Biographical Sketch of Helen Hoy Greeley

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Helen Hoy Greeley, 1878-1965

By Nancy E. Boyer, PhD, affiliated assistant professor: University of Delaware, Newark, DE

Attorney; organizer and orator in the Suffrage movement; legal counsel and acclaimed orator for other major social and political causes of her time

Helen Hoy Greeley was born in Albany, New York, January 20, 1878, and passed November 21, 1965 in Charlottesville, Virginia after a short illness. Her parents were Charles T. Hoy (1835-1922), a progressive prison administrator, and Lucy Smith Hoy (1836-1905), a lauded high school administrator. Helen's sister Elizabeth Raeburn Hoy was a teacher at the Veltin School for Girls in New York City while her brother William Thomas Hoy was a newspaper reporter, then lawyer and social worker in Manhattan. Their home at 180 Waverly Place, NYC, is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Helen was first publicly-acclaimed as a speaker when she was valedictorian of her class (1895) at the academically-renowned Albany (NY) High School. She graduated Vassar College (1899) and New York University Women's Law School (1901) with a full scholarship to NYU (co-ed) Law School. She earned her LL.B. in 1903, and was admitted to the New York bar. In partnership with another woman, she opened a law office in 1904, when there were only about 75 women lawyers in the State of New York. In 1906, she graduated NYU law school first in her class. She was admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court in 1909. Years later, in 1924, after her attention turned to advancing international peace, she took exams in international law after study at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Helen Katherine Hoy married Harold Dudley Greeley in 1908. He was a nephew of Horace Greeley and a lawyer, accountant, and later author of five published books. Although Helen and Harold remained married throughout their lives, they separated permanently in 1911, when Helen went to California to assist the woman suffrage campaign there.

Helen Hoy Greeley wrote about her suffrage work for a Vassar College questionnaire in 1938, as follows:

"About 1904-6:
Equality League of Self-supporting Women
One of the co-founders with Harriot Stanton Blatch;
Chairman of the committee to finance the first delegation of factory women ever to go to Albany to ask for the vote;
Helped organize the first woman suffrage parade, when only 100 women marched;
Assisted Mrs. Blatch in planning the famous Vassar meeting held in an adjoining graveyard when permission for a campus meeting was refused.

Collegiate Equal Suffrage League, New York branch
Member of Board of Directors;
Chairman of Committee financing the investigation of woman suffrage in Colorado by Dr. Helen Sumner, the economist, and the publication of her book by the League.

1908 et seq.

Co-operative Equal Suffrage League,
object to raise money to promote suffrage projects and education;
President; [designed], published and sold the Equal Suffrage stamps;
Made the first catalogue of New York believers in woman suffrage by political districts,
which became the basis for the Woman Suffrage Party of New York City.

Woman Suffrage Party of the City of New York
One of about ten co-founders with Carrie Chapman Catts;
Drafted the Party's first platform;
Leader of the 19th Assembly District;
Vice-Chairman of the Borough of Manhattan;
Organized the headquarters of the Party in the Borough of Brooklyn;
Instituted the regular outdoor meetings at strategic points;
As the only speaker, spoke 56 consecutive nights, for as long as three hours, at the corner of Broadway and 96th street, which became famous in suffrage history;
Spoke throughout the city at outdoor meetings;
Served as election watcher; [taught watcher-training classes.]

National American Woman Suffrage Association
Organized money-raising mass meetings in New York, Boston and Philadelphia
($7,000 at one meeting in New York City);
Chairman of Convention Elections Committee
Member of Committee on Constitutional Revision and Rapporteur to the Convention
Member of Conciliation Committee on Factional Disputes.

1911 California
As gift of the N. Y. Woman Suffrage Party to the women of CA, toured Northern CA in the successful referendum campaign.

1912 Oregon
With Charlotte Anita Whitney, President of the California Equal Suffrage League, toured Oregon cities to initiate the Oregon referendum campaign; successful in 1912.

Pennsylvania
Speaker for Pennsylvania College Equal Suffrage League, making week-end trips radiating 100 miles from Philadelphia.
Organized the headquarters of the Philadelphia Woman Suffrage Party on Chestnut Street, including offices, library, reading room, speakers' classes and a restaurant which paid all headquarters overhead expenses.

1913? New Jersey Regular speaker at outdoor series in Elizabeth;
Speaker and class leader in Jersey City;
Speaker and director of "The New Jersey Next Campaign" financed by New York women.

New York Equal Suffrage Campaign Committee
Manager of the money-raising ball game between the Giants and the Cubs.

New York Equal Suffrage Association
Speaker on tours; convention delegate;
Chairman of Convention Elections.

Other states Speaking and debating in 36 states, some of this paid.
Appearances before State and Congressional Committees"

*Source: "Vassar Alumnae Questionnaire" completed by Helen Hoy Greeley, 1938

In 1917, after traveling more than 10,000 miles throughout New York in 1916, she began to work on other issues such as investigating sex discrimination in educational opportunities, teachers' pay and administrators' advancement. She then was legal counsel in the successful drafting, national organizing, and lobbying effort to pass legislation in the US Congress to attain rank for army nurses. As paid legal counsel for professional nursing associations, she drafted and worked to pass model laws to professionalize nursing. She was legal counsel for American Indian Defense Council successfully opposing odious legislation,1922-23. She campaigned extensively for Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Sr., in Wisconsin.

She then gave up her law practice to turn her attention to international law and world peace. She wrote,

"I wish the women of the whole country would unite to work for peace in a movement as mighty as suffrage; but alas patriotism is psychologically chiefly a wartime emotion. How to make peace heroic is the great problem. ... I am very happy in having the advice and support of John Dewey in my theories and am earnestly looking forward to a part in some constructive work before 1923 dies." (draft of HHG letter to Mrs. Emma A. Fox, Jan. 3, 1923)

In 1937, Helen Greeley returned to the practice of law as an attorney with the Office of the Solicitor General, U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. where she was renowned for her brilliant legal analysis.

After fifteen years, Helen was forced to retire, having also passed the age of 70. She retired to the 108-acre farm she had bought in rural Virginia, where she raised cattle, sheep, and hay, drove a tractor, and had plans to renovate the mansion in landscape that she said, "feeds my soul."

 

Helen Hoy Greeley suffrage publicity photo, circa 1910, (c) Nancy E. Boyer

 

Helen Hoy Greeley advocating for woman suffrage standing in a car in West Grove. Pennsylvania, circa 1912 (c) Nancy E. Boyer

 

Helen Hoy Greeley driving her tractor at her farm in Trevilians, VA, where she retired in 1952 and lived actively until her passing in 1965. (c) Nancy E. Boyer

Sources:

Special Collection

Most of the source materials for this biographical sketch are the personal letters, images, newspaper article scrapbooks, and papers of Helen Hoy Greeley which were bequeathed to the parents of the author by Helen Hoy Greeley. After significant, masterful archival work, Mariamne C. Fulton, primary archivist, the parents of the author subsequently passed the project on to her.

The collection is currently being read for research and scholarly publication and the contents listed for archival purposes at the Helen Hoy Greeley Center for the Study of Peace, Nancy E. Boyer, director. The collection includes at least 250 binders of papers and 75 boxes somewhat ordered by date and cause. The collection also includes at least 1,000 books as well as artwork from Helen Hoy Greeley's travel in Europe and her artist friends, plus banners used and hats worn in the campaigns.

A hope and goal is to place these papers and ephemera in a repository that either has national renown for special collections or is at a research university which offers a degree in peace studies and has faculty with interests in peace studies. It is also hoped that the author will continue to work with this collection in collaboration with the archivists at the selected repository.

Published references:

Anthony, Susan B. and Ida H. Harper, eds., History of Women's Suffrage, vol. 6 [LINK]

Dubois, Ellen Carol, Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

Jensen, Kimberly, "Neither Head nor Tail to the Campaign: Esther Pohl Lovejoy and the Oregon

Woman Suffrage Victory of 1912" Oregon Historical Quarterly, vol. 108, no. 3, 2007 (<https://www.ohs.org/research-and-library/oregon-historical-quarterly/upload/108_3-Jensen_Esther-Pohl-Lovejoy.pdf> accessed 10/31/2018)

back to top