Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920

Biography of Helen E. Vaughan, 1875-1951

By Amelia Koford, Texas Lutheran University

Helen E. Vaughan was born March 21, 1875 in Connecticut. Around the age of twenty-five, she married William P. Vaughan of Rhode Island. Their daughter Anne was born in 1912. Sometime before 1917, the family moved to Greenville, South Carolina, where they would remain for the rest of their lives.

In June 1917, Vaughan became the South Carolina chairman of the National Woman's Party. The South Carolina branch had been formed in April 1917, and the first chairman, Mrs. E. W. Durant, resigned after a few months. Shortly after assuming the state chairmanship, Vaughan traveled to Washington to lobby South Carolina's Congressmen for suffrage as a war measure. The Suffragist quotes her as saying, “No thinking woman who has stood on the picket line with a flag, who has interviewed Congressmen on suffrage, can have exactly her old relation to her government.”

During her state party chairmanship, Vaughan organized visits to South Carolina from several National Woman's Party figures, including Maud Younger and Abby Scott Baker. She also hosted a National Woman's Party tea in Washington, D.C for Confederate veterans of the Civil War and Daughters of the Confederacy.

Vaughan also served as president of the Greenville branch of the South Carolina Equal Suffrage League. The group had been an affiliate of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, but in February 1918, it gave up its NAWSA membership to join the more militant National Woman's Party. The Greenville branch was one of three organized National Woman's Party groups in the state, after the Charleston suffrage club split into two and a National Woman's Party group formed in Orangeburg. Historians estimate that there were never many more than 100 National Woman's Party members in South Carolina, in contrast to a much larger NAWSA membership.

In 1918, South Carolina elected a new Democratic senator, William Pollock, after the death of senator Benjamin Tillman. Pollock was elected to serve out the remainder of Tillman's term only until the close of the Democratic Congress on March 4, 1919. Vaughan coordinated the “Helping Pollock to declare” campaign, a flood of letters and editorials asking Pollock to support the Susan B. Anthony amendment, which was two votes shy of passage in the Senate. In a signed Suffragist article, Vaughan wrote, “South Carolina people, realizing the fact that Senator Pollock's silence is holding back the suffrage amendment, and depriving the Democratic Party of the credit of enfranchising the women of the nation, began at once to urge him by letters, telegrams, petitions and resolutions to make a statement immediately that he would support the amendment.” According to NWP stalwart and South Carolinian Anita Pollitzer, she and Vaughan “tramped the State up and down, saying 'There’ll be no vote—unless Pollock declares.'" Pollock eventually declared his support, and voted on February 10, 1919, becoming the only South Carolina senator ever to vote in favor of suffrage. In March, he was replaced by Senator Nathaniel Dial, who cast a “nay” vote when the amendment finally passed the Senate in June.

According to Census records, Helen, William, and Anne Vaughan continued to live in Greenville, South Carolina. Helen died on March 15, 1951 at the age of 75. William died in 1959 and Anne in 1979. They are buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Greenville.

Sources:

Bland, Sidney R. “Fighting the Odds: Militant Suffragists in South Carolina.” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 82, no. 1 (1981): 32-43.

"The New Freedom in Europe and in America." The Suffragist 5, no. 72 (1917): 8.

"The South Salutes the Suffrage Sentinels." The Suffragist 5, no. 72 (1917): 4.

Taylor, Antoinette Elizabeth. “South Carolina and the Enfranchisement of Women: The Later Years.” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 80, no. 4 (1979): 298-310.

“The Woman's Party Advance in the South.” The Suffragist 5, no. 65 (1917): 8.

Vaughan, Helen E. "South Carolina Demands Suffrage Amendment." The Suffragist 7, no. 1 (1919): 5-6.

Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party (Dellinger’s 1977), 155, 184, 227, 399.

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