Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Lillian M. Heltzell, 1864-1941
By Linda D. Wilson, Independent Historian
Missouri suffragist Lillian M. Heltzell was born on October 15, 1864, in Missouri. She was one of eight children born to Michael Dallas and Olivia (Wilkinson) Heltzell. Her father was a businessman who dealt in lime and cement. Lillian Heltzell attended the St. Louis Central High School. In December 1880, in her junior year, she presented an essay entitled "'Now and Then'" for a class rhetorical exercise. She and her sister Cora became teachers. In 1884, after attending the St. Louis Normal School, Lillian returned to Central High to teach Latin and Greek. Additionally, she organized the Classical Club for the students. Through the years Heltzell maintained "extensive correspondence" with her former students.
Missouri women organized the Missouri Equal Suffrage Association on May 8, 1867, shortly after the close of the Civil War. They met with strong opposition to suffrage. When prominent women including Virginia Minor and Phebe Cozzins were no longer able to carry on the responsibilities of the movement, younger women did not continue the effort until 1910.
The first mention of Heltzell's involvement in the woman's suffrage movement occurred in March 1910. She was one of ten women, who responded to an invitation to discuss suffrage at Marie R. Garesche's home. The group sent another invitation to local women to meet on April 8, 1910. About fifty women attended the meeting to organize the St. Louis Equal Suffrage League. At that meeting Florence Wyman Richardson was elected as the organization's president and Heltzell was elected recording secretary. The newly organized association "launched votes-for-women movement in St. Louis." The organization invited British suffragist Ethel M. Arnold, who presented a talk entitled "The Economic Position of Woman." Nine years later, Missouri became the eleventh state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Heltzell continued to teach until her retirement in 1939. For more than fifty years, she touched the lives of hundreds of students. Apparently, she made an impression on one of her former classmates. Ten years after Heltzell's death, an anonymous New York clergyman established an annual scholarship prize in her honor at Washington University.
Lillian M. Heltzell never married. She died due to pneumonia at her home in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 9, 1941. She was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, where her parents and some of her siblings are buried.
Linda Harris Dobkins, "Politics, Economic Provisioning, and Suffrage in St. Louis: What Women Said, What Men Heard," American Journal of Economics and Sociology 71, No. 1 (January 2012): 54-76.
Ida Husted Harper, ed., History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6 (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922), 343. [LINK]
Margot McMillen, The Golden Lane: How Missouri Women Gained the Vote and Changed History (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011), 55-56, 60, 74, and 94.
New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1957, accessed through Ancestry.com on January 20, 2022. Lillian Heltzell arrived in New York on August 31, 1925, having departed from Liverpool, England.
New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1957, accessed through Ancestry.com on January 20, 2022. Lillian Heltzell arrived in New York on August 27, 1928, having departed from Liverpool, England.
Mary Semple Scott, ed., "History of Woman Suffrage in Missouri," Missouri Historical Review 14, Nos. 3 and 4 (Columbia, Missouri), 300-301. Inclusive pages for the entire article are 281 to 384.
St. Louis (Missouri) Globe-Democrat, December 25, 1880, May 31, 1908, and April 11, 1910.
St. Louis, Missouri Directories, 1890, St. Louis, Missouri, accessed through Ancestry.com on January 20, 2022.
St. Louis (Missouri) Post-Dispatch, September 10, 1941, and May 6, 1951.
U.S. Census, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1930, St. Louis, St. Louis (Independent City), Missouri.
U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, St. Louis, Missouri, City Directory, 1885, accessed through Ancestry.com on January 20, 2022.
U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current, for Lillian M. Heltzell, Michael Dallas Heltzell, and Olivia Wilkinson Heltzell, accessed through Ancestry.com on January 20, 2022.
Dina M. Young, "The Silent Search for a Voice: The St. Louis Equal Suffrage League and the Dilemma of Elite Reform, 1910-1920," Gateway Heritage: Quarterly Journal of the Missouri Historical Society (Spring 1998): 3-19.