Helen Williams

Name: Helen Williams (Harvey)
Birth Date: November 18, 1878
Birth Place: Sheboygan, WI
Death Date: December 8, 1922
Death Location: Evanston, IL
Burial Place: Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, IL


Helen Harvey Williams was the first president of the League of Women Voters of Evanston. She began her term in 1922 at the founding of the organization but did not complete it as she died suddenly in December. She had been on a speaking tour in Michigan and was scheduled to speak in Champaign.

Her obituary noted that she was active in the Woman’s City Club of Chicago and the Woman’s Club of Evanston and Drama Club of Evanston. She took part in the war effort during WWI and was involved in Democratic Party activities including the Woodrow Wilson campaign. She was a member of the First Church of Christ Scientist in Evanston.

One of her key campaigns was the Cable Act that gave women the right to independent citizenship. She worked with attorney Catharine Waugh McCulloch on the bill and traveled to Washington D.C. with McCulloch in 1922 to lobby for its passage.

This excerpt from The Dunn County News (Menominee Wisconsin), December 14, 1922, quoting an obituary in the Evanston News-Index, provides a good overview of her contributions:

“Besides holding the office of president of the Evanston women voters’ organization [the League of Women Voters of Evanston], and taking a prominent part in the establishing of the league here and in Chicago, Mrs. Williams was at one time chairman of a committee of the Woman’s City club of Chicago for the investigation of county charities. She was a member of the social service department of the Evanston Woman’s club, and a member and former officer of the Drama club of Evanston. She took an active part in the war work activities here a few years ago and was an enthusiastic worker in Woodrow Wilson’s second campaign. She was a member of the First Church of Christ Scientist of Evanston.

Last year Mrs. Williams accompanied Mrs. Catherine Waugh McCulloch and Miss Eleanor Perkins to Washington to work for the bill pending before congress on independent citizenship for women. The bill was passed by congress largely as a result of the work of these Illinois women. She had been lecturing during the past few weeks in behalf of the League of Women Voters and following her address in Detroit was scheduled to speak at Champaign on Monday night.

“I am deeply grieved to hear of Mrs. William’s death,” said Mrs. McCulloch this morning. “Her loss will be felt not only in Evanston, where she is widely known, but in Chicago as well. Her enthusiasms, ability, and fund of bright, original ideas have meant a great deal to the league. She was remarkably intelligent and well informed, characteristics which were especially remarked during our visit in Washington last year.”

Unfortunately, Helen Williams died unexpectedly, at age 44, during her first term as president of the LWVE. Characteristically, as noted in the obituary, she had just returned from a speaking trip to Michigan and was scheduled to leave shortly to give a speech in Champaign, Illinois.”

Helen Williams came from a family that was active in education, civic affairs, and women’s rights. Her father was State Superintendent of public instruction in Wisconsin and then president of Stout Institute (now University of Wisconsin-Stout). He also served as president of the National Educational Association. Her mother and her sister Gladys were active in the suffrage movement in Wisconsin and founders of the Menominee, Wisconsin branch of the League of Women Voters. Her son Lynn, Jr. continued the family tradition of active involvement in civic life. He ran (unsuccessfully) for U.S. Congress in 1964 and was active for many years in New Trier and Cook County Democratic politics.

Father: Lorenzo Dow Harvey
Mother: Lettie Brown Harvey (possibly Florence Allettie Brown)
Children: Yes, 2 - Gordon and Lynn Jr.
Education: University of Wisconsin
Years in Evanston: some time after marriage in 1903 - death in 1922

Sources: Ancestry; Newspaper articles found on newspapers.com; EHC Clipping file; Evanston Directory 1905; LWVE Membership Directory; Bulletin of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, vol. III no. 1, January 1923, p. 8 - obituary.

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