Bentley, Helen Delich (1923—)

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Bentley, Helen Delich (1923—)

American maritime reporter and U.S. Congressional Representative from January 3, 1985, to January 3, 1995. Born in Ruth, Nevada, on November 28, 1923; one of two daughters and six children of Michael (a miner) and Mary (Kovich) Ivanesvich; attended the University of Nevada and George Washington University; granted B.A. from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, 1944; married William Roy Bentley, on June 7, 1959.

In 1952, before women had grappled their way into most of the male-dominated professions, Helen Bentley was patrolling docks around the world as the maritime editor of the Baltimore Sun, a position that would win her national prominence as an expert on the maritime industry and, in 1969, an appointment by President Richard Nixon as chair of the Federal Maritime Commission. Later, as a member of Congress, Bentley would continue her efforts as a passionate advocate of a more powerful American merchant marine.

Bentley grew up in Ely, Nevada, one of six children of Yugoslavian immigrants. When she was eight, her father died of the mining disease, silicosis, throwing the family into financial turmoil. Helen went to work at age 12 and worked throughout high school and college. Despite her hours spent earning a living, she participated in many extracurricular activities in White Pine High School and served on the Ely Record as a part-time reporter. Charles Russell, editor of the Record and later governor of Nevada, encouraged Bentley to go into journalism and to join the Republican Party.

Graduating as valedictorian in 1941, she entered the University of Nevada with two scholarships. In the fall of 1942, Bentley transferred to the University of Missouri after spending her summer vacation working on the campaign of senator James G. Scrugham. In 1943, she was a secretary in Scrugham's senate office in Washington, while attending George Washington University evenings. In October, she was back at Missouri, finishing her degree and holding down three jobs, including one as a stringer for United Press (U.P.).

Receiving her journalism degree in September 1944—after three years rather than four—she continued with U.P. then worked briefly as telegraph editor of the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune. In June 1945, she began her long association with the Baltimore Sun, as a reporter specializing in labor matters. Two years later, Bentley became the first woman to cover an American Federation of Labor convention. In 1948, the city editor offered her a new territory: "Go down and take a look at the port; we've had nobody there since before the war."

Bentley educated herself in the problems of the nation's shipping, interviewing everyone from dockhands to government officials. Her hard-hitting coverage conveyed both her love of the sea and her concern for the declining U.S. merchant fleet. In 1952, she was promoted to maritime editor, and her "Around the Waterfront" column was syndicated in 15 newspapers. Bentley's confrontational style brought her scoops of national and international importance, often paving the way for legislative action, but this was not without its price. One column on union featherbedding, the practice of requiring an employer to hire unnecessary employees, brought a suit against her and the Sun for $26 million in damages.

Beginning in 1950, Bentley wrote and produced a weekly television show, The Port that Built a City and State, for a Baltimore station. The show was so well received that she was called upon to produce similar shows on the ports of the Delaware Valley. Known for her ability to juggle a variety of activities at once, including

her marriage in 1959 to schoolteacher Roy Bentley, she also worked as a consultant for the American Association of Port Authorities and did freelance writing and film producing.

As chair of the maritime commission, Helen Bentley was outspoken in her concern for the general state of U.S. shipping. She bemoaned the decaying condition of the merchant fleet and the fact that the United States had slipped from first place among maritime nations. "The shipowners are not going to be able to continue operating these tubs once the Vietnam War dies down," she remarked. "Military leases are supporting them now, but if nothing is done, we'll be totally in the hands of foreign shipping powers."

In 1975, Bentley retired to the private sector, working as an executive with a shipping company and writing a column for World Port Magazine before returning to politics. Her unsuccessful challenges to longtime incumbent Clarence Long as a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives in 1980 and 1982 were followed by her eventual victory over him in 1984. Bentley served four consecutive congressional terms, during which she was a member of the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries and the Committee on Public Works and Transportation. During the 101st Congress, she was on the Budget Committee and the Select Committee on Aging. Successful in achieving federal support for the dredging and improvement of Baltimore harbor, Bentley also supported legislation to protect America's jobs and industry against foreign competition.


Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography 1971. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1972.

Office of the Historian. Women in Congress, 1917–1990. Commission on the Bicentenary of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1991.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Bentley, Helen Delich (1923—)

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