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Helen Ring Robinson

Helen Ring Robinson: Colorado Senator and Suffragist

Pat Pascoe
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by:
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Helen Ring Robinson
    Book Description:

    Calling herself "the housewife of the senate," Helen Ring Robinson was Colorado's first female state senator and only the second in the United States. Serving from 1913 to 1917, she worked for social and economic justice as a champion of women, children, and workers' rights and education during a tumultuous time in the country's history. Her commitment to these causes did not end in the senate; she continued to labor first for world peace and then for the American war effort after her term ended. Helen Ring Robinson is the first book to focus on this important figure in the women's suffrage movement and the 1913, 1914, and 1915 sessions of the Colorado General Assembly.   Author Pat Pascoe, herself a former Colorado senator, uses newspapers, legislative materials, Robinson's published writings, and her own expertise as a legislator to craft the only biography of this contradictory and little-known woman. Robinson had complex politics as a suffragist, peace activist, international activist, and strong supporter of the war effort in World War I and a curious personal life with an often long-distance marriage to lawyer Ewing Robinson, yet close relationship with her stepdaughter, Alycon. Pascoe explores both of these worlds, although much of that personal life remains a mystery. This fascinating story will be a worthwhile read to anyone interested in Colorado history, women's history, labor history, or politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-147-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)

    Helen Ring Robinson (1860–1923) was the second woman state senator in the United States. An activist senator serving from 1913 to 1917, she pushed through the Colorado legislature a minimum-wage law for women and tenaciously fought for other causes, including repeated but unsuccessful efforts to pass a law allowing women to serve on juries. A popular and eloquent proponent of national women’s suffrage, she traveled and lectured through the country.

    Robinson proclaimed government and politics “in need of motherliness” and welcomed women’s roles as the “housekeepers” needed to clean up government and make it more efficient. As Robinson was...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. 1 Origins
    (pp. 1-14)

    Twenty years of teaching provided the skills that propelled Helen Ring Robinson into the Colorado State Senate. She became a scholar, an excellent speaker, and a fine writer, and she developed a lifelong interest in the education of young people. Though she only attended Wellesley for one year, her studies there were impressive. In the early years of her career she taught in New York and at a private school in Cleveland before coming to Colorado to teach at Colorado College. Then she taught at two private girls’ schools in Denver. When she married lawyer Ewing Robinson, her teaching career...

  7. 2 Path to Victory
    (pp. 15-46)

    How did a highly qualified but very feminine schoolteacher, writer, and housewife break into the exclusive male club of the Colorado State Senate in 1912? Helen’s election was even more surprising because, though women had been voting in Colorado general elections from 1894 on, the number of women elected to the Colorado House of Representatives was decreasing. The national progressive and woman suffrage movements were part of the impetus to elect more women, but they were only two of several factors that came together to propel Helen into office in 1912. In addition to these movements, there was the women’s...

  8. 3 “The Housewife of the Senate”
    (pp. 47-76)

    Change was in the air when Helen Robinson was elected to the Colorado senate in November 1912. In that same election, reform-minded voters amended the constitution to provide home rule for cities, recall of elected public officers, recall of judicial decisions, prevention of forced political contributions from civil servants, and elimination of straight party-line voting. They also passed statutes limiting miners to six hours of labor per day and limiting women to seven hours per day in manufacturing, mechanical, and mercantile establishments as well as laundries, hotels, and restaurants. They passed the Mothers’ Compensation Act to support dependent and neglected...

  9. 4 The Ludlow Massacre and Special Session
    (pp. 77-102)

    In the interim between the 1913 legislative session and the eruption of violence in the southern coal fields the following spring, Helen again turned her attention to the cause of woman suffrage. Other states were slowly adopting such provisions: eight between 1910 and 1915 and fifteen more between 1915 and 1919.¹ The unions had joined the fight by 1910, and there was a convergence of diverse groups in the suffrage cause between those who argued from the maternalist point of view and those who stood for equal rights for women.²

    As the only woman state senator at that time, Helen...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. 5 The “Silly” Twentieth General Assembly
    (pp. 103-128)

    The political winds turned decidedly conservative in Colorado at the November 1914 election. Voters passed the prohibition of the sale of intoxicating liquors as of January 1916, 129,589 to 118,017. Control of the next regular General Assembly shifted back to the “law and order” Republicans in a landslide victory.¹ Of the seventeen senators elected, only five were Democrats.² The control in the senate was then a tight 18 to 17 for the Republicans; all but one of the committee chairs and leaders of the senate were Republicans, including the president of the senate, Lieutenant Governor Moses Lewis, who was elected...

  12. 6 Citizen of the World
    (pp. 129-152)

    After she left the senate, Helen continued to advocate for women while broadening her activities in other areas. In 1917 she headed a committee that met with the new Democratic governor, Julius C. Gunter, to ask him to appoint a woman to the state Industrial Commission. This was the board created in the 1915 session for the purpose of investigating labor disputes before a strike could take place. Since many workers were women, having a woman among the three members of the board seemed reasonable. The committee’s efforts were unsuccessful, however.¹

    Another one of Helen’s interests was family planning, and...

  13. AFTERWORD: Women in Colorado State Politics, 1894–2011
    (pp. 153-162)
    Stephen J. Leonard

    As Pat Pascoe has shown, Helen Ring Robinson earned her place in Colorado history. Upon her death in 1923, Coloradans recognized that they had lost a trailblazer, but without the advantage of a long historical view they could not adequately assess her legacy. Did her 1912 election to the state senate herald a new era in Colorado, one in which women would increasingly occupy significant political posts? Or was she a fluke, a temporary phenomenon, a lucky lady who seized an opportunity to snatch a senate seat?

    If the past were prologue, the likelihood of her being a fluke was...

  14. Selected Writings
    (pp. 163-166)
    Helen Ring Robinson
  15. Notes
    (pp. 167-214)
  16. Index
    (pp. 215-224)