Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

HELEN JACKSON GOUGAR
(1843-1907), moral warrior for temperance and woman suffrage

E. CLAIRE JERRY

Every social movement needs its organizers, its philosophers, its leaders, and, perhaps, even its martyrs. In addition, every social movement needs someone who will carry the battle to the enemy in the strongest possible terms. Helen Mar Jackson Gougar was such a person, a moral warrior for temperance and woman suffrage who was not afraid of confrontation and was willing to risk all, including her own good name, for her causes.


BACKGROUND

Helen Mar Jackson was born in Hillsdale County, Michigan, in 1843 and attended the local school until she was twelve; then she entered Hillsdale College where she studied for three years. In order to provide money for her younger sisters' education, she left college just before her sixteenth birthday to become an assistant school teacher in Lafayette, Indiana. Within three years, she was named the first woman school principal in Lafayette, a position she held until her marriage to John D. Gougar, a local attorney, in December 1863. Because her spouse suffered from weak eyesight, she regularly read his lawbooks to him, thereby gaining knowledge of the law that would later prove significant.

Jackson Gougar's rhetorical career began in the 1870s when Lafayette women began to organize around various causes such as treatment of the insane, disaster relief, temperance, and woman suffrage. After she gave her first public speech in 1877, her popularity quickly grew. Soon she was speaking on behalf of many groups, including the Social Science Association and the Sunday School Union, and in addition she made numerous appearances in behalf of temperance. She expanded her rhetorical efforts in November 1878 by becoming Lafayette's first woman newspaper columnist. For almost two years, she wrote "Bric-a-Brac," a column devoted to "Literature, Science, Art and Topics of the Day," for the Lafayette Daily Courier. In this column she dealt with such issues as charitable organization reform, labor agitation, home economy, and the relationship between temperance and religion.

Jackson Gougar gradually increased her public speaking and her suffrage activity. On June 16, 1880, SUSAN B. ANTHONY appeared at a suffrage meeting in Lafayette at which Jackson Gougar was the opening speaker. This exposure to national suffrage leaders led to Jackson Gougar's appearances before national audiences. By 1881, she was a platform speaker at the AWSA annual convention, and in 1882, she was an Indiana delegate to the convention of the NWSA, appearing on their platform as well. That same year, Anthony chose her to be one of the "young and attractive" women to represent the NWSA

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