Winslow, Helen M(aria)

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WINSLOW, Helen M(aria)

Born 13 April 1851, Westfield, Vermont; died 27 March 1938

Also wrote under: Aunt Philury

Daughter of Don A. and Mary Newton Winslow

Educated at the Westfield Vermont Academy, the Vermont Normal School, and the New England Conservatory of Music, Helen M. Winslow began her literary career writing pastoral poems and short fiction for such children's periodicals as Youth's Companion, Wide Awake, and Cottage Hearth. Although she continued to write poetry and children's fiction sporadically throughout her life, she is best remembered not for these "Aunt Philury Papers" but for her newspaper and club work

Early in Winslow's career as a journalist, after the death of her parents, she lived in the Boston area with her three sisters. During the 1880s, she wrote for numerous Boston papers, including the Beacon, Transcript, Advisor, and the Saturday Evening Gazette. Her first novel, A Bohemian Chapter (1886), the story of a struggling woman artist, was serialized in the Beacon. Her journalistic experiences led her to help form the New England Woman's Press Association (which she served as first treasurer) and the Boston Author's Club (which she served as secretary); she was also vice president of the Women's Press League.

Winslow's most sustained activity resulted from her involvement with the General Federation of Woman's Clubs. In the early 1890s, she was assistant editor of the Woman's Cycle, the federation's first official journal, and editor and publisher of its second journal, the Club Woman. She also edited the Delineator's "Woman's Club" department for 13 years and was founder and editor of the "Woman's Club" column in the Transcript. From 1898 through 1930, Winslow annually published the official Woman's Club Register. In addition to her direct affiliation with the club movement and its many publications, Winslow wrote numerous articles celebrating club women and their work in journals such as the Arena, the Critic, and the Atlantic Monthly. The most signifi-cant of these articles was her extensive history of American woman's clubs, "The Story of the Woman's Club Movement" (New England Magazine, June and October 1908).

Among the more interesting of Winslow's generally forgotten novels is Salome Shepard, Reformer (1893), an indictment of industrial working conditions with suggestions for reform. Salome, a young society woman, awakens to a sense of social responsibility after discovering the unsafe working and intolerable living conditions in the mills she has inherited from her father. Almost single-handedly, Salome initiates a series of reforms, including a model dormitory for the women workers, a social hall for the families of workers, and profit sharing.

Winslow partly duplicates this plot in The President of Quex (1906). In this novel, written in response to Agnes Surbridge's strident denunciation of club women in "The Evolution of a Club Woman—A Story of Ambition Realized" (Delineator, 1904), Winslow's heroine, the president of a woman's club concerned with municipal reform, becomes aware of abusive child labor conditions in her factories. Again, the women, this time through their club work, initiate and effect the necessary reforms, with no sacrifice to their home lives.

A Woman for Mayor (1909) is Winslow's most effective dramatization of the political sensibilities and capabilities of middle-class women. Written in support of the "municipal-house-keeping" concept of social reform, moderate women's rights, and the Progressive-era concept of expanded social services in local government, the novel relates the story of a young woman who is elected mayor on a platform dedicated to the eradication of political graft and corruption. For Gertrude Van Deusen, Wins-low's heroine, the demands of public and domestic life are not only complementary but mutually reinforcing. It is difficult to tell whether she will be a good wife because she was a good mayor or was a good mayor because she was well versed in the skills of domestic efficiency.

Despite both her own achievements and those of her many heroines, Winslow showed a lifelong ambivalence about the public role of women. In each of her novels, the heroine, after ably demonstrating her superiority, retires willingly to marriage and an essentially domestic orientation. In Spinster Farm (1908), for example, Winslow chronicles the experiences of two women who create a productive, independent life for themselves by renovating and living on an abandoned farm. Both women articulate their preference for self-sufficient spinsterhood throughout the novel, only to marry in the final pages. In each novel, the heroine claims that her marriage will not end her public activism, although her primary focus will necessarily be on her home life. In no novel, however, does Winslow present her heroine after marriage. It is unclear whether this seeming ambivalence results from Wins-low's desire to defend club women and meet the demands of a literary public in search of the happy ending or from an uncertainty about her own lifestyle—as her article "Confessions of a Newspaperwoman" (Atlantic, February 1905) might suggest. Whatever the reason, Winslow's fiction provides useful material for any reader interested in the ongoing debate about the public and private roles of women.

Other Works:

Mexico Picturesque (with M. R. Wright, 1897). Occupations for Women (with F. Willard, 1898). Concerning Cats (1900). Concerning Polly (1902). Little Journeys in Literature (1902). Literary Boston of Today (1903). Confessions of a Club Woman (1904). The Woman of Tomorrow (1905). The Pleasuring of Susan Smith (1908). The Road to a Loving Heart (1926). Keeping Young Gracefully (1928).


Blair, K., The Clubwoman as Feminist: The Woman's Culture Club Movement in the United States, 1868-1914 (Ph.D. dissertation, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1976). Blake, F., The Strike in the American Novel (1972). Hill, V. L., Strategy and Breadth: The Socialist-Feminist in American Fiction (dissertation, 1979). Taylor, W., The Economic Novel in America (1942).

Reference works:

AW (1939). NCAB (1927).

Other references:

Atlantic (Dec. 1894). Godey's (Nov. 1893). Independent (26 Nov. 1893). Literary World (17 June 1893). Picayune (7 May 1893).


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Winslow, Helen M(aria)

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