Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Helen N. Eacker, 1851-1919
By Lora Farrell, Librarian
Superintendent, Ottawa County (Kansas); Secretary, State Teachers Association; Secretary, State Central Committee of the Progressive Party; Executive Secretary, Kansas Equal Suffrage Association.
Helen Eacker was born October 11, 1851, in New York to John and Lydia Keach Eacker. She lived most of her life in Ottawa County, Kansas and died April 20, 1919, near Topeka, Kansas. Prior to living in Kansas, Eacker attended Shimer Seminary in Mt. Carroll, Illinois. She had two sisters, Clara Eacker Rea and Emma Kate Eacker Brown. She lived in Lawrence, Kansas, for 10 years, during which time she cared for her niece and nephew so that her sister and brother-in-law could attend school at the state university in Lawrence. Described as “intellectual, religious and patriotic,” she was known as a generous caregiver not only to her niece and nephew but to other students in town.
Eacker was a devout Christian, who often expressed her faith, as well as a successful teacher and activist. She was Ottawa County Superintendent for four years and was elected secretary of the State Teachers Association; she was even a candidate for Kansas state auditor. Other positions she held included secretary of the state central committee of the Progressive Party and executive secretary for the suffrage association state headquarters.
In the movement for women's suffrage, Eacker is considered a mainstream, rather than a militant, activist. The Kansas Equal Suffrage Association (KESA), founded in 1884, pressured the Kansas legislature that same year to pass municipal women's suffrage. Eacker hoped to obtain full suffrage for Kansas women by working as an organizer and speaker in the suffrage campaign of 1894. However, the 1894 campaign was unsuccessful, forcing the activists to regroup and devise different tactics. In subsequent campaigns, the suffragists sought to be less partisan and, rather than associating with political parties, aimed their appeal at all parties. Passionate about the necessity of gaining the vote for women on a national level, Eacker worked tirelessly on the suffrage campaign during 1911 and 1912, which succeeded in passing an equal suffrage amendment to the state constitution. An effective speaker, Eacker traveled throughout the state of Kansas as well as out of state advocating for women's political rights.
Topeka, Kansas, 1912. Suffrage activists in Kansas Governor Walter Roscoe Stubb's automobile, going after the vote in Topeka, Kansas. The women, all members of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association, are identified as (l to r): Laura Clay, president of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association; Lucy B. Johnston; Sarah A. Thurston; Helen Eacker; and Stella H. Stubbs. Photo courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society.
Caldwell, Martha B. “The Woman Suffrage Campaign of 1912.” (1943). Kansas Historical Quarterly 12(3), 300–326.
Johnston, Lucy B. (1919, May 15). “Tribute to the Work of Miss Helen N. Eacker,” Minneapolis (Kansas) Messenger, p 9.
Kansas State Census (1915). database with images, FamilySearch October 2018), Helen Eacker, Lawrence, Douglas, Kansas, United States; citing Lawrence, Douglas, Kansas, United States, 174, 11, Kansas Historical Society, Topeka.
Society page. (February 2, 1912). The Topeka Daily State Journal, p. 14.
Suffragettes, Topeka, Kansas. Kansas Memory. Kansas Historical Society. https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/222