Helen Steiner Rice: The Lady in the Hat
- Ohio Valley History
- The Filson Historical Society and Cincinnati Museum Center
- Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2010
- pp. 86-90
- View Citation
- Additional Information
86 OHIO VALLEY HISTORY Collections Essay Helen Steiner Rice “The Lady in the Hat” A fter careful consideration, and by unanimous consent of the trustees of the Helen Steiner Rice Foundation, on June 1, 2009, the Foundation’s intellectual property and archives were awarded to Cincinnati Museum Center. A photograph of Rice and a sampling of her poetic renderings can be found in a display case located at the entrance to the Cincinnati Historical Society Library. Dorothy Lingg, who assisted Virginia Ruehlmann for nineteen years, is now working as the HSR Archivist under the direction of Anne Kling in the Manuscripts Department. Helen Steiner Rice, often referred to as the “Poet Laureate” of inspirational verse and “Dear Abby” of greeting cards, was born Helen Elaine Steiner on May 19, 1900, in the Lake Erie town of Lorain, Ohio. As a young child, Helen’s mother, Anna Bieri Steiner, and her maternal grandmother read the Bible to her and encouraged her to memorize passages from it. Possessing an excellent memory , Helen was able to quote scriptures effortlessly until her death. When Helen turned ten years old, she composed her first poem: Helen was a little girl With many a golden curl And her lovely eyes Were as blue as the summer skies Oh no, I guess they’re brown So I will have to lose a crown Throughout her childhood, Helen continued to compose rhyming couplets. Her witty and timely poems frequently appeared in the Scimitar, the Lorain High School yearbook. The October after Helen graduated from high school, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 claimed her father, John. Instead of going off to college and pursuing her law degree as she had planned, his death forced her to continue her employment at Lorain Electric, Light, and Power in order to support her mom and younger sister, Gertrude. Helen Steiner and fiance, Franklin Rice, January 1929. CINCINNATI MUSEUM CENTER DOROTHY LINGG SPRING 2010 87 Young, dynamic, and modern, Helen quickly climbed the corporate ladder to become the company’s advertising manager. She cleverly managed to use her original rhymes and jingles to promote her products. Soon, numerous speaking opportunities came her way and she was invited to be a spokeswoman for the Ohio Public Service Company. In her twenties, she traveled around the country giving speeches, many expounding the importance of women in the workplace. Her motivational speeches were well received and she authored a prize-winning article on public relations that appeared in Forbes magazine. In her hometown of Lorain, she was known as “The Lorain Tornado.” In 1926, enthusiastic and resolute, Helen opened up her own motivational lecture service known as “The Steiner Service.” Her verse summed up her theory of success: Success is a mixture of good hard work, good humor, good luck, and good sense! In 1928, while speaking before the Rotary Club in Dayton, Ohio, she met her future husband, Franklin Rice, a successful banker. They were married on January 30, 1929, in New York City’s historic Marble Collegiate Church. Franklin steadily lost his assets and his bank collapsed following the October 1929 collapse of the New York stock market, and the onset of the Great Depression. Bankrupt and jobless, Rice took his life at their Dayton home on October 10, 1932. Prior to his death, aspiring to recoup the family fortune, Helen contacted Cincinnati’s Gibson Art Company and was hired as a marketing agent. With the sudden death of the director of the company’s greeting card line, Helen became the new editor. Over the span of fifty years, she remained in the company’s employ and wrote countless humorous and inspirational verses for their greeting cards. By 1939, Helen was widely acknowledged as one of the leading poets in the greeting card industry. Deeply spiritual, she composed a new greeting card with her unique verses each year at Christmastime. When Aladdin Pallante, a violinist and dramatic reader of poetry on the Lawrence Welk Show, received one of Helen’s cards, he approached Welk and asked if he could read it on the show. On December 17, 1960, Aladdin gave an impressive recitation of the poem “The Priceless Gift of Christmas” before a...