Biographical Sketch of Helen Kimber

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Helen Kimber, 1864-unknown

By Sarah Boyle, Professor, Johnson County Community College

President, Kansas Equal Suffrage Association

Born in Illinois in 1864, Helen L. Kimber grew up in Liberty, Kansas. As an adult, she pursued a teaching career in Pittsburg and Parsons. In 1901, she was made acting president of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association, ultimately serving three terms as president of that organization.

However, Kimber's prominence as a state suffrage leader appears to have peaked even before she assumed leadership of KESA. In 1894, she was one of the key organizers of an unsuccessful campaign to amend the state constitution in favor of women's suffrage. Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw also took part in the campaign and traveled throughout the state appealing to the state's political parties for support. Although the national leaders ostensibly were open to working with all political parties, they actually favored the Populist party. The Populists' support for the amendment was qualified and lukewarm, but they were the only party in the state to offer any support at all--the Republicans remaining silent on the issue and the Democrats passing a strong resolution against the amendment. Kimber, a staunch Republican, objected strenuously to the national leaders' partisanship. (In a diary entry about her work in Kansas, Susan B. Anthony noted the tension between herself and some of the state suffragists and wrote that at one of her speaking engagements “Mrs. Johns, presiding, never smiled. Mrs. Kimber and Mrs. St. John double.”) The partisan splits that arose out of the failed 1894 campaign grew into a permanent wedge between Kimber and the national leadership. Historian Ann Gordon notes that Kimber “was still angry with [Susan B. Anthony] ten years” after the campaign. Kimber was not alone in her objections. In 1912, when Kansas suffragists once again launched a suffrage campaign, they did so on a strictly nonpartisan basis, believing that partisanship had doomed the 1894 campaign.

Kimber's cool relations with national suffrage leaders did not extend to her Kansas colleagues. Sometime after 1895, Kimber left the teaching profession and embarked on a career in business, first as a sales agent for the Union Pacific Land Company and then as an independent land agent in St. Joseph, Missouri. She therefore was no longer in Kansas when, in 1912, voters finally approved the suffrage amendment she fought for in 1894. But she kept track of the successful campaign, writing letters first of encouragement and then of congratulations to the leaders of the 1912 campaign. In her last letter to appear in Kansas newspapers, Kimber wrote that she was sending her congratulations all the way from Cuba. In turn, Kansas suffragists remembered her in their newspaper histories and appreciations of the movement and its leaders.

The date and location of Helen Kimber's death are unknown.

Sources:

Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper, eds., A History of Women's Suffrage: Volume 4, 1883-1900, (New York, 1902). [LINK]

Ann D. Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, vol. 5: Their Place inside the Body Politic, 1887-1895 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009), 616-17.

“To the Rest of You,” Topeka Daily Capital, February 11, 1911, p. 12.

“Helen Kimber Sends Her Congratulations,” Topeka Daily Capital, November 9, 1911, p. 4

“They Delight to Honor Their Faithful Workers,” Topeka Daily Capital, October 27, 1912, p. 7.

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