Helen Hamilton Gardener

Lived:January 21, 1853—July 26, 1925 (aged 72)

Helen Hamilton Gardener was an author, suffragist and civil service official.

Gardener was born as Alice Chenoweth on January 21, 1853, in Winchester, Virginia, and grew up in Washington, D.C., Indiana and Ohio. She graduated from Cincinnati Normal School in 1873, and worked as a teacher for two years until her marriage to Charles Smart, the school commissioner of Ohio. They moved to New York City in 1880, where she lectured on sociology at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences and wrote for local newspapers under several masculine pseudonyms.

In 1884, Chenoweth-Smart delivered a series of public lectures on freethinking, publishing a collection of the lectures as a book under the pen name Helen Hamilton Gardener in 1885. Over the next several years, she continued to publish short stories and essays as Helen Hamilton Gardener and eventually adopted it as her legal name. In the late 1880s, after challenging the thesis of former U.S. Surgeon General William A. Hammond that women's brains were inherently inferior to men's, she became a leading speaker for women's rights. For several years after, she wrote novels, including one that criticized the low age of consent at that time which sold many copies and stirred controversy, and a critically-acclaimed fictionalized biography of her father. After her husband's 1901 death and her 1902 remarriage to Selden Allen Day, a retired army officer, she spent five years travelling the world.

In 1907, Gardener returned to Washington, D.C., and soon after began campaigning for women's suffrage. She was appointed to the Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1913 and was elected as a vice-president of NAWSA in 1917, serving as its chief liaison with the Wilson administration. In 1920, President Wilson appointed Gardener to the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the highest federal position occupied by a woman up to that time. She served in that position until her death on July 26, 1925.