Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Helen Coolidge Mansfield, 1860-1957

By Donna Greene, independent historian

By the time she died in 1957 a day shy of her 97th birthday, Helen Coolidge Mansfield was known for things beyond her efforts on behalf of women's suffrage. Her obituary in The New York Times first and foremost called her a "music patron." However, it also described her as "state leader in Women's Suffrage Party."

Indeed her hard work on behalf of the women's vote is documented in The History of Woman Suffrage (Vol. 6, edited by Ida Husted Harper) and her name is among 72 women - 12 New Yorkers - engraved in a bronze tablet installed in Washington D.C. in 1931. The five-foot-high tablet, the work of Gaetano Cecere of New York, commemorated the roll of honor of the National League of Women Voters.

Helen Coolidge Todd was born in Boston on Aug. 17, 1860, the daughter of Reuben J. and Hannah (Coolidge) Todd. She was educated in New York and in Europe. She married twice: in 1881, James Chesbro Tuttle of Minneapolis, Minn who died in 1887 (with whom she had two children, George C. and Margaret M. Tuttle); and in 1895, Howard Mansfield, a lawyer, who died in 1938.

Mrs. Mansfield served in various leadership position in the suffrage movement. She was president of the Equal Franchise Society and also served as head of the educational section of New York State Woman's Suffrage Party.

As described in The History of Woman Suffrage:

"The propaganda carried on by the Educational section under Mrs. Howard Mansfield was enormous, including training schools, travelling libraries and 8,000 sets of correspondence courses sent out. Women were trained in watchers' schools for work at the polls and 15,000 leaflets of instruction were furnished. Over 11,000,000 pieces of literature, 7 million posters and nearly 200,000 suffrage novelties were used, in addition to the 5,000,000 pieces used in New York City."

As the wife of a prominent lawyer and patron of the arts, her comings and goings were often recounted in the newspaper society pages. (She would be in Europe, or not; she would be in Newport, Rhode Island, or not.) In her own right, she was also quoted at events promoting votes for women around the state.

"A man can vote and attend to his business, and a woman can vote and attend to her home. This has been proved in twelve states. We can prove it in New York. We women may have 'indirect influence,' but they don't count that at the polls - they count votes," she said at one rally, as documented in the Saratogian, March 20, 1915.

In December 1912 she joined a suffrage pilgrimage from New York City to Albany, where the "suffrage pilgrims" sent congratulations to the newly elected governor, William Sulzer, and urged the speedy passage of a woman suffrage amendment to the state constitution. She participated in a May 1913 suffrage pageant (written by her daughter) performed at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was attended by former President Teddy Roosevelt, who spoke about his reasons for supporting women's suffrage.

Apart from her suffrage activities - indeed after women had the vote - she was active in many organizations, particularly those promoting "settlement work" -- music education for the underprivileged. For nine years she was president of the Third Street Music School Settlement. This movement eventually spread to more than two dozen other cities and the formation of the National Association of Music School Settlements. Among other things, she was a charter member of the Cosmopolitan Club and the National Institute of Social Science and a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mrs. Mansfield is buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven, Conn. At the time of her death in 1957 she was survived by her two children, four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.


New York Times database

Woman's Who's Who of America, 1914-15 [LINK to sketch for Mansfield]

The History of Woman Suffrage (Vol. 6) [LINK to NY state report]

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