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The Blue Book of Iowa Women A History of Contemporary Women

Compiled by Winona Evans Reeves, 1914.


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Helen Manville Henshaw, author and secretary of the Young Women's Christian Association, the only child of Edwin and Helen Hinman Henshaw, was born April 5, 1876, at Clarinda, Iowa, died at Des Moines, July 11, 1908.  Her father and mother are descendants of early New England patriots of English origin dating back in clear line on her father's side, to the family of Henry VII, and on her mother's side, to Sir Edward Hinman, an officer in the body guard of Charles 1.

After preparation at Miss Clarke's School, Des Moines, and at Stanley Hall, Minneapolis, Miss Henshaw, spent four years at Vassar College, receiving her A. B. degree in 1900.  The next five years she was at home, dividing her time among social interests, study, and volunteer service in the local Y. W. C. A., and the State Committee of Iowa.  So splendidly did she perform these volunteer duties that she was called the most efficient worker of this kind in the United States.  In 1905, she became Student Secretary of the Y. W. C. A. for Iowa, and continued so to serve until her death.

As secretary she revealed marked adaptability.  Her academic training, social charm, beautiful home life, and depth of religious life, combined to make her an unusual secretary.  Her executive services and her effectiveness as a public speaker ranked her among leading Y. W. C. A. secretaries.

These things, however, were not the measure of her greatness.  It was in dealing with the personal problems in religious matters, that the student women of Iowa found Helen Henshaw an evangel.  Wholesome, well poised, experienced, she won instinctive trust; sympathy and spontaneous love for young women made her a dear personal friend, a wise counselor.

From the thick of the struggle for advancement comes the book with a message.  There were in Miss Henshaw's life and work numbers of vital incidents striking examples of character development, evidences of the joy and power of applied Christianity.  Little wonder that conclusions from such combinations were expressed in book form.  From snatches of time she wrote, completing but a few weeks before her last illness her only draft of "The Passing of the Word," a novel that has done splendid part in meeting some of the questions of modern doubt and in bringing scores to a Christian life.

In the summer of 1905, Miss Henshaw, in company with Miss Ruth Paxson, now National Student Secretary of the Y. W. C. A. for China, attended the World's Student Christian Federation in Zeist, Holland, and afterwards visited extensively in Europe.  A rare Christian friendship united these two girls.  Upon Helen's death.  Ruth gave sincere expression of a devoted heart in a matchless memorial booklet.

Near the close of her work she was tendered the secretaryship of the Vassar College Christian Association in Tokio, Japan, but refused to accept the honor on account of the declining years of her parents.  To be from home and her mother, as duty demanded, was grievous hardship, but to return after even the briefest absence was gladness unalloyed.  Her generous fund of quaint humor was a well spring of joy in the home.  One who never saw Miss Henshaw with her family failed in estimating her character, for here her being yielded its most natural fruitage.

The proteus Club, Des Moines, of which Miss Henshaw was a constituent member, memorialized her by hanging four choice copies of the old masters, on the walls of the Y. W. C. A. building.  Her sympathies were with all activities advancing the cause of women.  For equal suffrage she always stood firm.  Hers was a rare soul, capable, unassuming, cheerful, heroic, adherent to every standard of truth and nobleness.  In her passing, thousands of the young women of our land had common grief, but they have also abiding forever the uplifting power of her gracious Christian life.


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