Image by Christy Savage; Photo below courtesy of University Archives

Pioneers in TWU History: Helen Stoddard

Inside TWU is taking a look at the people who shaped Texas Woman’s University in a new series called “Pioneers in TWU History.” There are many who made a mark on the university since its founding more than 120 years ago, and we’ll learn more about them in this occasional series.

Helen Stoddard – a teacher, prohibition advocate and politician – was an integral part in TWU’s founding. Not only did she argue for passage of a bill to establish a college for women, she also helped choose the location of the college and served on its first board of regents.

Stoddard, president of the Texas Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), led the organization’s petitioning for a state college of industrial arts for women. In “To The Noon Rest, The Life, Work and Addresses of Mrs. Helen M. Stoddard,” she notes some legislators argued that a women’s college was unnecessary because “Instinct will make a woman a perfect housekeeper, a model wife, a wise mother.” Others, she noted, feared a different outcome of educating women

“In the hearings before the Committees, some of the members believed if girls were educated to support themselves, they would refuse to marry, so in the interest of a future state worked to defeat this bill! Others thought they saw ‘Female Rights’ written all over it!”

When the bill to establish the college was passed in 1901, Gov. Joseph D. Sayers appointed Stoddard to the board of 13 commissioners that would visit towns and cities throughout Texas to choose a location for the new institution. She was the only woman chosen to serve on the commission. 

After much debate and 76 votes, commissioners chose Denton as the site for the new college. With the site chosen, Gov. Sayers appointed members of the college’s first board of regents. The board included Stoddard, Mary Eleanor Brackenridge, and Mrs. Cone Johnson, the first women to be appointed regents of a Texas institution. Stoddard was elected board secretary.

She later moved to California, and in 1912 became the first woman in that state to run for Congress. She ran as a representative for the Prohibition Party but was defeated in the election. She returned to teaching and also continued her prohibition advocacy, becoming president of the California Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Stoddard’s contributions to what now is Texas Woman’s University include the school motto, “We learn to do by doing,” which is inscribed on the cornerstone of Old Main. The first state dormitory built on the Denton campus was named in her honor, and when it was demolished in 1935, a new Stoddard Hall was built to replace it. The building currently houses the College of Professional Education, the Future Classroom Lab, the Honors Programs, The Lasso student newspaper, and the Center for Faculty Excellence.


Information for the article is gathered from online searches and Marking A Trail: A History of the Texas Woman’s University.