Colorado’s first female senator was national suffrage leader


“Helen Ring Robinson:

Colorado Senator and Suffragist

(Timberline), Pat Pascoe, $34.95

2012 Colorado Book Award Finalist for Biography

These days, no one gives much thought to how many women serve in the Colorado Legislature, or any other statehouse in the nation for that matter.

But there was a time, 100 years ago, when there were none.

In those days, most states offered women few rights, and suffrage hadn’t yet passed, though some states, Colorado included, did allow women to vote in state elections.

It was in this environment Helen Ring Robinson got herself elected to office.

Robinson is the subject of a new book by another woman state lawmaker, former state senator and fellow Denver Democrat, Sen. Pat Pascoe.

“Eight states allowed alien men to vote if they had taken out their ‘first papers’ to become citizens,” Pascoe writes in “Helen Ring Robinson: Colorado Senator and Suffragist.” “But a woman citizen who married an alien man lost her citizenship under U.S. law, whereas an alien woman who married an American man became an American citizen, apparently under the theory that a wife is a mere appendage to her husband rather than a citizen in her own right.”

That about says it all when it comes to the book.

Robinson served one four-year term in the Senate, from 1913 to 1917. While she wasn’t the first female state senator in the nation, she was the second, and the first in the Colorado Senate, writes Pascoe, who served in that same chamber for 12 years, leaving before the 2003 session.

Robinson saw it as her job to work on legislation that protected women and children, helping to establish a minimum wage for women and children and the right for women to sit on juries, among other issues.

She also was outspoken in the national suffrage movement, which finally passed three years after Robinson left office.

“As the only woman state senator at the time, Helen was sought after as a speaker by many suffrage organizations across the country and even in Canada,” Pascoe writes. “Shortly after the conclusion of the (1913) session, she traveled to the East Coast for a speaking tour of five states ... a tour in which she presented more than sixty addresses.”

The book offers a well-researched scholarly account of Robinson’s time in the Legislature, and her battles for women in politics.

Though, as Pascoe notes, it still would take 70 more years for women to win parity with their male counterparts in the 100-member Legislature. Since 1970, when women made up only 6 percent of both chambers, their numbers have swelled.

Today, there are 16 women serving in the Colorado Senate and 23 in the House.


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