Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Helen Coffin Beedy, 1840-1904
By Cheryl L. Souza, Certified Public Accountant, Genealogy Hobbyist, Acushnet, Massachusetts
President, Franklin County, Maine, Woman's Christian Temperance Union; President, National Dorothea Dix Memorial Foundation; Active in State suffrage clubs
Helen Coffin was born on November 9, 1840 in Harrington, Maine, to John B. Coffin and Ruby Strout. Her parents were active, well-known members of their community. Helen's mother died in1849, when Helen was only 9 years old, prompting Helen to live with her maternal grandmother, Joanna Strout, for a brief period. She soon moved back to her father's home which came to include her two older siblings, a step-mother and two younger half-siblings. Helen became a teacher, and taught in the State Normal School for thirteen years. She took a higher teaching position in a school in Castine, Maine, where she met her husband, Daniel Beedy. She married Daniel in 1875 in Castine, then moved to Farmington, Maine, where Daniel lived. Daniel Beedy was a civil engineer celebrated for building bridges and steam mills. He died in 1889, after fourteen years of marriage. Helen remained in Farmington, Maine, in the house she shared with her husband until her death on June 14, 1904.
Education was Helen's driving force. She studied and participated in Chautauqua (educational traveling shows), studied French, German, English composition, and traveled abroad. She wanted to share her knowledge with others, and felt strongly about civil rights and temperance. She took on the role as teacher in both the literal and figurative sense.
Helen served as president of the Farmington, Maine Woman's Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.). The W.C.T.U. staged non-violent protests against alcohol use, particularly by having "pray-ins" in local saloons. Saloon patrons were mostly men and politics were often discussed in these locations. The W.C.T.U. not only wanted to discourage alcohol use, but also to broaden women's access to political events and discussions. In her capacity as a W.C.T.U. member, Helen also advocated for better conditions in almshouses, prisons and jails for women prisoners.
History books were filled with stories of men, their accomplishments, and lives. Helen took on the task of interviewing Maine residents in the late 1800's about their female ancestors. She compiled the book Mothers of Maine, which included such stories about the early pioneer women of Maine, including stories of her own mother. She accomplished her goal of bringing to life the importance of women, their struggle, triumphs, and life situations in Maine's history. This book was published in 1895.
Helen spent her later life encouraging women to fight for equal civil rights. In 1898 she suggested the women, on the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation in Maine, form a club. The women of the Tarrantino tribe formed the Wa-ba-na-ki club and were admitted to the Maine Federation of Women's Clubs. She was involved with the Maine State Suffrage Club, and Maine Federation of Women's Clubs. Helen was president of the National Dorthea Dix Memorial Foundation from its founding, in 1899. She spent the last five years of her life towards getting the United States Congress to pass the Dorothea Dix "Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane."
1850 U.S. Census, Washington County, Maine, population schedule, Harrington, p. 125A (penned), dwelling 53, family 83; Also p.239, dwelling 5, family 5, Helen Coffin; image, Ancestry.com (https://Ancestry.com : accessed 22 September 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 272.
1860 U.S. Census, Washington County, Maine, population schedule, Harrington, p. 83 (penned), dwelling 554, family 617, Helen B Coffin; image, Ancestry.com (https://Ancestry.com : accessed 22 September 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 455.
1870 U.S. Census, Washington County, Maine, population schedule, Harrington, p. 278 (stamped), p. 13 (penned), dwelling 88, family 98, Helen Coffin; image, Ancestry.com (https://Ancestry.com : accessed 22 September 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 562.
1900 U.S. Census, Franklin County, Maine, population schedule, Farmington, p. 15 (penned), dwelling 349, family 349, Helen Coffin Beedy; image, Ancestry.com (https://Ancestry.com : accessed 5 October 2017); citing Family History Library microfilm publication 1240592, roll 592.
George Coby Purington, "Helen Coffin Beedy," History of the State Normal School with Sketches of the Teachers and Graduates, p. 23, (Farmington, Maine: Knowlton McLeary & Co, 1889); digital image, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 23 September 2017).
Mrs. Bernard Whitman, American Series of Popular Biographies, Massachusetts Edition, Ruby Strout, p. 998, (Boston, MA: Graves & Steinbarger, 1901); digital image, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 1 October 2017).
Julia Ward Howe, Mary H. Graves, Mary Elvira Elliott, Mary A. Stimpson, Martha Seavey Hoyt, Sketches of Representative Women of New England, (Boston, Massachusetts : New England Historical Publishing Company, 1904); digital image, Google Books, (http://books.google.com : accessed 5 Oct 2017).
Helen Coffin Beedy, Mothers of Maine, (Portland, Maine: The Thurston Print, 1895); digital image, Google Books, (http://books.google.com : accessed 5 Oct 2017).
Plainfield Daily Press, "A Woman's Club of Indian Squaws," Plainfield New Jersey, Wednesday, 27 April 1898, p.7, 4th column, digital image, (www.digifind-it.com/plainfield/data/PDP/1898/1898-7-27.pdf : accessed 28 September 2017).
Farmington, Maine, "Maine Death Records 1715-1922," database on-line, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 September 2017), image, Helen Coffin Beedy. died 13 June 1904, copy of an old record of a death, original held by Farmington, Maine city clerk's office.
Find A Grave, database with images, (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 22 September 2017), memorial 39783560, Helen Coffin Beedy (1840-1904), Riverside Cemetery, Franklin County, Maine.