Helen Mar Jackson was born in Michigan in 1843 and in 1860 she moved with her family to Lafayette, Indiana. In the late 1800's she was well known nationally for her work touring the country for the suffragist movement.
In Lafayette she began her teaching career. She was named principal of the public school in 1863, the same year in which she married Lafayette attorney John Gougar. Soon she realized she wanted to become an attorneyand joined her husband's law firm. Not long after, she became involved in writing a column for a local newspaper, the Lafayette Courier.
Gougar’s impact on local journalism increased in the 1880s with her ownership of a newspaper calledOur Herald, where her support for temperance and suffrage was evident. While living in Lafayette, she worked with the Young Men’s Christian Association, the Lafayette Home Association, Ladies Benevolent Society, and the Second Presbyterian Church.
Gougar claimed that she was converted to the cause of women’s suffrage upon learning about the death of a mother of four in 1878 from domestic violence. Though Gougar had been “praying away the evil,” incidents like that convinced her that it would be more effective to “vote it away." With her drive to support women’s rights, Gougar became involved in politics.Disappointed that the Republican Party was unwilling to include women’s rights in the party’s platform, Gougar joined the Prohibition Party in 1888 which did support women's right to vote.
In her political work, Gougar was known for traveling the United States, speaking on behalf of political candidates who were in favor of suffrage for women. She also served as president of the Indiana Women’s Suffrage Association.
In 1894, Gougar tried to vote and was denied. As a result, she sued the Tippecanoe County Election Board. With the knowledge she gained while working in her husband’s law firm, Gougar argued her own case in front of the Indiana Supreme Court in 1897. She relied on the argument that the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution gave her the right as a U.S. citizen to vote, regardless of the fact the State of Indiana’s Constitution noted that only males of the age 21 and older could vote. Unfortunately, the justices of the court did not agree and recommended that it must be amended for women to gain suffrage rights in Indiana.
Gougar died in 1907, well before women got the vote, but her determination and activism surely advanced that cause.
This is a monthly feature. Sue Webster of the Porter County League is coordinating this column on suffragists throughout the state.