Helen Stoddard, teacher and prohibition advocate, was born on July 27, 1850, in Sheboygan Township, Wisconsin, daughter of Hawley and Esther (Ladd) Gerrells. Her parents moved to Texas in 1877 and were among the pioneer settlers of Indian Gap. Helen attended Ripon College in Wisconsin and was valedictorian of the graduating class at Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima, New York, in 1871. She married S. D. Stoddard, a classmate, in 1873. The couple spent the next four years in Nebraska and had two sons, one of whom died in infancy. Stoddard died in 1878 in Florida, where the family had moved for his health, and Helen returned to the Midwest to teach. In 1880 she resigned her position in mathematics at Nebraska Conference Seminary and joined her parents in Texas. She established a Sunday school and literary society in Indian Gap, taught at Comanche College, and in 1885 joined the faculty of Fort Worth University. In the late 1880s she became interested in temperance reform through the influence of Anna Palmer, a national evangelist for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She was serving as recording secretary of the state WCTU convention at Tyler in 1891 when the president resigned because of ill health. Although she was relatively unknown on a statewide level, Stoddard was elected to the presidency and resigned her position at Fort Worth University to become a full-time temperance worker. In the next sixteen years she built the Texas WCTU from a membership of a few hundred to almost 1,900 dues-paying members who were an active force for social reform.
Helen Stoddard's first priority was to revitalize the TWCTU, which had been demoralized by the defeat of the prohibition-amendment campaign of 1887; she traveled around the state lecturing, organizing new chapters, and reorganizing inactive ones. She spent the winter of 1893 lobbying successfully in Austin for the passage of a scientific temperance-instruction law (that is, a law requiring that children be taught the ill effects of alcohol on the human body) for the public schools and establishing the beginning of a pattern that enabled the TWCTU to achieve the most concentrated succession of legislative victories in its history. She was instrumental in persuading the legislature to raise the age of protection for girls from twelve to fifteen in 1895 and to forbid the sale of cigarettes to minors in 1899. She lobbied successfully for a pure-food law and for statutes against cocaine, gambling, and C.O.D. liquor shipments to dry counties. Her most important lobbying work was in her stand against child labor and her effort to establish the College of Industrial Arts for girls. In 1901, when the bill establishing the college (now Texas Woman's University) was passed, Governor Joseph D. Sayers appointed Stoddard to the board of thirteen commissioners charged with choosing a site for the new institution. She was the only woman so chosen. She traveled more than 3,000 miles with the commission and served as secretary of the college's board of regents from 1901 to 1907. Stoddard Hall is named in her honor. At the national level Stoddard served the WCTU as an antinarcotics lecturer and conductor of the WCTU Institute Summer Assembly in Bay View, Michigan. For the international body she spent three months in Mexico as an organizer and was twice a delegate to WCTU world conventions. Like temperance advocates generally, she supported woman suffrage as a strategic reform weapon, and she contributed the article on the Texas suffrage movement to Susan B. Anthony's History of Woman Suffrage. In 1907 Stoddard resigned the TWCTU presidency because of poor health and moved to southern California. She died in January 1941.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Fanny L. Armstrong, To the Noon Rest: The Life, Work and Addresses of Mrs. Helen M. Stoddard (Butler, Indiana: L. H. Higley, 1909). May Baines, A Story of Texas White Ribboners (1935?).
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Judith N. McArthur,
“Stoddard, Helen M. Gerrells,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed October 25, 2021,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.