's career, which includes many "firsts" and "onlys." As her daughters we have a special perspective on that professional life—intimate, but very partial. We share our knowledge and memories here in celebration and respect, valuing especially the new insights that this writing process has inevitably generated. This essay has created an opportunity to remark on the exceptional drive, creativity, and generosity with which we have observed our mother as a role model, an adviser, and a collaborator.

From the Garden of the Gods

Helen Moyer Hill Ingram grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in a house near the Garden of the Gods. At the time, this was the "wrong side" of town, but Helen had told her father that she wanted a pony. When the family was looking for a new house, he found a place near the canyons with trails wandering by juniper trees and red rock sculptures. It was lovely country for Helen and her sister Mary to explore on horseback. When they weren't out riding, the girls participated in a variety of other activities including 4-H, sewing, and community theater performances (there was a lot of square and tap dancing and sewing costumes).

But above all, Helen loved high school debate. She has talked often of her debate friends and the senior-year debate topic, "Resolved: The House Un-American Activities Committee Should Be Abolished." She [End Page 10] and her partner won at the state level even though they were arguing the negative.

Perhaps it was that combination of growing up experiencing the magic of western landscapes as well as the power of words that helped lay the foundation for a career dedicated to writing and speaking about many dimensions of water in the West.

Helen's father, Oliver Weldon Hill, made a living as a traveling beauty supply salesman, and her mother, Hazel Margaret Wickard, had been a schoolteacher before marriage, and was very active in the community. Helen describes her family as very political—not ideological, but always interested in the process through which democratic decisions happen. Her father also instilled in her a deep ambition and sense of her potential to be a success. Asked about how she made her many career decisions, especially to keep moving into what was at the time the very maledominated arenas of academic political science, Helen offered: "I didn't think of myself as a woman. I thought of myself as a person."

After graduating from high school (perhaps distracted by the debate club) Helen allowed herself to be guided toward Cottey College in Missouri. The choice was suggested by a relative and approved by perhaps overprotective parents. After a single enervating year at a school that she remembers as preparing young women to be good wives, however, Helen went to visit a guidance counselor. The counselor eventually told her, "You just need to be somewhere else."

That somewhere else turned out to be Oberlin College, which she chose after reading that it was the first college to admit women and integrate black students. Helen thrived at Oberlin, loving the opportunity to be "serious." She settled on government as a major, and took the "Washington Semester" at American University where students from many colleges gathered for seminars with elected political leaders and administrative officials. Helen wrote her final paper on Congress and the appropriations process. Her most successful one-on-one interview was with a subcommittee chairman who was a great critic of the State Department. Her experience as an interviewer provided tools she would use in her fieldwork on policy actors for decades to come.

After Oberlin she aimed her sights on a fellowship program at Columbia University to study metropolitan affairs. An Oberlin professor of Helen's wrote to a contact at Columbia inquiring about the program. The response came back that the Columbia administrators were...


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