Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Helen Roland Estey, 1862-1955
By Genevieve Prange, M.A. student and Liette Gidlow, professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Teacher, Christian, Suffragist
Helen Miller Roland was born on September 19, 1862 to George and Charity Roland in Lockport, Ohio. She was the middle child of her family between Alice and Jessie. Most of Helen's childhood and young adulthood were spent in Toledo, Ohio where her father worked as a commission merchant selling grain. Her grandparents lived with them and taught her to speak French. She went to Toledo High School and, after graduating with honors at fifteen, she became a summer school teacher in Emerald, Ohio. She became a full-time teacher with appointments in Cecil, Ohio and then Toledo, before moving to teach in Ederton, Ohio where she met her future husband, Stephen S. Estey, the superintendent of the school. He encouraged her to go to college and she enrolled at the Presbyterian College at Wooster, leaving in her sophomore year to marry Mr. Estey. They were married on August 23, 1888 and moved to Kansas immediately afterward. Stephen found work once again as a superintendent in Humbolt, Kansas where Helen began teaching. Their daughter, also named Helen, was born a year later on January 15, 1890. Two years later her sister Alice, came to live with them. This allowed Helen to go back to work, this time as a school principal, until Mr. Estey went into the ministry.
Their first move for the First Presbyterian Church was to Independence, Kansas. Estey taught private language classes in French, Greek and Latin and penned short stories to supplement the family's income. Their second move for the church was to Salina, Kansas; here her work for the church began to blossom. She became the superintendent of the Sunday school and president of the Missionary Society. She also organized a group, Daughters of the Church, for young women and wrote an essay for Home Mission Monthly titled "Self-Sacrifice" published in October 1896.
In 1904 the Estey family moved to Topeka, Kansas. At Redden Chapel, Estey organized and taught a women's Sunday school class and organized a Mother's Club where they sewed, remade garments, and held rummage sales. This club caught the attention of the Governor's wife who dropped in to give talks from time to time. Estey was superintendent of the Sunday school at the First Church for twelve years. She reorganized the school and organized a social service club for young girls who were otherwise uninterested in church work. Other classes she organized were the Mizpah class for young married women and the New Era Class for young married men and women that helped produce teachers for other classes and church functions.
Estey was an advocate for education even when she was not in front of a classroom. In 1904 she gave an address in Topeka on "Ideals in Education." In 1912 Estey assisted with a reception for teachers at the Governor's house. Estey also was a part of many social clubs in Topeka and attended functions of the Occidental club, the Chaldean club, the Fortnightly club, and the Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1914 she began a year of service as the president of the Women's Club. In her opening address on October 2, 1914, the Topeka Daily Capitol noted, she said, "Our club can accomplish as a whole what one woman could never do." Later, she was member of the club's social department and was appointed chair of publicity for the annual women's Kansas Day luncheon which was held in 1916. She also presented at the Woman's Club in 1917 in favor of a school tax and raising teachers' salaries. Estey thought that her most valuable contribution to the church was the organization of the Federation of Women's societies of the church.
Helen and Stephen often worked as a team to further their progressive social agendas. Shortly before Kansas voted to give women full suffrage, Rev. Estey wrote a 1911 pamphlet titled Woman Suffrage. "The extension of the ballot to women," he argued, "is the logical and inevitable outcome of our democratic principles of government." No doubt he was trying to use his influence as a minister to sway minds to the cause. They were often both listed as attending and speaking at club events. In The History of Woman Suffrage, Rev. Estey is listed among those aided in campaign work in Kansas during the state's 1912 campaign for suffrage. Mrs. Estey's role in the suffrage movement was subtler, as she was often seen in support roles and leading prayers for suffrage events. As a teacher, mother and Christian she exemplified all the virtues her husband described in Woman Suffrage. In 1917 Mrs. Estey established a group to fund French war orphans, an example of service to society that Carrie Chapman Catt advocated during the Great War to show that women were willing and able to handle the responsibility of the vote. Estey was among women doing legislative work in 1919, likely as part of the Federation of Women's Clubs, before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920.
Rev. Estey died of pneumonia April 29, 1932. Though Helen retired from teaching at that time, she continued to be an active member of her church and community until her death at the age of 92 on January 31,1955. It was said of Estey at her memorial, by Dr. Orlo Choguill of the First Presbyterian Church of Topeka, that "she gave her leadership to good causes far and wide but always the center was the church." She is buried next to her husband in Mount Hope Cemetery.
"Affidavit of Birth." Kansas State Board of Health, Division of Vital Statistics. Digital images. Ancestry.com.
Brown, May Bellville. "Kansas Club News: Official Department Kansas Federation Women's Clubs. The Topeka Club Woman." The Topeka State Journal, Mar 17, 1906. Newspapers.com.
Choguill, Orlo. "Mrs. Stephen S. Estey." Memorial Sermon transcript. Typescript. First Presbyterian Church of Topeka, Kansas. Feb 2, 1955. Ancestry.com.
Estey, Helen Miller Roland. "Helen Miller Roland Estey" Typescript. 1933. Ancestry.com.
Estey, Mrs. S. S. "Self-Sacrifice." Home Mission Monthly, Oct. 1896. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8zxbp0.
Estey, Stephen Sewall. Woman Suffrage (1911). Topeka, Kan: Kansas State Temperance Union.
"Former Topekan Dead." The Manhattan Mercury (Manhattan, Kansas), May 2, 1932. Newspapers.com.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage. Volume 6. National Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK].
Hempstead, Bertha. "Society." The Topeka State Journal, Apr. 14, 1917. Newspapers.com.
"Ohio, County Marriage Records, 1774-1993." Operations Inc. (Lehi, UT, USA: 2016) Feb 25, 2019. Ancestry.com.
"Social and Personal: Federation of Women." The Topeka Daily Capital, Oct 2, 1914. Newspapers.com.
"Society: Fortnightly Club Banquet." The Topeka Daily Capital, Apr 30, 1910. Newspapers.com.
"In Society: High School Exercises." The Topeka Daily Capital, Jun 1, 1904. Newspapers.com.
"In Society: Personals of Society Folks." The Topeka Daily Capital, Nov 25, 1911. Newspapers.com.
"In Society: Reception at Governor's House for Teachers." The Topeka Daily Capital, Nov 7, 1912. Newspapers.com.
"Mrs. Ware Appoints Committees." The Salina Evening Journal, Nov. 22, 1915. Newspapers.com.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Tenth Census of the United States - 1880. Digital images. Ancestry.com.
"Topekans Adopt French Orphans." The Topeka Daily Capital, Apr. 14, 1917. Newspapers.com.
Ware, Susan. American Women's History: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.