Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Helen Augusta Howard, 1865-1934
By Sheree Keith, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Middle Georgia State University
Founder, Georgia Woman Suffrage Association
Helen Augusta Howard was born in Columbus, Georgia, on May 11, 1865, to Anne Jane Lindsay Howard and John Howard. Howard had fifteen siblings and came from a well-to-do family. Her father built the first dam across the Chattahoochee River, and her great-uncle served as both a state attorney for the Ocmulgee District and as a U.S. Representative from Georgia.
When Howard was a child, her father died and left her mother no way to pay the taxes on family property. Howard's early claims for women's right to vote were influenced by this domestic situation and on the Revolutionary War mantra “no taxation without representation.” Howard organized the Georgia Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 out of Sherwood Hall, the property for which her mother paid taxes without representation. The first association members were women in the Howard family. On the whole, the community in Columbus, though, was unsupportive of woman suffrage efforts. Howard was not dissuaded; she worked to widen the support for woman suffrage in her state. She published in several newspapers: The Columbus Enquirer published some of her letters to the editor as well as several articles written by her, such as the 1889 article, “Women of the Land.” Similar writings were published in the Union Recorder out of Milledgeville, Georgia, from December 15, 1891, to September 20, 1892, in the “Woman's Rights Column.” Ultimately, the Columbus newspapers were pressured by her brothers into abstaining from running Howard's columns.
By 1894, a twin organization of more than forty members formed in Atlanta, and together with the GWSA, became affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). During discussions at the 1894 NAWSA convention in Washington, D.C., H. Augusta Howard convinced the organization to hold the 1895 meeting in Atlanta:
You might hold a thousand conventions in Kansas or any other place above Mason and Dixon's line and you will never hear anything of it in the South. The Georgia papers and the far Southern papers still insist that women do not want the ballot. Until you hold a convention in the South and prove to them that this is not so, they will keep on saying it is. In Atlanta, if the convention should go there, there can be no doubt that the Grand Opera House, which is one of the largest auditoriums in the United States, could be secured and it could be packed from ceiling to pit. While a great many of them would come to laugh, many of them would go away with N.A.W.S.A. membership tickets in their pockets. I can assure you that Georgia Congressmen do not influence their constituents, they are influenced by their constituency, and if we ever hope to influence the Georgia delegation in Congress, we shall have to influence the people of that state. I believe that an effort would be made by Atlanta and the prominent business men, as well as the Georgia Woman Suffrage Association, to make the next convention a successful one. While Atlanta is not in sympathy with the movement, she is always ready to help Atlanta.
The Howard sisters used family money to fund the convention, not wanting to force the members of the GWSA to fund a convention they did not agree to. During the convention in Georgia, Susan B. Anthony and other NAWSA officers visited Howard's home in Columbus. Oddly, after the convention, H. Augusta Howard stepped down as the president of the GWSA. Allowing “Yankees” into the family home and dipping into the family's coffers to pay for the convention may have angered Howard's brothers, and some historians think this is why she resigned.
In 1897, Howard scored the highest on the civil service exam and became the first female public employee in Columbus, working at the local post office for three years. She left amid controversy, most likely over another disagreement with her brothers. Continuing her suffrage work, in 1901, she served as a vice president for the Georgia association. She was also listed as a speaker at the 1908 state convention. In her hometown, however, Howard was ostracized, largely for her unpopular views on women's rights. She also experimented with controversial trends in women's dress, like trousers and shorter skirts; she dabbled in spiritualism and continued to be an atheist and a vegetarian.
By 1920, Howard was living alone at Sherwood Hall, where she ran into trouble with the law. While trying to scare off a young boy, who was picking flowers out of her magnolia tree, she shot him in the stomach and was charged with attempted murder. She hired one of the first female lawyers in Georgia, Viola Ross Napier. Howard was found guilty of murder by an all-male jury. According to correspondence Napier, Howard's brothers were anxious to acquire the family home, helped secure her conviction, and hoped that she would be committed to a mental institution. Other historians report that her brothers used this tactic to save the family any further embarrassment. Ultimately, the family secured a pardon from the governor, and Howard spent the rest of her life in New York. She died on June 10, 1934. When she died in 1934, her family had her body interred in the family plot in Columbus. Reflective of her controversial status in Columbus, her gravestone reads “Martyred.”
Causey, Virginia. “Columbus ‘Martyr.” Opinion Forum. Columbus Enquirer-Ledger (Columbus, Ga.). June 27, 2015. http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/opinion/op-ed/article29462377.html.
Find a Grave. Helen Augusta Howard. Accessed June 25, 2018. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/8249652/helen-augusta-howard.
“Georgia Women Meet to Work for Right of Suffrage.” Atlanta Georgian and News. July 09, 1908, p.14. Georgia Historic Newspapers. https://gahistoricnewspapers.galileo.usg.edu/lccn/sn89053728/1908-07-09/ed-1/seq-14/.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. “Georgia.” Chapter X in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920, 121-43. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
Harper, Ida Husted and Susan B. Anthony, ed. “Georgia.” Chapter XXXV in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4: 1883-1900, 754-61. Rochester, N.Y: Privately Published, 1902. [LINK]
Howard, H. Augusta. “History Will One Day Laugh.” Columbus Enquirer-Sun (Columbus, Ga.). August 11, 1889, p.3. Georgia Historic Newspapers. https://gahistoricnewspapers.galileo.usg.edu/lccn/sn84024799/1889-08-11/ed-1/seq-3/.
Howard, H. Augusta. “Woman's Rights Column.” Unionville Recorder (Milledgeville, Ga.). December 15, 1891, p.1. Georgia Historic Newspapers. https://gahistoricnewspapers.galileo.usg.edu/lccn/sn89053811/1891-12-15/ed-1/seq-1/.
Howard, H. Augusta. “The Women of the Land.” Columbus Enquirer-Sun (Columbus, Ga.). December 08, 1889, p.6. Georgia Historic Newspapers. https://gahistoricnewspapers.galileo.usg.edu/lccn/sn84024799/1889-12-08/ed-1/seq-6/.
McRae, Elizabeth Gillespie, “Viola Ross Napier (1881–1962): The Twentieth-Century Struggle for Women's Equality.” In Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times, edited by Kathleen Ann Clark and Ann Short Chirhart, 114-32. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014.
“Shall They Vote?” Atlanta Constitution, Jan. 28, 1895, p.7. Newspapers.com.
Summerlin, Elizabeth Stephens. “‘Not Ratified but Hereby Rejected': The Woman's Suffrage Movement in Georgia, 1895-1925.” Master's thesis, University of Georgia, 2009. EBSCOhost.
Taylor, A. Elizabeth. “The Origin of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Georgia.” Georgia Historical Quarterly 28, no. 2. June 1944: 63-79. JSTOR.