Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Helen de Lendrecie, 1848-1926
By John Hallberg, Archives Associate, North Dakota State University
Josephine "Helen" Bayse was born October 1, 1848 in Racine, Racine County Wisconsin, the daughter of Samuel and Jane (Barkley) Bayse. In the 1860s, Helen started acting in amateur theatrical productions around her hometown. Through her theatre work, she became acquainted with John George Stuttz, and the two fell in love. They were married on April 26, 1869, in Dowagic, Michigan. The couple decided to become professional actors, and joined an acting troupe called the Olympic Theatre Company. As an actress, she took on the stage name of Helen d'Este. Helen's brother, Edward Bayse became the manager of the group, and the name was changed to the Old Reliable Theatre Company. They toured the southern United States, returning to Racine in the summer months. In 1873, the company was renamed again to the Helen d'Este Dramatic Combination. In 1876, Helen's marriage began to fall apart and she split from her husband. When her company ran into financial difficulties, she dabbled in burlesque. In 1878, while in New Orleans, a performance was deemed indecent, and she evaded legal prosecution by promising to discontinue the act. She disbanded her company in early 1879, with her last show being performed in Winona, Mississippi.
At about this time, the second chapter in Helen's life began. She met and fell in love with a businessman named Onesine J. de Lendrecie, who at the time operated a store in Yazoo City, Mississippi. They became engaged, and were married on September 7, 1879, while on a visit to her family home in Racine. A month later, the couple moved to Fargo, Dakota Territory, and opened the Chicago Dry Goods store. This store would later be renamed the O. J. de Lendrecie Company, which became one of the largest departments department stores in North Dakota.
It is likely that Helen hid her previous life when she came to Fargo, since being a divorcee, and an actress would have been looked down in the Victorian Era. Helen's previous life experiences, however, likely played a powerful role in her new life maneuvering through business and political circles.
Helen was instrumental in getting the Unitarian Church built in Fargo in 1892. She and her husband were active in politics with the Democratic Party. Helen ran for election, and won a seat on the Fargo School Board in 1896, becoming the first women elected to the position. She helped organize the Political Equity Club, and served as their first president. She wrote a regular column in the Daily Commonwealth newspaper starting in 1894, and in 1895, she helped found the Equal Suffrage Association, and was elected treasurer at their first convention on November 14, 1895. Helen's writings and speeches energized the women of the state.
At the height of her political activity, Helen started experiencing pain in her chest. After a doctor's examination, it was discovered she had cancer in her right breast. She had a mastectomy, and afterward continued to experience pain in her chest. The doctor suggested she have the left breast removed, fearing the cancer had spread. Helen felt that she need a second opinion, and consulted with an osteopath named Dr. Andrew T. Still. Osteopathy was a new medical treatment, designed to cure ailments by manipulative techniques. Dr. Still said she did not have cancer, but a fractured rib. After taking treatments for six weeks, Helen was cured of her pain, and she became a strong advocate for osteopathy. She was determined to bring the practice to Fargo, and successfully lobbied the North Dakota Legislature in 1897, to approve osteopathy as an approved medical practice. With the help of her husband, Helen started the Northwestern College of Osteopathy and Fargo Osteopathic Infirmary. Helen's brother, Edward Basye, received his doctorate certification from Dr. Still, and came to Fargo to work as physician and instructor. In 1911, the college and infirmary closed when Dr. Basye moved to New Orleans.
In 1911, Helen was heavily involved in advancing women's suffrage in North Dakota. She gave lectures around the state, lobbied legislators, and provided a room in the de Lendrecies store for the purpose of a state headquarters. When the bill came forward for debate, she was asked to make an address in favor of the bill. She spoke for about ten minutes, just before the bill came up for a vote, on February 9, 1911. In the end, it was defeated 23 to 25. Newspaper accounts stated that two legislators, Senators Simpson and Steele, indulged in a great deal of sarcasm. Helen replied with a column to the Fargo Forum, calling the senators who voted against the bill cowards, causing much indignation.
Besides all of their Fargo assets, Helen and her husband also purchase the Maltese Cross ranch, which had once belonged to Theodore Roosevelt, and 11,000 acers of coal property in western North Dakota.
In 1914, the de Lendrecie's moved to Lost Angeles, California, where they spent their final years. Onesine died on October 9, 1924, and Helen died July 22, 1926. The couple were interred in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in Los Angeles.
"DeLendrecie Rites Monday: Widow of Early Fargo Businessman Dies At Home in Los Angeles." The Fargo Forum & Daily Republican, July 23, 1926. Fargo, North Dakota
"O. J. DeLendrecie Founder of One of City's Great Stores, Is Dead." The Fargo Forum & Daily Republican, October 9, 1924. Fargo, North Dakota
"Woman Suffrage Bill Killed." The Fargo Forum & Daily Republican, February 9, 1911. Fargo, North Dakota
"Some Senators Called Cowards: Mrs. De Lendrecie Uses Some Strong Language in Telling of her trip to Bismarck -- Makes a Public Protest Against Treatment." The Fargo Forum & Daily Republican, February 9, 1911. Fargo, North Dakota
"Mrs. De Lendrecie Riles Sen. Steele." The Fargo Forum & Daily Republican, February 16, 1911. Fargo, North Dakota
Eriksmoen, Curt. "First female ND higher education institution president also in theater." The Forum, July 26, 2014, Fargo, N.D.
Eriksmoen, Curt. "Woman pushed for first osteopathic practice in ND." The Forum, August 2, 2014, Fargo, N.D.
C.F. Cooper & Co. (1909). History of the Red River Valley, past and present; including an account of the counties, cities, towns and villages of the valley from the time of their first settlement and formation. Grand Forks, Chicago: Herald Printing Company; C. F. Cooper. Vol. 2, pg. 999