Biographical Sketch of Helen Webb Drane Bell McClurg

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Helen Webb Drane Bell McClurg, 1859-1921

By Nancy Alexander Simmons, Fairfax Station, VA

Woman Suffrage Activist

Helen Webb Drane was born in Canton, Madison County, MS, to chancery judge Wesley Drane and Jerusha Murdaugh Ballard Drane. In 1879 she married Walter Bell in Clarke County; they had two sons and two daughters who survived infancy. Mr. Bell died in 1891 in Meridian. On March 2, 1907, in Jackson, she married Monroe McClurg, a widower with one son and two daughters. The Commonwealth newspaper wrote that the ceremony "made man and wife of two of the state's favorites." At the time, McClurg was the state librarian and a clerk for the Supreme Court justices, many of whom attended her wedding. Monroe McClurg was a well-liked former state attorney general. The McClurgs lived in Greenwood, with a summer cottage in Owens Wells.

McClurg's leadership benefited many organizations. She served as president of the Mississippi Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy from 1904 to 1907. In the decade between 1910 and 1920, she was an advocate for women's clubs and was referred to as "one of the most brilliant members of all clubdom." McClurg was president of the Mississippi Library Association and the Women's Club of Greenwood; and she organized a new Red Cross chapter in Greenwood. She served as chaplain of the Chakchiuma Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1914 and as parliamentarian of the state society from 1917 to 1920. She remained active in these organizations until her death.

McClurg's suffrage activities began in 1912 when she served on the legislative and press committees of the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA), was appointed to the National Executive Committee, and pledged to pay $5 annually for 3 years in support of the association. In 1913, she remained on the legislative committee, whose mission was to propose legislative actions that included protecting a woman's legal guardianship right over her children and providing equality in laws related to inheritance, marriage, and divorce. When the Mississippi Federation of Woman's Clubs called a meeting of organizations interested in securing legislation on child labor laws and schooling for juvenile offenders, McClurg represented MSWA.

In January 1914, McClurg and others spoke in support of a constitutional amendment on suffrage before the state's House Committee on Constitution. Their appeal was so compelling that the opposition called for adjournment and delayed the vote to the next day, when it was nevertheless defeated. In May she was elected to represent the state at-large on the executive committee during the 10th Annual MWSA Convention in Jackson. And she was on the program on Suffrage Day, October 29, 1914, in the Woman's Suffrage room at the state fair.

McClurg and Nellie Nugent Somerville conducted the first speech-making tour made by Mississippi women on behalf of suffrage during October 1915, delivering addresses - often to large audiences - at county fairs in Calhoun City, Mathison, Louisville, Meridian, Mount Olive, and Ackerman. She stressed that she was not trying to revolutionize politics, but was trying to convince men that if they shared the vote, women would share certain responsibilities and free men from those burdens. For example, she mentioned that women could serve on educational boards and be school trustees.

In 1917, McClurg was a featured speaker at the state suffrage conference in Starkville. She also edited a column called "Suffrage News and Notes" in The Daily Commonwealth and its companion weekly edition; the columns appeared weekly from January through April 1917 and contained tidbits from across the country. By 1919, McClurg was chairman of finance with the MWSA.

In March 1920, MWSA's president appointed McClurg and others to "prepare plans and draft a tentative constitution preparatory to the organization of a Mississippi League of Women Voters." The following month, MWSA planned its final meeting "a victory hour—commemorating the close of a half century of patient waiting and hard work on the part of women."

McClurg died on August 10, 1921, of heart disease in Greenwood. She was buried there in the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

A photograph of McClurg can be found in Confederate Veteran, Vol. 12, No. 5, May 1904, p. 215.

SOURCES:

Bulletin of the American Library Association, Vol. 12, No. 4, September 1919, p. 465.

"D.A.R. Notes." The Lexington Advertiser, February 5, 1915, p. 7. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84024271/1915-02-05/ed-1/seq-7/

"Death of Walter S. Bell." The Grenada Sentinel, August 22, 1891, p. 1. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85034375/1891-08-22/ed-1/seq-1/

Eighth Annual Report, Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association, 1912, pp. 3, 8.

Find A Grave, database and images (http://findagrave.com: accessed February 2, 2018), memorial page for Helen Webb Drane McClurg (unknown-4 August 1921), Find A Grave Memorial no. 127523716, citing IOOF Cemetery, Greenwood, Leflore County, Mississippi; maintained by Sandi K (contributor 47747668).

"Gen. McClurg Weds Mrs. Helen D. Bell." The Commonwealth, March 8, 1907, p. 5. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89065008/1907-03-08/ed-1/seq-5/

Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI (1900-1920). N.p.: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922.

"Mrs. Gen. McClurg Speaks on Equal Rights." The Commonwealth, November 5, 1915, p. 4. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89065008/1915-11-05/ed-1/seq-4/

"Mrs. McClurg Passed Away Early Today." The Commonwealth, weekly edition, August 10, 1921, p. 4. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89065008/1921-08-10/ed-1/seq-4/

"Suffrage Leaders Plead Cause in House." The Hattiesburg News, January 21, 1914, p. 4. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87065167/1914-01-21/ed-1/seq-1/

"Suffrage Workers at State Fair." Yazoo City Herald, October 16, 1914, p. 2. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87065709/1914-10-16/ed-1/seq-2/

The Comet, January 11, 1879, p. 3. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85038603/1879-01-11/ed-1/seq-3/

"To Form League of Women Voters." Greenwood Daily Commonwealth, March 23, 1920, p. 2. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87065131/1920-03-23/ed-1/seq-2/

"Women Ask For Ballot." The Commonwealth, October 22, 1915, p. 4. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89065008/1915-10-22/ed-1/seq-4/

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