Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Helene Neilson (Mrs. Harriman N.) Simmons, 1875-1942
By Devin Mongan, student, Binghamton University
President, New Jersey League of Women Voters; Chair, consumer interests committee of State Council of New Jersey; Executive secretary, Consumers League of New Jersey
Helene Neilson Simmons, née Price, was born on December 31, 1875 in New Brunswick, New Jersey to parents Rodman Price and Helena Price, born Neilson. She and her brother, Charles Frederick Price, were both educated in their hometown, where she worked with the Christ Episcopal Church and Sunday School. In 1898, at age 23, Helene married Harriman Neilson Simmons. Together, the couple had three children: two daughters, Helena Lispenard Carmer and Mary N. Simmons, and one son, Harriman N. Simmons.
Mrs. Simmons and her family resided in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the venue for the majority of her career as an activist. She took a particular interest in civic activism, most notably in advocating for the rights of underrepresented and displaced groups. Continuing her involvement with religiously affiliated organizations, Mrs. Simmons became a trustee of the South Amboy Christ Church Home, which was an organization focusing on caring for homeless girls in her diocese. Similarly, she was actively involved in the St. John's Episcopal Church of Elizabeth. Outside of church-related activism, she was still an active participant in the civic life of Elizabeth, working with the Red Cross's Elizabeth chapter, as well as having membership in the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs. Until just before the end of her life, she was involved with the State Board of Trustees of Glen Gardner Sanatorium and was chairman of the consumer interests committee of the State Council of New Jersey. She was executive secretary of the Consumers League of New Jersey until she died.
Mrs. Simmons's passion for social activism carried into the realm of the fight for women's suffrage that occurred during her lifetime. Mrs. Simmons was at the forefront of involvement in the New Jersey fight for women's rights, being hailed as a leader. She was written about by some of the most prominent women's suffrage figures in their works about the fight, such as Susan B. Anthony and Ida H. Harper. A leader in the fight for suffrage in the state of New Jersey, she was at one point president of the New Jersey League of Women Voters. She lived to see the granting of the vote to women, her lifelong work coming to fruition, and was involved in the organization and execution of the Newark Victory Day celebrations to commemorate the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in New Jersey.
Helene Neilson Simmons died in October of 1942 at the age of 66 in her home in Elizabeth, New Jersey, following a short illness. She was survived by her three children and her contribution to the lasting legacy of the fight for female equality.
[Author's Note: Discrepancies do occur in the precise spelling of this suffragist's name. She is sometimes referenced by the first name Helene and sometimes by Helena. Her name was sometimes shortened to just her first two initials and then her last name. Additionally, her last name is sometimes written as Simons instead of Simmons, a variation that stems from the fact that her husband's last name by birth was Simons, but he added an extra “m” when he entered the business world. Despite these minute differences, I can say with certainty based on location and time period that all these variations refer to the same woman.]
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922) [LINK]
Blackwell, Alice Stone. The Woman Citizen - Volume 4. Accessed 27 Sept. 2017.
“Harriman Neilson Simmons.” Historical records and family trees - MyHeritage,www.myheritage.com/names/harriman_simmons. Accessed 27 Sept. 2017.
“Leading Clubwoman, Church Worker Dies.” The Central New Jersey Home News, 13 Oct.1942, pp. 12–12, www.newspapers.com/image/314992241/?terms=helena neilsonsimmons. Accessed 27 Sept. 2017. ***The bulk of the information for this sketch came from this specific source.
Lewis, Jan Ellen. RETHINKING WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE IN NEW JERSEY, 1776-1807.www.rutgerslawreview.com/wp-content/uploads/archive/vol63/Issue3/Lewis.pdf. Accessed 27 Sept. 2017.
“New Jersey Victory Convention: State leagues pushing citizenship;” Woman's journal, vol. 4,no. 40, 1920, pp. 1182–83. The Gerritsen Collection, Accessed 27 Sept. 2017.
“Why New Jersey Defeated Suffrage.” hv-proquestcom.proxy.binghamton.edu/pdfs/002615/002615_168_0632/002615_168_0632_From__to_45.pdf. Accessed 27 Sept. 2017.
Photograph of Mrs. Harriman N. Simmons taken from her obituary in the October 13, 1942 issue of The Central New Jersey Home News (accessed via newspapers.com)