Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Helen N. Bates, 1855-1936

By Cheryl L. Souza, Certified Public Accountant, Genealogy Hobbyist, Acushnet, Massachusetts

Chair, Portland Maine, Congressional Committee; President, Maine Suffrage Association

Helen Neil Bates was born on November 2, 1855 in Portland, Maine, to Solomon W. Bates and Elizabeth Dennis. Helen was the second youngest child, having three half siblings from her father's first marriage and four full siblings. Helen's father, Solomon, died in1860, when Helen was only 4 years old, leaving her mother, Elizabeth, with five minor children to raise. Helen's mother ran a boarding house immediately after Solomon's death, then moved the family into the household of her unmarried stepson, Silas Bates, and worked as a housekeeper. Observing Elizabeth as a single mother probably helped shape Helen's strength and conviction that women deserved more rights than what was afforded to them. Helen graduated from Maine's State Normal School in Farmington Maine in 1874 and became a teacher. She suffered from ill health the majority of her life. Helen never married; she lived with various siblings throughout her life. She died on December 2, 1936, and was laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery, Gardner, Maine.

Helen N. Bates was elected president of the Maine Equal Suffrage Association in Portland in 1912. Her publicity approach was to distribute a plethora of printed materials provided by the National American Woman Suffrage Association and publish columns in Maine's newspapers. Under her leadership, the Maine Equal Suffrage Association voted to present a petition to the legislature's Judiciary Committee in person. The petition was to strike the word "male" in Section 1, Article 1 of the Maine Constitution, effectively giving Maine women the right to vote. Helen, along with other members of the Association, went to the Capitol early on their presentation day, spoke with many legislators and passed out buttons and cards. The press reported on the large size of the crowd, the civility of attendees, lack of fanfare, and effective, short, concise, speeches. Helen Bates's speech was published word for word in local newspapers. The Judiciary Committee, as well as the House, voted to pass the amendment. Maine's Senate, however, voted against it. In April 1913, newspapers across the Country reported "Mrs. [Ms.] Helen N. Bates credits defeat to corrupt politics . . . We are not discouraged, but will fight with new zeal, determined to win in 1915."

Helen was the Association's president until 1916, when she resigned due to ill health, but continued working with the association. The Association voted annually through 1918 to present a suffrage bill to Maine legislature, each time the bill was defeated. In 1919 the Association submitted a bill for partial suffrage, allowing women to vote for Presidential electors. On April 2, 1919, The Woman Citizen, reported the passage of this bill, which was signed into law in March 1919. The article referred to Helen N. Bates as one of Maine's "big six", and an invaluable member of Maine's Equal Suffrage Association, indicating she "kept the suffrage torch burning during years when it might otherwise have been extinguished."


Portland, Maine, "Maine Birth Records 1715-1922," database on-line, (http:// : accessed 11 September 2017), image, Helen Neale [Neil] Bates, born 2 November 1855, copy of an old record of a birth, original held by Portland, Maine city clerks office.

1860 U.S. Census, Cumberland County, Maine, mortality schedule, "Persons who died during the year ending 1st June 1880," p. 1 (penned), line 19, Solomon W. Bates; image,

1860 U.S. Census, Cumberland County, Maine, population schedule, Portland, p. 583 (penned), p. 33 (penned), dwelling 189, family 244, Helen N. Bates; image,

1870 U.S. Census, Somerset County, Maine, population schedule, Fairfield, p. 31 (penned), p. 154 (stamped), dwelling 243, family 260, Helen N. Bates; image,

1880 U.S. Census, Cumberland County, Maine, population schedule, Portland, p. 341 (stamped), p. 21 (penned), dwelling 184, family 208, Helen N. Bates; image,

1910 U.S. Census, Cumberland County, Maine, population schedule, Portland, p. 20B (penned), p.6744 (penned), dwelling 377, family 413, Helen N. Bates; image,

1920 U.S. Census, Cumberland County, Maine, population schedule, Portland, p. 4B (penned), dwelling 41, family 109, Helen N. Bates, wife [sister]; image,

1930 U.S. Census, Cumberland County, Maine, population schedule, Portland, p. 8A (penned), dwelling 92, family 214, Helen N. Bates; image, 31.

George Coby Purington, "Helen N. Bates," History of the State Normal School with Sketches of the Teachers and Graduates, p. 85, (Farmington, Maine: Knowlton McLeary & Co, 1889); digital image, Google Books ( : accessed 11 September 2017).

LaRue Spiker, "Women got the vote fifty long years ago," Mount Desert Island Historical Society, Maine, pdf, ( : accessed 17 September 2017), P4&5; citing print edition, The Maine Times, 25 April 1969, p 22-23.

"Credits Defeat to Corrupt Politics," Fort Wayne Daily News, Indiana, 10 April 1913, p. 8, image copy, ( : accessed 15 September 2017).

Elizabeth Curtis Holman, "How Maine Won Presidential Suffrage," The Woman Citizen, 12 April 1919, Vol. III. Num. 46, pp.968 -69 & 971.

Find a Grave, database with images, ( accessed 11 September 2017), memorial 84804664, Helen Neil Bates (1855-1936), Oak Grove Cemetery, Kennebec County, Maine.

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