Biographies & Images

Helen Barrett Montgomery

Photograph of Helen Montgomery
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Born July 31, 1861
Birthplace Kingsville, Ohio
Died October 19, 1934
Grave Site Riverside Cemetery, Rochester, New York
Contribution Social reformer, educator, women's rights advocate and church leader

Helen Barrett was born on July 31, 1861 in Kingsville, Ohio. She was the oldest of three children born to Adoniram Judson and Emily Barrows Barrett. Both of her parents were teachers.

As a child her father moved the family to Rochester, New York so that he might attend the Rochester Theological Seminary. Upon his graduation in 1876, he became pastor of the Lake Avenue Baptist Church, in Rochester, a position he held until his death in 1889.

Photograph of Helen MontgomeryHelen Barrett graduated from Wellesley College in 1884 and became a teacher, first at the Rochester Free Academy and then for two years at the Wellesley Preparatory School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She then returned to Rochester, where she married William A. Montgomery, a businessman, on September 6, 1887. Mr. Montgomery’s business, North East Electric Company, would later become the Rochester Products Division of General Motors.

During the early years of her marriage, Helen Barrett Montgomery and her husband adopted a daughter, Edith. Montgomery also organized a women’s Bible class at the Lake Avenue Baptist Church, which she taught for forty-four years. In 1892, the same church licensed her to preach.

During the 1890s, Montgomery was involved in a number of efforts on behalf of women’s rights. In 1893, she and Susan B. Anthony formed the Woman’s Educational and Industrial Union of Rochester (WEIU), and Montgomery became itsPhotograph of Helen Montgomery first president. Modeled on similar associations in Buffalo and Boston, the WEIU served poor women and children in the City. It established a legal aid center, public playgrounds, a "Noon Rest" house for working girls, and safe milk stations for mothers. These "stations" later evolved into public health centers.

Montgomery, a teacher before and after her marriage, also became a spokesperson for educational reform in the 1890s, and tied this interest to her work on behalf of women’s rights. When she served as the president of the New York State Federation of Women’s Clubs (1896 - 1897), she was known for her public addresses on education issues. In 1898, she joined with Anthony in order to raise funds to open the University of Rochester to women students, a venture that finally succeeded in 1900.

In 1899, as a result of the efforts of the women’s rights movement, the WEIU, and the Good Government movement, Image of booklet:  Like a Tree Planted she was elected to the Rochester School Board, the first woman ever elected to public office in the City. Montgomery served on the Board for ten years, during which time she was instrumental in effecting the implementation of many Progressive reforms -- including the introduction of kindergartens, vocational training and health education. During this time, she also helped to pioneer the use of schools as community social centers in poorer neighborhoods, starting with Public School No. 14 in Rochester in 1907.

Throughout her tenure on the school board, Montgomery maintained close ties to Susan B. Anthony and the suffrage movement as a member of the Women’s Political Equality Club of Rochester. Shortly after Anthony’s death in 1906, Montgomery served as the second vice-chairman on of the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Association, a Rochester committee established to ensure that Anthony’s pioneering work for women’s rights was properly recognized.

Image of book cover: Western Women in Eastern LandsMontgomery became increasingly involved in the women’s missionary movement, as she grew older. In this work too, her activities were often closely linked to furthering the rights of women. In 1910, she published Western Women in Eastern Lands (1910), a study that surveyed the status of women in Asia. The study also examined women’s mission boards, women missionaries, and women’s right to control their own mission funds and programs in Asia.Image of cover title: A Woman's Religion in Her Daily Life

In 1910 - 1911, Montgomery embarked on a national tour promoting Protestant women’s mission work, and through her efforts helped to raise $1 million dollars, much of which went to establish Christian women’s colleges in Asia. In 1913, at the request of the Federation of Women’s Boards of Foreign Missions, she traveled around the world in order to survey and report on missions. Her report, The King’s Highway, was published in 1915 and sold more than 160,000 copies.

Image of cover of Lake Avenue Baptist RecordMontgomery also served as the president of the Woman’s American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (1914 - 1924). In this position, she sought to increase access to education and health care for women and children. In 1915 she, along with two other prominent women of faith, founded the World Wide Guild, the purpose of which was to encourage young women to pursue missionary work. She presided over the National Federation of Women’s Boards of Foreign Missions (1917 - 1918), and in 1921 became the first woman to be elected president of the Northern Baptist Convention.

In 1924, Montgomery published The Centenary Translation of the New Testament. In this translation, the first by a woman scholar, she sought to make the Greek New Testament more accessible to the "ordinary reader" by using "everyday" language.

Montgomery ensured that her good works would continue after her death. Her will left over $450,000 to more than 80 institutions, including colleges, churches, missions and hospitals. Montgomery died at the home of her daughter Edith (Mrs. George F. Simson) in Summit, New Jersey on October 19, 1934 at the age of 73.

Bibliography of Suggested Books & Articles
Abbott, Conda Delite Hitch, Envoy of Grace: the Life of Helen Barrett Montgomery, Valey Forge, PA.: American Baptist Historical Society, 1997.
Anderson, Gerald H., Robert T. Coote, Norman A. Horner, and James M. Phillips, eds., The Best of Mission Legacies: Biographical Studies of Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement, Orbis Books.
Brackney, William Henry, "From Rochester With Love: The Legacy of Helen Barrett Montgomery and Lucy W. Peabody, International Bulletin of Missionary Research (Oct. 1991).
Cattan, Louise Armstrong, Lamps are for Lighting: The Story of Helen Barrett Montgomery and Lucy Waterbury Peabody, Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1972. (Christian world mission books series).

*Frank, Meryl and Blake McKelvey, "Some Former Rochesterians of National Distinction," Rochester History, v. XXI, No. 3 (July 1959).

* Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, (multiples vols.), NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999. v. 15, pp. 702-3 (biography by Beverly Corbett Davison).

*Harper, Ida Husted, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, v. III, Indianapolis, The Hollenbeck Press, 1908.

*Harper, Ida Husted, ed., History of Woman Suffrage, National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922 (reprint Source Book Press, 1970) vol. V, p. 744.

Hoadley, Frank T., Baptists Who Dared, Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1980.

* James, Edward T., Janet Wilson James and Paul S. Boyer, eds, James, Edward T., Janet Wilson James and Paul S. Boyer, eds, Notable American Women, 1607-1950, (NAW) Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press (Harvard University) 1971. vol. II, pp. 556-568.
*McKelvey, Blake, Rochester: The Quest for Quality, 1890-1925, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1956.
*McKelvey, Blake, "A Rochester Bookshelf," Rochester History, v. X, No. 4 (Oct. 1948).
*McKelvey, Blake, "Rochester’s Public Schools: A Testing Ground for Community Policies," Rochester History, v. XXXI, No. 2 (Apr. 1969).
*McKelvey, Blake, "The Semi-Centennial of the Rochester Public Library," Rochester History, v. XXIII, No. 4 (Oct. 1961).
*McKelvey, Blake, "Walter Rauschenbusch’s Rochester," Rochester History, v. XIV, No. 4 (Oct. 1952).
*McKelvey, Blake, "Woman’s Rights in Rochester: A Century of Progress," Rochester History, v. X, Nos. 2 & 3, (July 1948).
Montgomery, Helen Barrett, Helen Barrett Montgomery: From Campus to World Citizenship, New York: Revell, 1940.
*Pease, William H., "The Gannetts of Rochester: Highlights in a Liberal Career, 1889- 1923," Rochester History, v. XVII, No. 4 (October, 1955).
Women of Faith Series, series of four tapes w/12 five minute portraits on individual women of faith; Tape 4 (001982) includes Helen Barrett Montgomery. JohnKnoxPres.
* Used to create this biography
 
Bibliography of Suggested Web Sites
An image and description of Greek "Grave Stela" in marble, part of the Helen Barrett Montgomery Bequest to the Memorial Art Gallery, can be found "Odyssey: Greece," an educational website created by Emory University and Memorial Art Gallery at http://www.emory.edu/CARLOS/ODYSSEY/GREECE/funerals.html
Information on Montgomery’s Centenary Translation of the New Testament can be found at http://www.innvista.com/scriptures/versions/CTNT.htm

 

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