First Carrie Chapman Catt Award to Helen LeBaron Hilton in 1993

By Jayne Bullock, Ames Tribune, 25 March 1993

Although not Iowa born, Helen LeBaron Hilton has made a political and social impact on her Midwest annexation.  1993 Helen L-HThis is evidences by her involvement in many community and state organizations and events, but never more so than in her most recent recognition last Friday night.

During the intermission of the premiere performance of “Yellow Rose of Suffrage,” a play depicting the life of Carrie Chapman Catt, Hilton was presented the first Ames League of Women Voters Carrie Chapman Catt award. 

Hilton said she was honored to receive the award and added, modestly, that she didn’t know why she should receive it. 

Ruth Jones said, “Hilton’s service to the community has been long and distinguished, which was one of the criteria for selection.”  Jones, president-elect of the league, continued by saying, “Hilton has served as a member of numerous boards and committees in Mid-Iowa, which made her an excellent candidate choice and award recipient.”

Jones said Hilton was the first woman to run for and win a seat on the Ames City Council in 1966.  She said Hilton has also been involved as a chair of committee member for many health-related organizations such as the visiting nurse service, Mary Greeley Advisory Board and the Ames/Gilbert United Way.

Hilton was a founding member and chairwoman of the Heartland Senior Services foundation and has been involved as a representative of several women’s organizations such as the governor’s Commission on Children and Youth, Commission on the Status of Women and Iowa Children and Family services,” Jones said.  “She was also elected to the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.”

Jones said Hilton was well-qualified for the selection of the new award, which propagated the ideals of Catt, an ISU graduate and one of the early and principal advocates of women’s suffrage in the United States.

Thus, Jones said, the committee selected a candidate who had advanced the ideal of the League of Women Voters, which Hilton has done as a past president and life-time member of the league.  The other criteria for the award, Jones said was the person must be an Ames resident.  She said Hilton has been a part of the Ames community since 1952.

Hilton, born in Morrisville, VT, in 1910, reticently spoke to a reporter about her career in education, politics and the women’s movement.  She said she did not have difficulty with her career moves during the years when administrative and political involvement by women was not as liberal as today.  She said she had been in a man’s world all her life as a department head or in administrative assignments.

And, the only reason I went into the city council years ago was that women were  not participating,” Hilton said. “I felt that women were not doing their fair share in the decision-making.  I decided to run for it myself in the hopes that it would encourage other women to become involved, which it did.” “shortly afterward, the mayor and three of six city council persons were women,” she said.  “It worked—just showed how it could be done.”

In today’s political arena, Hilton said she feels it is not difficult for women to get elected locally, but women are not making great advances at the state and national level in some areas. 

Hilton, who previously held professorships at Penn state University and University of Vermont before coming to Iowa, has strong ties with ISU, both politically and educationally.  She was dean of the home economics college for 23 years and later became the volunteer director for a retirement counseling program that she established.

However, now she “purposely doesn’t have anything to do with university policy; it is better not to be involved and let people that are there now do the job.” 

When she isn’t working on some committee or out in the public limelight, Hilton said she likes to spend her spare time reading.  She is interested in ancient history, and she enjoys reading about women who have succeeded in a man’s world—women like Catherine the Great.

History has been something I have been able to indulge myself in during my later years—now that I don’t have to do professional reading,” she said.  “I also like to knit; I think it is important to do a little something manually.”

Hilton talked about her adopted family which she joined when she married her friend James Hilton, former president of ISU at the age of 60.  She said she enjoys the 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren who are scattered around the United States. 

She said she is enjoying her role as a grandparent, but as a past professional educator, she has seen the accent on parenting skills continually change.  She believes family problems have increased with the two- and single-parent working families, and feels that influencing children is difficult under these arrangements. “I also think that television has probably had negative effects on children,” she said.  “And there is something to be said about the fact that adults are more concerned with their own lives than the lives of their children.  I see a little change in this and hope that we are trying to swing away from that concept.”