Helen Ring Robinson was the first woman elected to the Colorado State Senate (1912) and the second woman elected to any state senate in the nation. As an active Progressive, she got passed a women’s minimum wage bill (later overruled), advocated for women serving on juries, and for social reform to aid women, education, labor, and the mentally ill. She toured to promote national women’s suffrage. She also investigated working conditions at Colorado Fuel and Iron Co. and defended the immigrant workers, victims of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre. She was ahead of her time.
Helen Ring came to Colorado Springs to teach English at Colorado College in 1893. She soon moved to and taught in Denver. Marrying attorney Ewing Robinson in 1902 made her able to travel and campaign. As a senator, she called herself “womanly” and the “housewives’ representative,” but turned this toward women’s equality. Handicapped by the lack of other senate women, Robinson’s attempted reforms are remarkable. Most of her proposals ultimately held sway.
Recognized nationally and internationally as an eloquent novelty, Robinson was a sought-after speaker and writer. She inspired without alienating and defended Colorado women’s suffrage (1893) in the East where critics saw suffrage as premature. Her publications included Preparing Women for Citizenship in 1918, two years before the 19th Amendment was ratified. Robinson was invited to sail on Henry Ford’s Peace Ship in 1915, a pilgrimage of well-known pacifists, to help prevent world war. The pilgrimage was unsuccessful, but Robinson’s inclusion was a marker of her recognition. Being feminine was an asset in a period when many saw suffragists and even women speakers as “unnatural.” Admired by Colorado women, when Robinson’s body lay in state in the Capitol rotunda, League of Women Voters and Denver Women’s Press Club members stood guard.