Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Mary Helen Barker-Bates, 1845-1924

By Jessa Frodine, student, Colorado State University

Mary Helen Barker-Bates was born on December 17, 1845, and died on August 3, 1924. She was recognized as a leader in Colorado philanthropic, educational, and club work. She was a physician, a surgeon, and a state legislator. Barker-Bates's presence in the women's suffrage movement helped make the Nineteenth Amendment a reality, and her great career accomplishments are still an inspiration to this day.

Barker was born in New York, to Jane Ruth Freeman and Ezra Ferris Barker. Ezra was a prominent physician, and inspired his daughter to become a doctor. Mary was educated in Evanston, Illinois, then at Edmunds College in New York, graduating in 1871. She then pursued additional education at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. After graduating from the institution in 1873, she opened an obstetrics school in Salt Lake City. During her time in Utah, Mary served as a member of the Centennial Executive Committee for the state. In 1876, Mary married George Bates, and moved with him to Leadville, Colorado. It was there that she assisted in opening the Ladies' Relief Hospital. Mary and George relocated to Denver in 1881, and she continued to practice medicine. George Bates passed away in 1886.

Mary was described as a "pioneer" suffragist in the Colorado state report in History of Woman Suffrage, volume 6. She was active in the successful suffrage referendum campaign in 1893. In Denver, Mary served as an officer for the East Capitol Hill Woman's Republican League. This organization grew quickly in 1894 and had influence beyond the city lines. Mary and the organization fought for the Republican agenda, as well as for women's right to vote. In 1899 Mary gave a speech at the national convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Grand Rapids, MI. In addition to her suffrage work, Mary was a member of the Denver Board of Education, the Vice-President of Colorado's State Medical Society, and Colorado's delegate to Pan American Medical Congress. She was also a member of the Society Descendants of the Mayflower.

Her reform activism extended beyond woman suffrage. She served two terms on the Denver School Board between 1895 and 1901.

Dr. Barker-Bates died in Colorado in 1924.


Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922) [LINK]

Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4 (1902) [LINK]

Williams, Shauna. "Denver." Representative Women of Colorado Genealogy.

"Mary Helen Barker Bates." The Church Historian's Press. 2016.

Bancroft, Hubert Howe. The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft: History of Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming. San Francisco: History Company, 1890, p. 657.

Brown, Joseph G. The History of Equal Suffrage in Colorado 1868-1898. Denver, CO: News Job Printing, p. 33.

Jensen, Kimberly, "The 'Open Way of Opportunity': Colorado Women Physicians and World War I, Western Historical Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 327-348.

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