|Honored by:||BPW/Iowa (Business & Professional Women)|
|Brick location:||F:8 map|
Helen was born at the turn of the century in Savannah, Georgia. There she lived until her father's untimely death caused her mother then only 23 to move to Richmond to live with her parents until her second marriage to Commandant Samson James. Helen completed grade school in Richmond before the Salvation Army transferred her people to Quincy, Illinois where she completed high school. A year of business college followed and then came her first job - typist-clerk in the law office of Strock Wallace & McMartin in Des Moines.
Two years later she moved to the Des Moines branch of the Chicago Joint Stock Land Bank where she worked with two promising young executives - the late A.C. McGill and his younger brother the late J.M. McGill. The brothers moved to Equitable of Iowa and in 1926 at their suggestion she followed. Back around World War I Des Moines was threatened with a street railway strike and a group of militant public spirited business women lead by Caroline Gruener Lillian Van Buskirk and Lela Gray (of the Equitable of Iowa) organized the Committee of Twelve to seek to avert a transportation stoppage.
They recruited younger women to help among them Helen. Once the streetcar issue was resolved the organization became the Des Moines Business and Professional Women's Club. In and through this club Helen found the channel she sought through which she could fulfill her destiny in life - to help women carve a wider field of service and influence in the world of business. Performing her job paid Helen a living sufficient for her modest demands but at closing time each and every afternoon the true career of Helen Irwin began.
A charter member of the Des Moines Business & Professional Women's Club since its organization in 1918 and more than once its president she rose through the offices of the Iowa State Federation and thence to responsibilities on a national plane culminating in the presidency of the American Federation in 1953 and 1954. She was elected president of the International Federation of Business & Professional Women's Clubs in the 9th world congress in Oslo, Norway.
In 1953 she became the first American woman to receive the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit from the West German Federal Republic in recognition of B& PW work with West German women and youth. In 1954 President Dwight D. Eisenhower named her to the Public Advisory Board of the Foreign Operations Administration. Later Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson named her to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Armed Forces. In both these capacities which continued throughout the Eisenhower administration she traveled throughout the world. In 1955 Miss Irwin was named to the Iowa Merit System Council She was also a member of the Council of the National Civil Service League the Committee for a National Trade Policy the Board of Directors of the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia and the board of Soroptimist International.
Helen visited eighteen foreign countries made thousands of speeches has been interviewed hundreds of times has written more than one hundred articles and met and talked with unnumbered career women throughout the western world. Since 1925 her home has been an apartment in the Ewing building 917 Locust. There she writes her letters articles and speeches; plans her activities studies and meditates and stores away the growing mountain of mementos of a tremendously active life.
And it was there she summed up some of the wisdom she had gained in her career and presents a message given from the bottom of her heart:
"BE HUMBLE BE FRIENDLY BE KIND. GOD CREATED ALL MEN IN HIS IMAGE. WE ARE ALL -- WHITE BLACK YELLOW CHRISTIAN MOSLEM JEW DEMOCRAT REPUBLICAN MONARCHIST OR COMMUNIST - WE ARE ALL GOD'S CHILDREN AND EQUAL IN HIS SIGHT."