Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Helen Louise Nichols Young, 1862-1951
By Emily Treasure
Graduate student, Idaho State University
Helen Louise Nichols Young, sometimes called "Nellie," was born in Lansing, Michigan in 1862. Three years later, her brother Ashel William Nichols was born. Their mother Sarah A. Nichols was remarried on March 9, 1870, in Ingham County, Michigan, to Daniel E. Waldron. Helen's stepfather would have a very significant impact on her life. He was an attorney, and he decided to move the family west. According to the 1880 census, the Waldron family lived in San Francisco, California, where Waldron practiced law. Attracted by the mining boom, the family moved to Osburn, Idaho, shortly thereafter, and Waldron continued his practice.
On June 29, 1887, in Blaine, Idaho, Helen married Orville R. Young, an Osburn miner. As part of her newly married life, Helen started teaching at the public school in Shoshone County. The Youngs' marriage proved to be a little rocky, and they never had any children. Five years into their marriage, Orville was sued. The bank prevailed against Orville and began to collect. Because of the laws of coverture, the bank sought to sell Helen's property as well—two lode-mining claims called "Coeur d'Alene Nellie" and "Emma" in Shoshone County. Helen hired the prominent northern Idaho attorney Weldon Brinton Heyburn, who later became a United States Senator, to help her challenge the sale. In February 1895, Helen won her case before the Idaho Supreme Court. The mines were acknowledged as her individual property "free from the control of her husband" because they had been deeded to her as a gift.
This case must have greatly affected Helen. On October 26, 1895, which was later that same year, Helen Young became the first woman admitted to the Idaho State bar as an attorney. Heyburn and W. W. Woods (both delegates of the Idaho State Constitutional Convention in 1889) sponsored her application. Helen's stepfather also supported her. Woods and Heyburn claimed that Helen had been studying law with Waldron for at least two years (perhaps since 1885) and was familiar with several legal texts including Sharswood's Blackstone's Commentaries and Stephen on Pleadings. Even though the law in Idaho stated that only "white males" could become attorneys until several years later, and women didn't have the right to vote in Idaho until 1896, the Idaho Supreme Court, comprised of Chief Justice John T. Morgan, Justice Isaac N. Sullivan, and Justice Joseph W. Huston, accepted Young's application. These same members of the Idaho Supreme Court would go on to pass women's suffrage the next year. Several of these lawyers' and justices' wives knew Helen Young because they were active members of the NAWSA.
Despite her accomplishment of passing the bar, Helen would never argue another case. Instead, she joined the NAWSA sponsored Boise Convention in July 1896 to fight for the vote. One of the two national organizers of the convention, Laura M. Johns of Kansas recruited Young to "take charge of north Idaho." Young and Kate E. N. Feltham (who would become one of the next women lawyers in Idaho almost 20 years later) were elected vice-presidents during the meeting, as noted in The History of Woman Suffrage. They won the vote in Idaho mere months later in November 1896, and Idaho became the fourth state to pass women's suffrage.
Young continued her political activities by running for County Superintendent of Public Instruction for Shoshone County in 1900 as a Democrat. The Mullan Mirror reported one of her campaign stops on November 3rd, and described Young as "a trim little lady, who in a few well-chosen phrases pleaded as only a woman can plead for suffrage of her sex and liberal support on the ticket for the office of superintendent of schools. With gentlemanly instinct she was well received and retired wreathed in smiles." She won the seat, but damaged her reputation and lost many friends because of the side she took during the violent mining conflicts between union and non-union workers that occurred in north Idaho. When Young ran again two years later, she lost to Republican Mary O. Nickersham.
Around 1903, Helen and Orville seem to have separated. Orville continued to work as a miner and lived as a "boarder" in Wallace, Idaho. Helen moved to New York City to pursue an interest in Christian Science. The previous year, she had registered with The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts. By 1906, she qualified as a "practitioner" of Christian Science, enabling her to practice spiritual healing. This was her livelihood for the rest of her life. In 1907, she published a book called Scriptural Healing: Arranged from the Bible. She also published many articles in the Christian Science Journal and the Christian Science Sentinel from 1908 to 1916. From 1915 to 1918, she lived and worked in Butte, Montana, but then she returned to New York City, where she remained until her death in 1951.
Helen Young is best remembered for her status as the first woman lawyer in Idaho and her subsequent contribution to women's rights. She participated in the Boise Convention that preceded women's suffrage in Idaho and served for one term as County Superintendent of Public Instruction for Shoshone County. Even though she never practiced law after signing the Roll of Attorneys, she won an important legal victory over the laws of coverture and helped to open the door to future women lawyers and other independent women.
1880 U.S. Census, population schedule, Daniel Waldron and Sarah A. Waldron, HeritageQuest Online. http://www.ancestryheritagequest.com/HQA.
Hasbrouk, Sol. Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho, volume 4. San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney Company, 1903, 326-327.
"Helen Louise Nichols Young." First Fifty Women in Idaho Law. Idaho State Bar, 2005. https://isb.idaho.gov/pdf/first50/fifty_01.pdf
Kristensen, Debora K. The First 50 Women in Idaho Law: 1895-1975. Idaho State Bar, 2005.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage, 6 volumes. New York: Fowler & Wells, 1922.
The Mullan Mirror, 3 Nov 1900.
Young, Helen L. Scriptural Healing: Arranged from the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1907.