Sex, Suffrage, and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener
by Kimberly A. Hamlin
Pub Date 17 Mar 2020
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How one “fallen woman” battled religious ideology, pseudoscience, and political resistance to women’s right to vote.
Exposed in Ohio newspapers for an affair with a married man, Alice Chenoweth refused to cower in shame. Instead she changed her name to Helen Hamilton Gardener, moved to New York, pretended to be married to her lover, and became a wildly popular lecturer and author, brazenly opposed to sexist piety and propriety.
The “Harriet Beecher Stowe of Fallen Women,” she supported raising the age of sexual consent for girls (from twelve or younger), decried double standards of sexual morality, and debunked scientists’ claims that women’s brains were inferior. With liberal doses of feminine charm, Gardener networked tirelessly to persuade Woodrow Wilson and other male politicians to support the Nineteenth Amendment. Her effort, according to suffrage leader Maud Wood Park, was “the most potent factor” in its passage.
As more women enter politics than ever before, Kimberly A. Hamlin recovers the wildly entertaining and illuminating life of a brilliant, effective woman—all but forgotten—who paved the way.
About the Author: Kimberly A. Hamlin teaches American studies at Miami University of Ohio and contributes to the "Made by History" series in the Washington Post and to other popular media.