Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Helen Wise Molony, 1858-1934
By: Ella Bjurman, Cole Stautberg, DaShaun Williams, Amanda Winner, Ginny McCauley, Allison Ray, Katie Hohman, Maimouna Camara, Abby Hammonds, undergraduate students, and Christine Anderson, faculty sponsor, Xavier University, Dayton, Ohio
Auditor, Hamilton County Suffrage Association; recording secretary, Ohio Woman Suffrage Association
Helen Wise Molony was a prominent figure in the suffrage movement in Cincinnati and surrounding southwestern Ohio. Born on November 29, 1858, she was raised in North College Hill in Hamilton County, Ohio. Wise's parents were Austrian immigrants, Isaac and Therese Wise; the former was a prominent Rabbi and leader of Reform Judaism in America as well as the founder of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. Little is known about Helen Wise's early childhood. However, records indicate that she was educated at the Catholic, all-girls Academy of Notre Dame and the Ohio Female College.
In 1878, when Wise was twenty years old, she eloped with James Molony, an attorney. The union was considered controversial at the time because Wise was Jewish and Molony was Presbyterian. While the interfaith marriage was covered in great depth by the local newspapers, Helen Wise Molony's nuptials demonstrate that she had the courage to go against the social conventions of the time. As census records indicate, the next two decades of Molony's life were devoted to the care and upbringing of three children: Isaac born in 1879, Gerald born in 1887, and a daughter Iphigene born in 1894. Molony's suffrage activism began after her children reached school age.
In the second decade of the twentieth century, Helen Wise Molony became involved with three suffrage organizations in the Cincinnati area. In 1912 she was elected president of the Cincinnati chapter of the Susan B. Anthony Club and auditor of the Hamilton County Suffrage Association. Additionally, she was recording secretary for the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association. As president of the Susan B. Anthony Club, Molony wrote a letter urging members of the club to send resolutions to the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, in support of the suffrage amendment. The club also passed a resolution asking Wilson to make his term memorable by earning "the affection and gratitude of one half of the citizens of the United States" by supporting the suffrage amendment. In addition to working on behalf of the national amendment, the Susan B. Anthony Club also pushed for a state referendum in 1914, which failed.
Helen Wise Molony's activism seems to have ceased after the federal suffrage amendment passed. A more significant contribution toward the advancement of women's rights, however, may have been the values she passed on to her children, especially her daughter Iphigene Molony Bettman. According to Iphigene, her "mother, a most feminine woman, worked ardently for suffrage." Visiting suffragists along with suffrage leaflets spread throughout the house influenced her daughter, who eventually followed her mother's example of leadership by becoming the state and local chairperson for the education committee for the League of Women Voters, President of the Republican Women's Club, and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Helen Wise Molony passed away on September 10, 1934, at the age of seventy-five.
Bettman, Iphigene Malony. "Outline of the Movement in General." Iphigene Bettman Papers. American Jewish Archives. Series B: Writings. http://collections.americanjewisharchives.org/ms/ms0667/ms0667.html#series2.
"Big Four." Cincinnati Enquirer. April 2, 1913, p. 16. Newspapers.com.
"For Woman's Eye." Cincinnati Enquirer. September 20, 1914, section 3, p. 8. Newspapers.com.
"Funeral Today for Helen Wise at Cincinnati." Jewish Daily Bulletin 11, no. 2945. September 12, 1934, p. 4. http://pdfs.jta.org/1934/1934-09-12_2945.pdf.
Hauser, Elizabeth J. (Ohio Woman Suffrage Association). "Notice of a Meeting in Defiance, Ohio." Letter, July 3, 1915, Columbus, Ohio. Ohio Memory Collection and Vadae G. Meekison Collection (MS211). Center for Archival Collections--Bowling Green State University. Accessed April 16, 2018. http://www.ohiomemory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p267401coll36/id/16982/.
"GOP Stalwart, Columnist, Iphigene Bettman Dies." Cincinnati Enquirer, February 10, 1978, p. C-3 (27). Newspapers.com.
"Officers Elected: At Meeting of the Hamilton County Suffrage Association." Cincinnati Enquirer. January 17, 1915, p.9. Newspapers.com.
Rose, Anne C. Beloved Strangers: Interfaith Families in Nineteenth-Century America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013, p. 77.
United States, Bureau of the Census. 1870 U.S. Census. Isaac K. Wise. Springfield, Hamilton County, Ohio, dwelling 7, family n.a. Ancestry.com.
United States. Bureau of the Census. 1900 U.S. Census. Helen Wise Molony. Mill Creek, Hamilton County, Ohio, dwelling 196 206, family 210. Ancestry.com.