Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Helen Ring Robinson, 1878-1923
By Zoё Jennings, student, Colorado State University
Literary critic and editorial writer for the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Times, Colorado Senator.
Helen Ring Robinson was born in 1878, in Eastport, Maine, to Thomas Warren Ring and Mary Margaret (Thompson) Ring. She married Ewing Robinson on February 13, 1902. Helen Robinson had a close relationship with Ewing’s daughter and Helen’s stepdaughter, Alycon Robinson. Helen Ring Robinson died at age forty-four in 1923, in Denver, Colorado.
Helen Robinson was the first woman elected to the Colorado Senate in 1912, and the second woman elected to any state senate in the U.S. Nicknamed the “housewife of the Senate,” Robinson served from 1913 to 1917, as a member of the Democratic party with progressive values. She sponsored twenty-seven bills in her first year. Arguably her most successful bill was on women’s minimum wage. She proposed this bill because she argued women at the time were paid so poorly that they were often forced into prostitution. She worked for social, educational, and economic justice for women and children. She used her feminine traits as an asset in her career, once stating in a 1913 interview with the New York Times that "the womanly woman who was needed in politics, not a creature recreated in the image of man." With these traits, she was able to empower, and not alienate, the country that was just warming up to women as political figures.
In addition to her time as a senator, Robinson was politically influential as an orator. She spoke in every state in the union, as well as at conferences in Geneva and Madrid. The National American Woman Suffrage Association drew upon her speaking skills and sent her across the nation advocating for women’s suffrage. In December 1913 she spoke in New Hampshire; in 1916 she spoke in Atlanta in a campaign for women’s municipal suffrage. She spoke in Kentucky and Massachusetts as well. She was also a strong pacifist who spoke out against World War I. In 1915, she was invited to accompany Henry Ford’s Peace Ship, a gathering of well-known pacifists, to challenge world war. After the Ludlow Massacre, Robinson raised awareness about the poor treatment of immigrant workers at Colorado Fuel and Iron Co.
Robinson was also an accomplished writer. Early in her career, she adapted Uncle Tom’s Cabin for a young audience. She also wrote, “Preparing Women for Citizenship,” advising women on how to think for themselves and be good citizens. These writings, along with her speeches and work as a senator, paved the way for other women to hold political positions of all kinds. During her funeral at the Capitol rotunda in Denver, members of the League of Women Voters and Denver Women’s Press Club guarded her casket in tribute to the trailblazer.
Multiple brief notices of her state speaking engagements are found in Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922).
"Helen Ring Robinson." Colorado Women's Hall of Fame. http://www.cogreatwomen.org/project/helen-ring-robinson/.
"Helen Ring Robinson." Her Hat Was In the Ring. http://www.herhatwasinthering.org/biography.php?id=7636.
Pascoe, Pat. Helen Ring Robinson: Colorado Senator and Suffragist. Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2011.