Friday, November 24, 2017

Helen Ekin Starrett (1840-1920): Iconic figure in Suffragette movement

Helen Ekin Starrett

Helen Ekin Starrett was a renowned author, editor, publisher, inventor, educator, reporter,  business woman and popular leader of the Women's Suffrage movement.

Before she passed away, she was one of only two original delegates still living to attend both the first Suffrage Convention and the Victory Convention in Chicago, 1920. She died three months after the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote, something she had long fought for. She was also a close friend of Susan B. Anthony.
Helen Starrett and a women's suffrage convention

Her presence at the Victory Convention reportedly made her somewhat of a superstar in that she had become an idol and mentor to thousands of women. The New York Sun reported that you could always tell where she was at the Victory Convention because she was constantly surrounded by mobs of women of all ages who wanted to meet her. 

In February 1864, she married her childhood sweetheart Rev. William Starrett and moved to Lawrence, Kansas, taking on the role of pastor’s wife in the pioneer community. Not content in that role, Helen quickly turned to teaching music, served as a newspaper editor, assisting her husband in his school superintendent duties, and becoming one of the state’s leading speakers and lecturers on the Suffrage Movement.  

After her husband passed the bar in 1880, her family relocated to Chicago where she founded Western Magazine. After three years, the magazine closed and Helen once again returned to teaching. She was founder and principal for nine years of the Kenwood Institute, a classical school for girls and later founded and incorporated the Starrett School for Girls, both located in the Kenwood Community of Chicago. Founded in 1883, the Starrett School was one of the city’s oldest private schools, a large day school with accommodations for resident pupils providing classes from kindergarten to college preparation. 

Starrett became the second elected president of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association in 1893 and served the Association during the year of the World’s Columbian Exposition also known as Chicago’s World’s Fair.

A NY Sun feature Starrett's sons
At the age of 47, Starrett was left a widow and single mother of their seven children, her youngest was only ten years old when his father died. Her five sons would go on to become some of the most famous and influential builders of their time, with résumés boasting landmark feats of American engineering, including the Empire State Building, Pennsylvania Station, the Woolworth Building, the Biltmore Hotel, the Bellevue Stratford Hotel, the Plaza Hotel and the iconic Flatiron buildings. Both of her daughters married builders—her daughter Helen married William Stewart Dinwiddie, founder of the Dinwiddie Construction Company, the firm who built the mausoleum in which her cremains are interred.

When Helen “retired” to Portland, Oregon in 1916, The Oregon Daily Journal printed a story about her role as the new president of the Ainsworth Parent-Teacher Association. She remained active in education and social matters, and attributed these things to be the secret to her youth. Her children built her a beautiful house in Portland where she would spend her final years. 
Helen Ekin Starrett and one of her many books

In addition to having patented improvements to women's shoes, she published several books, including Letters to a Daughter (1882), The Future of Educated Women (1880) , The Charm of Fine Manners, (1885) Pete, The Story of a Chicken (1886), Letters to a Little Girl (1886), A Little Sermon to School Girls (1886), Letters to Elder Daughters; Charm of a Well-Mannered Home (1888), Let Her Stand Alone (1890), Crocus and Wintergreen (1907), The Future of Our Daughters, After College; Now What? (1885), many poems and song lyrics, and countless other written works.

Sources:, Find-a-Grave, Oakland Tribune, Illinois Woman’s Press Association, NY Tribune, NY Sun,

1 comment:

Chris Pattillo, FASLA said...


Wow, what a find. This woman should be added to our regular history tour. A very good read. Thank you.