Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biographical Sketch of Helen L. Grenfell, 1868-1935

By Loren Courtney, student, Colorado State University

Helen Loring Grenfell was born in 1868, in Valparaiso, Chile, and passed away in 1935. She and her family moved to Colorado in 1870. She was one of the first students to attend the "Stone School" in Central City, Colorado, the most prestigious school in the state. She and her family then moved to Longmont in 1873, where she pursued further educational training. In 1889, Loring married Mr. Edwin I. Grenfell. She began teaching a year after her marriage, and was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in Colorado for three consecutive terms, from 1889 to 1905. Grenfell was a prominent and successful educational activist and suffragist., working to increase revenue for schools, as well as reform and annotate existing educational laws. She also worked for the Republican Party, was appointed Superintendent of Gilpin County, and served as a member of the State Board of Examiners. Grenfell served on the State Board of Control of Penal Institutions in Colorado, and was the first women to ever hold the title of Commissioner of the Colorado State Penitentiary and Reformatory. She was in command of the women's correctional facility and held full control of the penal institutions of Colorado.

Grenfell was a published author on the topic of education. She penned, among other articles, "The Influence of Women's Organizations on Public Education" in 1907. This work "addressed the accomplishments of women's clubs and organizations as well as how successful and effective women's clubs were in the fight for suffrage." She advocated for women in education, and discussed how the incredible devotion of women suffragists served as a weapon for them to establish a presence in the public sphere and influence within the educational sphere. Grenfell believed that women's clubs and organizations allowed women to establish a presence in the public sphere away from the patriarchal society that constrained them.

According to Grenfell, "the heart of the suffrage movement is usefulness and unselfish service." Grenfell argued that women were essential to educational and societal reform and that their gender roles as mothers and housewives could serve them in their fight for suffrage. The devotion of women suffragists during the suffrage movement, serving as a powerful weapon in the suffragist movement was key in achieving change and social reform in the efforts of reaching full suffrage for women. Grenfell believed that women and mothers were the most natural driving forces in education, since men were typically occupied with material work, women were "freer to devote their energies to education" and to pursue activism.

Grenfell participated in the reformation of many forms of education ranging from primary school up to adult education in schools, as well as the education of incarcerated women. Travelling around the country and lecturing for suffrage, Grenfell helped to educate all of society and emphasized the importance of education for all Americans. Claimed to have been referred to by a former Colorado Governor as "the best state official Colorado ever had," Grenfell's activism and prominent presence in the public sphere significantly impacted education, society, and women's fight for suffrage.


Semple, James Alexander. Representative Women of Colorado: A Pictorial Collection of the Women of Colorado Who Have Attained Prominence in the Social, Political, Professional, Pioneer and Club Life of the State. Denver, C.O.: Williamson Haffner Company, 1911.

Grenfell, Helen L. "The Survival of the Fittest." The Journal of Education. Vol. 66, no. 3 (January 21, 1909), pp. 64.

Grenfell, Helen L. "The Influence of Women's Organizations on Public Education." The Journal of Education. Vol. 66, no. 5 (July 25 1907), pp. 127.

Grenfell, Helen L. "The Place of English in Public School Work." The Elementary School Teacher. Vol. 3, no. 3 (Nov. 1902), pp. 171-177.

Gove, Aaron, Dorus Reuben Hatch, Harry McWhirter Barrett, Nathan B. Coy, Henry Burside Smith, and William Barnard Mooney. "The Colorado School Journal." Colorado Education Association. Vol. 14 (1898).

"Helen Loring Grenfell." Find a grave memorial.

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