Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Helene (Mrs. Ignatius) Pollak, 1854-1932
By Nancy C. Gonce, independent historian
Helene Pollak (maiden name unknown) was born in northern Hungary in 1854 and married Ignatius Pollak there in 1876. The couple emigrated in 1878, settling first in Montgomery, AL. The couple had two children. They moved to Birmingham in 1902. Subsequently they moved to Cullman, where Mr. Pollak died in 1915.
Helene Pollak, was a member of the woman suffrage movement in both Vinemont, AL and Cullman, AL. The second State convention of the Equal Suffrage Association was held in Huntsville, AL on Feb. 5, 1914. Pollak served as president of the Cullman Society and issued an invitation to the meeting.
Helene Pollak's personal background, which possibly led her to leadership in the woman's suffrage movement, is not easy to document. Her husband, Ignatius (born Ignaz), had many business associations and a large family. Ignatius Pollak is identified as the incorporator of various businesses such as the Alabama Bitumen Company and Cullman Properties. The Pollak family was very wealthy and according to local historian, Julie Burks, "the family traveled extensively and had residences in New York; Montgomery, Alabama; Birmingham, Alabama; and Cullman, Alabama. Ignatius purchased property in Cullman in 1909 and built a house which burned in 1912. They then built a new home identified as Borkenau. Later in both local papers' obituaries of her husband Ignatius, one paper listed her as Mr. Pollak's wife while the other one did not mention her at all. After the death of Ignatius, Helene Pollak moved to California in 1922 and died there in 1932.
While little has been documented about Helene Pollak's life in Cullman and Vinemont, or her organizational membership in the other communities, her story seems to follow the pattern of other women of the time. In a review of The New Woman in Alabama, the author observes, "Only in the wake of their success with domestic issues tackled through club organizations and temperance unions did women dare seek the right to vote. They learned how to wield political power through acceptable 'ladylike' avenues, and it was the experience that led to their long but eventually successful drive for woman suffrage."
Suffrage Associations were formed in Alabama in the early 1900s and by 1915 had become a strong political force. Helene Pollak, of the Cullman/Vinemont Alabama community, was one of many to join the movement. Mary Munson hosted a luncheon at Ridge Farm and that became the inaugural meeting of the Vinemont Equal Suffrage Association and she was elected president of the chapter. In 1913 Helene Pollak attended a meeting of the Executive Board of the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association. An interesting development at the meeting was that Mrs. Emmeline Parkhurst, "noted militant leader of the English Suffraget's, wished to attend the meeting" and her request was denied. Mary Munson attended the first state convention as a representative of Vinemont and Mrs. Pollak attended the second state convention in Huntsville, AL on February 5, 1914 as the President of the Cullman Society. Mrs. Ignatius Pollalk, President of the Cullman League, issued an invitation to surrounding communities urging attendance at the conference noting that "Every person who desires to promote equal and exact justice to improve the moral, civic, social, economic, and educational conditions in Alabama; who desires to mitigate the cruelties of industrialization are invited."
Ignatius Pollak became a figure in Alabama politics. He became involved in the Republican Party in the 7th District and was considered as a candidate for Governor. Reports of his death in 1915, after a long illness, identified him as a prominent figure in the Republican party, a resident of Montgomery for 20 years, who was "survived by widow, son and daughter."
By 1920 Helene Pollak's residence was still listed as Cullman, Alabama. Helene Pollak and her children moved to San Francisco in 1922, where she died at age 78 in 1932. Her obituary went on to describe the sadness that many Cullman friends (would) "remember this cultured woman with love and respect."
Alabama Suffrage Bulletin, Vol 1 No 1, Birmingham, Alabama, October, 1915
Alabama website, the University of Alabama Press. Thomas, Mary Martha. The New Woman in Alabama: Social Reforms and Suffrage, 1890-1920. University of Alabama Press, 1992.
Ancestry. Ancestry Person, U.S. Passport Application for Ignatius ( Ignaz) Pollak. 1880 United States Federal Census, 1900 United States Federal Census. 1910 United States Census. 1920 United States Federal Census
Atlanta Constitution, Birmingham Society Column. Sun, October 2, 1904, p 5
Birmingham News. September 11, 1912 p 16. October 4, 1913
Bizapedia website. www.bizapedia.com/people/Ignatius-pollak.htm.
Burks, Julie. Cullman AL Museum staff
Cullman Tribune. October 9, 1913. January 22, 1914 p 1. Cullman Birmingham News August 9, 1915 p 9
Cullman Dem. May 19, 1932, p 1 (obituary)
David Matthews Center for Civic Life: Votes for Women Series. Public Television series PROOGUE: Historical Issues for Contemporary Deliberation: Suffrage, 1915
Encyclopedia of Alabama.org. Monica Tapper, Wallace Community College Selma
Gadsden Daily - Times-News, May 12, 1910 p 1
Guntersville Democrat October 11, 1906, p 1
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol VI (1922) [LINK]
Huntsville AL Morning Mercury. July 21, 1906, p 1
"Mrs. Helene Pollak, 78, Dies in San Francisco," Montgomery Advertiser. May 14, 1932 p 1. (obituary)
Montgomery Advertiser, August 9, 1915, p 2.
Moore, Albert Burton. History of Alabama (University of Alabama Press, 1934), p 805.
Our Mountain Home, Talladega, Alabama, April 27, 1910, p 4