Johnson, Helen (Louise) Kendrick

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JOHNSON, Helen (Louise) Kendrick

Born 4 January 1844, Hamilton, New York; died 3 January 1917, New York, New York

Also wrote under: Mrs. Rossiter Johnson

Daughter of Asahel C. and Anne Hopkins Kendrick; married Rossiter Johnson, 1869

Helen Kendrick Johnson grew up in an academic environment and from girlhood was interested in writing. A visit to Georgia soon after the Civil War provided the material for her first publication, "A Night in Atlanta" (1867), which appeared in the New Hampshire Statesman, a newspaper edited by her future husband.

Johnson's earliest publications were children's stories. Her first book, Roddy's Romance (1874), was written for a prize competition. Although it did not win the prize, it was successfully published and was followed by Roddy's Reality (1875) and Roddy's Ideal (1876), the series of children's books known collectively as the Roddy Books. Tears for the Little Ones (1878) is a collection of verses from which Johnson had drawn solace after the deaths of her first two children and which she published in order to help other parents through similar periods of grief.

In the late 1870s, Johnson began Our Familiar Songs and Those Who Made Them (1881), a popular success that went through numerous editions. The contents are a combination of ancient and current ballads, sentimental songs, and nonsense songs. The writers include Robert Burns, Stephen Foster, and contemporary writers now forgotten; some writers are anonymous. Johnson divided the anthology thematically and gave biographical information about the writers, histories of the songs, and piano arrangements of the music. She included all the known verses and frequently indicated variant tunes for the songs. The completeness of her biographical and historical material varies greatly because her methods of gathering materials were not systematic. Her book does, however, have the virtue of presenting, in useful form, the words and music for popular songs of the day.

Johnson's next literary endeavor was the compilation of a series of small books called the Nutshell Series (1884). These were collections of sayings of famous men published under the titles Philosophy, Wisdom, Sentiments, Proverbs, Wit and Humor, Epigram and Epitaph. All were subsequently collected into a single volume, Short Sayings of Famous Men (1884).

Johnson's only novel, Raleigh Westgate (1889), is a humorous account of the development of a romantic young man into a pillar of his community. Westgate's search for himself and the girl of his dreams takes him through the Maine countryside and provides Johnson with ample opportunities for local-color depictions of the Maine people and for satire of modern commercial methods and nouveau-riche pretensions. The plot works on stock sentimental devices, but Johnson's satire is humorously effective.

Johnson was editor of the American Woman's Journal from 1894 to 1896. In this capacity, she became involved with thewoman suffrage issue and published several articles favoring woman suffrage. Further consideration of these articles convinced Johnson of the error of their positions, and she began actively participating in the antisuffrage movement. This led to her most significant work, Woman and the Republic (1897), in which she analyzes the arguments of the suffragists, refuting each point by point. Johnson scorns all of their arguments concerning women's equality with men on the grounds that women are already superior to men.

In Woman and the Republic, Johnson argues that women do not need, and in fact should not have, the vote because the enforcement of laws depends on the power implied in the support of law and order by men who have the physical strength to provide police action. She also declares that woman suffrage is antidemocratic because in the American republic the social order has been established according to God's wishes with women as the moral force, building human character through Christian mothering, and with men as the physical force, building the social bodies that protect order.

Johnson was a conscientious editor, a writer of witty fiction, and an ardent supporter of women's work in traditional areas. Her arguments against suffrage are carefully structured. However, for the modern woman, her premises seem to be in gross error. Her conviction that women do not need the vote because they already have all of the necessary rights and perquisites demands acceptance of the view that woman's place is in the home and beside the cradle.


Johnson, R., Helen Kendrick Johnson (Mrs. Rossiter Johnson): The Story of Her Varied Activities (1917).

Reference works:

AA. DAB. NCAB. Other references: NYTBR (10 July 1897).


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Johnson, Helen (Louise) Kendrick

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