Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Helen Brownlee Baldwin, 1880-1973

By Nancy Alexander Simmons, Fairfax Station, VA

Woman Suffrage Activist

Helen Brownlee was born March 25, 1880, in Columbiana County, Ohio, to Reverend Hervey H. Brownlee and Florence Smith Brownlee. By 1890, the family had relocated to Port Gibson, Mississippi, where Brownlee's father was minister of the First Presbyterian Church. Brownlee attended the Port Gibson Female College about 1894. She earned an A.B. degree in 1904 from the Industrial Institute and College (IIC)—now known as the Mississippi University for Women—in Columbus; after graduation, she joined the English faculty there. On June 30, 1908, she married William Baldwin in Clinton, Louisiana, where her parents were then living; her father officiated. The couple lived in Columbus, Mississippi, where her husband worked as an attorney.

Baldwin's name appeared frequently on both the front and society pages of Columbus's newspaper, largely due to her leadership roles and involvement in community organizations. In 1908 she served as president of IIC's Lowndes County College Alumnae Association. And in 1910, she was selected to present Miss Pauline Orr—her former teacher and colleague—with a "silver service" in honor of Orr's 25 years of service to IIC. The Columbus Commercial described Baldwin as "a delightful speaker" who expressed "forcefully and beautifully the deep feeling to which this token" demonstrated.

In 1915 the women of Columbus formed a Civic Improvement League, with the goal of "cleaning up" the city, and Baldwin was its president through 1917. She was also active in the Mississippi Federation of Women's Clubs, first as a delegate from Columbus to the 1916 meeting in Greenwood, and then as an advocate for a general salary increase for the IIC faculty in 1917.

During World War I, Baldwin supported the war effort as chair of the Lowndes County chapter of the Mississippi Division of the Woman's Auxiliary of the National Defense Council. In 1917 the Council called for the registration of women throughout the state to ascertain the potential "woman power" that could be tapped in an emergency to backfill positions vacated by men who were serving in the war. The same year, Baldwin received contributions at the local Red Cross headquarters for the "boys at the front" and sold a "Red Cross Xmas set, consisting of Khaki-colored handkerchiefs, checker and chess sets, Red Cross stationery, etc." In 1918 she launched the local war savings campaign and served as the point of contact for women signing up for the United States Student Nurse Reserve.

Baldwin's earliest suffrage activities appear to be in 1916, when she and others, including Pauline Orr, led an unsuccessful fight for support of suffrage by Mississippi's Federation of Women's Clubs at its annual meeting. In February 1917, Baldwin hosted an Equal Suffrage League business meeting during which she was elected its president and Orr spoke to the group. The league decided to join suffragists from other states in contributing to a fund-raising bazaar given under the auspices of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Washington, D.C. The Meridian Suffrage League invited Baldwin's group to attend a 3-day suffrage school that would include instruction on "organization, woman suffrage history and argument, press and publicity, public speaking, parliamentary law and money raising." Two months later, Baldwin addressed a session at the Thirteenth Annual Convention of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association in Starkville; and in March, she represented the association in Columbus during a parade and rally for War Savings Stamps. After the federal suffrage amendment was passed in 1919, Baldwin chaired a ratification committee at a meeting at a high school in Columbus. She appointed a committee consisting of members from many clubs, alumni groups, and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.

In the 1920s, Baldwin was active in the League of Women Voters chapter at Mississippi State College for Women. She was elected its secretary in 1920; reported on chapter activities at a national convention in Cleveland, Mississippi, in 1921; and served on the program committee in 1922. By 1932, Baldwin had moved back to Port Gibson and joined the faculty of the local high school. In 1957, she co-authored a history of her father's church entitled A History of the First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson, Mississippi: In Commemoration of its One Hundredth [sic] and Fiftieth Anniversary, 1807-1957.

Baldwin died in Port Gibson on August 17, 1973, and is buried in the Wintergreen Cemetery there.

A photograph of Baldwin can be found in the IIC 1904 yearbook online through by choosing image 23 in the 1904 yearbook.


1880 U.S. Census, Ohio. Columbiana County. Population schedule roll 101, p. 314C, Enumeration District 45. Digital images. February 5, 2018.

"A Registration Fee to be Paid by the Women." The Columbus Commercial, August 26, 1917, p.1.

"Art Catalogue: Port Gibson Female College, June 11th and 12th, 1894." Port Gibson Female College. 1894. Accessed February 5, 2018,

"Baldwin-Brownlee." The Port Gibson Reveille, July 2, 1908, p. 7.

Clarion-Ledger. April 17, 1932, p. 2.

"College Closes Brilliant Year." The Columbus Commercial, June 10, 1902.

"Columbus Will Stage a Grand Stamp Rally." The Columbus Commercial, March 21, 1918, p. 1.

"Congregation History." First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson. Accessed February 5, 2018,

"Eighteenth Annual Commencement." The Columbus Weekly Dispatch, May 28, 1903, p. 2.

"Equal Suffrage League Members Elect Officers." The Columbus Commercial, February 18, 1917, p.1.

"Federation of Women's Clubs Convention to Open Tonight." The Daily Commonwealth, November 14, 1916, p.1.

Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI (1900-1920). N.p.: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922, p. 334.

"Ladies Aroused by Health Expert." The Columbus Commercial, March 30, 1916, p. 1.

"Ladies of Columbus Form an Improvement League." The Columbus Commercial, October 24, 1915, p.1.

"League of Women Voters." The Columbus Dispatch, May 15, 1921, p.3 and January 8, 1922, p.5. and

"Meeting of the College Alumnae." The Columbus Weekly Dispatch, October 29, 1908, p. 7.

"Nineteenth Commencement." The Columbus Weekly Dispatch, June 16, 1904, pp. 3, 4.

Ohio. Columbiana County. Marriage Records, 1872-1979, Vol. 7, p. 284. Digital images. February 5, 2018.

"Port Gibson Church's Sesquicentennial." Clarion-Ledger, September 15, 1957, p 40.

"Suffrage Fight Opens." Jackson Daily News, December 16, 1919, p. 5.

"Teachers and Officers Nominated for I. I. and C." The Columbus Commercial, June 11, 1908, p.1.

"The Alumnae Association Honors Miss Orr." The Columbus Commercial, May 29, 1910, p. 4.

The Columbus Commercial, November 11, 1917, p.2.

The Port Gibson Reveille, November 4, 1891, p. 3.

"Thirteenth Annual Convention of the Miss. Woman Suffrage Association." East Mississippi Times, April 6, 1917, p 1.

"To the Women of Lowndes County." The Columbus Commercial, August 11, 1918, p. 1.

"Urge Increase of Salaries of Teachers Here." The Columbus Commercial, November 18, 1917, p.1.

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