Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Helen C. Benbridge, 1876-1964
By Austin Alexander, MA student, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois
Member and President, League of Women Voters in Indiana; Reporter, Terre HauteTribune; Trustee and Secretary, Indiana State Normal School; Housekeeper
Helen Coleman Benbridge was born December 8, 1876, to Thomas and Elizabeth Benbridge. Helen Benbridge attended Indiana University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1898 and a master's degree a year later. After graduation, she worked as a reporter for the Terre HauteTribune newspaper. According to the 1920 census, she also earned a salary as president of a suffrage organization, likely the Woman's Franchise League. She never married and did not have children.
Helen Benbridge became a member of the Woman's Franchise League of Indiana in the 1910s, shortly after working at the newspaper in Terre Haute. The Woman's Franchise League of Indiana was one of the many statewide grassroot organizations that fought for the right to vote for women among other things. At first, the Woman's Franchise League began as a voluntary committee of women who worked to get a woman elected to the Indianapolis School Board in the election of 1909. Only one woman, Mary Nicholson, was on the ballot for the Board of School Commissioners. After that one event, the Woman's Franchise League was born. However, the Woman's Franchise League would have a much larger scope and goal than one school board election in one Indiana town. The league's goal was to educate the women of the state in civic consciousness and to secure the ballot for them. Although Benbridge's membership likely began years prior, Benbridge was listed in 1915 as a member of the Woman's Franchise League of Indiana. Benbridge later became president of this organization. In fact, Benbridge was the last president of this organization. The organization dissolved under her leadership to join the League of Women Voters, and Benbridge continued her advocacy in a local bureau of the League of Women Voters in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Helen Benbridge made considerable gains and had tremendous influence on the women in Indiana. Prior to her league presidency, there were three hundred bureaus of the Woman's Franchise League with around sixteen thousand members. Under the direction of Benbridge, that number expanded: Benbridge led an organization that had bureaus in all but four counties in Indiana. Under her leadership, the goals of the group changed. After women in Indiana were granted the vote in 1919—the first year of Benbridge's presidential administration—the main goal of the Woman's Franchise League changed from winning suffrage to education on how to intelligently use the right to vote and to appreciate the power of the ballot box. Benbridge, through her advocacy work, argued that all women were intelligent and could vote but warned about becoming too partisan. Benbridge urged women to become informed on the issues of the state and nation and cast ballots based on that education and not down party lines. While a fair amount of focus went to educating the new mass voting block, in remote areas of Indiana the fight to full suffrage was not over.
After Benbridge's successful career in public advocacy for the suffrage law, she continued advocacy work as a Trustee for the Indiana State Normal School. Benbridge died on November 11, 1964, and she was buried at Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Adams, Wendy L. and Chelsea Sutton. "Members of the Woman's Franchise League of Indiana, 1915-1917." Genealogy across Indiana, Statewide Family History Resources. Indianapolis Historical Society, 2011. https://indianahistory.org/.
Find a Grave. "Helen C Benbridge (1877-1964)."Find A Grave. September 5, 2008. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/29595598/helen-c-benbridge.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. "Indiana." Chapter XIII in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011. Helen Coleman Bainbridge, November 11, 1964, Terre Haute, Vigo, IN. Ancestry Library.
McCormick, Mike. "Historical Perspective: Woman's Suffrage Comes to Indiana 95 Years Ago." Terre Haute Tribune Star. December 20, 2015. https://www.tribstar.com/.
Register of Graduates of the Indiana University: Including Advanced and Honorary Degrees, 1830-1901. University Bulletins no. 3, September 1901, Bloomington: Indiana University, 1901, pp. 63, 69. Google Books.
"Women Seek Special Ratification Session." Indianapolis News. June 23, 1919. Newspapers.com.
United States Census 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, s.v. "Helen Bainbridge, Terre Haute, Vigo, IN." Ancestry Library.