Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Helen Chadwick Rand Thayer, 1863-1935
By Malcolm Gent, Ph.D. Student, University of New Hampshire
Throughout her life Helen Chadwick Rand Thayer had a passionate dedication to social progress. Born in Brooklyn, NY on October 3, 1863 to Albert and Sophia Chadwick Rand, she attended Adelphi Academy in Brooklyn, moved to Westfield, MA as a girl, and studied at the Mary Burnham School in Northhampton MA. In her teens Helen was already actively working with local community organizations, including Westfield's Hopefully Well Affected Club and the Westfield Congregational Church. An excellent student, Helen graduated with a Bachelor's from Smith College in 1884, and read History at Newnham College, Cambridge in 1886-87. While at Smith Rand became convinced of the need for American social change. For the rest of her life she would work with civic organizations, and her alma mater, to further the cause of social justice.
In June 1892 Helen married Lucius Thayer, a graduate of Amherst College and Yale Divinity School. Once ordained he was assigned in 1900 to the North Congregational Church in Portsmouth, NH. Both Rev. and Mrs. Thayer quickly became prominent civic leaders, with Lucius a well-respected Pastor and Helen active in innumerable local charitable and educational efforts. Mrs. Thayer would spend thirty eight years working in, and often serving as director of, organizations including the Council of Social Action of Congregational Churches, the Massachusetts Consumers' League, the New Hampshire Children's Aid Society, the NH Committee for Belgian Relief, the advisory board for the NH Equal Suffrage Association, the National Congress of Mothers, the Association for Labor and Legislation, the NH Society of Charities and Corrections, while also serving as a trustee of Smith College. In Portsmouth Helen organized and ran meetings, conferences, and charity events including lunches, lectures, and symposiums in support of settlement housing, women's suffrage, youth, and education. The North Congregational Church hosted everything from a three-day conference in 1912 for the New Hampshire Women's Suffrage Association to a holiday event in 1923 that transformed the North Church into a “Santa Claus House” for children's charity. During this time, Helen and Lucius raised three children, Dorothy Goldthwait (b. 1893), Lucius Ellsworth (b. 1896), and Sherman Rand (b. 1904).
Helen was a key figure in the suffrage movement in Portsmouth. She worked with the YWCA and the College Equal Suffrage League, both with close ties to the National American Women's Suffrage Association. Using her skills for organizing events, Helen supported NAWSA by directing two pro-suffragist plays, “Lady Geraldine's Speech” and “How the Vote Was Won,” in Portsmouth in February 1912. The plays received rave reviews from the Portsmouth Herald. In December of the same year, Helen and Lucius hosted NAWSA's annual meeting at the North Church.
Aside from her work in the suffrage movement, Helen Thayer's primary interest was providing housing for those in need and medical support during WWI. Both of these efforts would be through her alma mater, Smith. Thayer was one of the founders, in 1889, of the College Settlement at Rivington St. in New York City. She became President of the College Settlement Association in 1907 and would work with Smith to create settlement houses in New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston. Typical of the Association's efforts the Denison House, in Boston, offered immigrants from China, Greece, Italy, and Syria housing, kindergarten, and classes in cooking, dress making, and cobbling. Modeled on Jane Addams's Hull House, the settlement house projects were practical charity, part social experiment, part progressive activism. Thayer also worked with the Smith College Relief Unit Committee and the Smith College War Service Board to train nurses and provide supplies and aid to war torn France, collecting over 240,000.00 in donations. Ultimately Helen and Lucius would move to Newton, Massachusetts where they would retire. Helen would be fondly remembered by the city she had worked in for so long, returning to Portsmouth for a tea in her honor in January of 1929. At the time of her death on April 14, 1935, Helen was recognized as a committed social activist, philanthropist, and settlement pioneer. In support of women's suffrage and aid for the most vulnerable Thayer used her time and resources relentlessly in the service of her community.
Information on Helen Thayer's birth, academic achievements and death can be found in her obituary in the Springfield Republican on April 25, 1935 and available through Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/23241584/helen-chadwick-thayer
A record of the organizations she took part in are in her profile in One Thousand New Hampshire Notables: Brief Biographical Sketches of New Hampshire Men and Women, Native Or Resident, Prominent in Public, Professional, Business, Educational, Fraternal Or Benevolent Work (Edited by Henry Harrison Metcalf, Rumford printing Company, 1919) and Who's Who in New England: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men and Women of the States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut (Edited by Albert Nelson Marquis, A.N. Marquis & Company, 1915) available on Google Books.
Details on Helen Thayer's activities in Portsmouth and as a suffragist can be seen in Portsmouth Herald articles from Newspapers.com, Newspaperarchives.com, and in the New Hampshire State Library in Concord, New Hampshire. Details on Helen's work on the College Settlements and the settlements themselves can be found in The Commons: A Monthly Record Devoted to Aspects of Life and Labor from the Social Settlement Point of View, Volumes 7-8 (Chicago Commons, 1902), The Radcliffe News (students of Radcliffe College, 1914) both on Google Books and Denison House Brochures for 1903 on Harvard Mirador https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:4269081$4i
Information on the Smith College Relief Unit Committee and the Smith College War Service Board can be found on the page for the Ladies of Grecourt: Ruth Gaines on Brigham Young's WWI archive http://www.ourstory.info/library/2-ww1/Gaines/gre5.html and Smith's page on the Smith College Relief Unit (1917 -1920) on https://sophia.smith.edu/blog/smithipedia/womens-war-work/smith-college-relief-unit-scru-1917-1920/