Helen Benson, left, born August 16, 1920, visits the Step Up Gallery at Mesa Public Library to see the League of Women Voters exhibit on the struggle for the vote with her daughter Jody Benson. Helen’s mother, Eleanor, was a Suffragist. Helen and Jody stand with Alice Paul who was jailed for ‘obstructing traffic’ while in front of the White House on November 9, 1917, went on a hunger strike, and was brutally force-fed. Jody says Helen is vaccinated, which is why she lived so long. Courtesy photo
BY JODY BENSON
League Of Women Voters of
Helen Benson was born on August 16, 1920, two days before Tennessee, when 22-year-old Republican Harry T. Burn of Niota shocked the House, heeded a plea from his mamma to ratify the amendment and flipped his vote to make Tennessee the 36th state to approve the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
Helen’s mother, Eleanor, was a suffragist. Eleanor’s father was a farmer and Civil War veteran, a Philbrook descended from immigrants who settled in New Hampshire in the early 1600s. Her mother, Anna, was an immigrant, shipped to America from Germany as a mail-order bride, who, after taking one look at the contracted groom, decided she would not marry this man, and instead headed off on her own into the new country, trained as a midwife, met her husband, and raised five girls to be independent thinkers. Even though Eleanor lost her citizenship when she married a German (the wife’s identity was her husband’s—Waldemar got his citizenship before she regained hers), she took her independent-thinking to work all the way to the ballot box. Helen’s hard-working parents knew how important it was to have a voice in their government.
Helen cast her first ballot in 1942 for FDR. She’d seen how his social policies helped her family, and, in 1941, united the nation to beat the fascists. Since 1942, she has never missed an election—not federal, state, or local. She knows that what our School Board, County Clerk, and County Council does at the local level, trickles up to determine state and federal policies. To be too uninformed, too lazy, or too busy to vote also determines federal policies. She knows that only when all individuals vote can we override the power of corporations granted by “Citizens United” corporations to use “dark money” to influence elections.
She knows her voice, even at age 101, is essential to the democratic process. So yes, she’s voting in the November School Board/UNMLA/School Bond election.
Votes for Women—in fact, votes for everyone starting way back when only land-owning white men had suffrage—were hard won over several generations. To see the history, to read some inspiring and surprising stories, to maybe learn about your great-grandmother’s struggle for representation, please visit the 3rd floor Step-Up Gallery at Mesa Public Library. You’ll be proud of America. You’ll be proud of what democracy is capable of. You have through Tuesday, Sept. 21 to visit the exhibit.
And don’t forget to vote Nov. 2. If Helen, at 101 years old can remember, so can you.
The Mesa Public Library on Central is open from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.