‘Ingersoll Done in Soprano’

February 3, 2017

Now that I have completed all the 2016 tax-related donation cataloging, I have begun to catalog some materials that have been in the Center for Inquiry Libraries for a while. I ran into a cache of books by Helen H. Gardener, and found a very interesting title in our very own collection.

Helen Hamilton Gardener was born Alice Chenowith in 1853 in Virginia to a clergyman and his wife. In the 1880s, she changed her name to Gardener. She had been writing under different male pseudonyms for newspapers about sociology and then lectured as well. After meeting Robert G. Ingersoll and Eva Green Ingersoll, she began to lecture under the name Helen Hamilton Gardener, which she then assumed as her legal name.

The Ingersolls encouraged Gardener to deliver lectures and write on freethought-related topics, out of which her book Men, Women, and Gods, and Other Lectures (Truth Seeker, 1885) was created. Gardener’s position was similar to Matilda Joselyn Gage’s; they were both proponents that religion was the reason for women’s oppression. The nickname “Ingersoll done in soprano” came from a New York newspaper’s description of her and her lectures.

Gardener became a novelist, writing fictional accounts about the double standards between the sexes. She also became involved and more interested in feminism as part of a refutation of the theory that females were inferior due to brain size.

Her feminism linked her with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Gardener contributed to Stanton’s Women’s Bible (Part 1, 1895; Part 2 1898). She continued to work on the suffrage cause and became vice-chair of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Woodrow Wilson appointed her to the highest federal position to be held by a woman (at that time) in the United States Civil Service Commission. She died in 1925. Her brain was donated to Cornell University, where it is today.

One of her books I discovered in the CFI Libraries was Facts and Fictions of Life (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1893). The book is inscribed and signed:

“To- Col. Robert G. Ingersoll, With the love and admiration of Helen H. Gardener.”

This book was originally part of the Gordon Stein Estate and will be added to our Rare Book room.