By Mary Hursh
SYRACUSE — Helen Mar Jackson Gougar (1843-1907) was an advocate for women’s suffrage as a lawyer, writer and lecturer.
Gougar was admitted to the bar by the Tippecanoe County Circuit Court Jan. 10, 1895, and in 1897, she was admitted by the Indiana Supreme Court. As a lawyer, she directly challenged injustices through the legal system.
She attempted to vote in 1894 but was denied and filed suit against the county election board. She argued for the constitutional rights of women of Indiana before the county court in 1895 and the Indiana Supreme Court in 1897. She challenged suffrage restrictions on the basis the Indiana Constitution did not specifically prohibit women from voting. The Tippecanoe County Superior Court ruled against her and women’s suffrage April 20, 1895.
As a lawyer, she filed suit against Western Union in 1881 for delivering the more important telegraphs sent by men before those sent by women. She sued those who attacked her in the press and tried to discredit her advocacy of suffrage and temperance causes.
Gougar spent much of her life as a writer. In 1878, she began writing a weekly column for the Lafayette Daily Courier called “Bric-a-Brac: Literature, Science, Art and Topics of the Day.” Her focus was on temperance and social sciences at first. By 1879, she wrote about women’s suffrage. She argued it was unfair for ambitious, educated, politically aware women to be denied suffrage while so many men voted by party line.
She became editor and proprietor of the Lafayette paper, Our Herald, in 1881. “We shall aim to present facts and arguments from time to time that will tend to remove undue prejudice and educate both men and women to see the justice and necessity of making the women of our state citizens with full rights and privileges to protect themselves and distribute their taxes by the use of the elective franchise.”
The lectern became a familiar home for Gougar early in her life. In 1881, she argued for women’s rights through the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1882, she spoke at the National Suffrage Association convention in Washington, D.C.
In 1883, she delivered 40 lectures in 40 days on topics such as women before the law and woman suffrage as a national necessity. She was credited by the Indianapolis News for delivering 200 lectures a year for 20 years. She spoke without notes and directly addressed her opponents’ views point by point. In 1886, she spoke in favor of women’s suffrage in front of the United States Senate. In 1888, Elizabeth Cady Stanton described Gougar as the most effective speaker in the movement.
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave women the right to vote in all elections. The House and Senate passed the amendment in 1919. The Indiana General Assembly ratified it in January 1920.
This article is one in a series on the Women’s Suffrage Centennial sponsored by Chautauqua-Wawasee, Syracuse-Wawasee Historical Museum, Syracuse Public Library, Syracuse-Wawasee Chamber and Indiana Humanities. All events are free and open to the public.