Helen Tyler Stewart White


Nevada Civil Rights Pioneer


The Reno-Sparks NAACP Remembers Helen

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER. Half a century ago, Helen Tyler Stewart White involved a youthful Dolores Feemster in the Reno-Sparks NAACP.

Feemster is now matriarch of the branch. Mrs. White, 91, passed away March 4.
Read about her in Portraits of Change, newly available at Sundance Books.

Her daughter, UNR Prof. Mary White Stewart, follows four generations of women in her family as the torrents of the 20th Century impact them. (From Barbwire by Barbano / Daily Sparks Tribune / 4-4-2013)

"She was one of the most dedicated people we ever ran into," said Eddie Scott, a longtime Nevada civil rights leader (and former branch president).

"If you knew the time and climate, we had white men who were supportive of us and would come to our meetings but they wouldn't come out and protest with us. But (joining the protests) didn't bother Helen at all. When Helen believed in something, nothing stopped her. She knew it was going to be unpopular to be a white woman out there protesting with black people, but she was determined to do what she thought was right," Scott said.

"She could see history beyond the moment," he added.

While teaching kindergarten and first grade at Natchez School on the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, her activism increased, bridging both the civil rights and womens' rights movements.

"That's something a lot of people forget about Helen, but she was very passionate about the Equal Rights Amendment," Scott said.

Additional information from the Reno Gazette-Journal 3-10-2013


From the Reno Gazette-Journal
March 6, 2013

Helen Tyler Stewart (White)
December 8, 1921 — March 4, 2013

Helen Tyler Stewart (White) died from complications of Alzheimer's disease. She was an accomplished woman: Nevada civil rights leader, artist, mother, teacher, political activist, proud member of the NAACP and ACLU, and founding member of the Unitarian Fellowship in Reno.

Born in Witt, Illinois, to the Reverend John T. Stewart and Inez Stewart, this spirited middle child of five spent her childhood swimming and playing in the woods near Bonne Terre, Missouri, revealing the fearsome spirit that translated into social activism and creative adventure in adulthood.

At 16 she entered Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and received her degree in fine arts. She was the youngest in her class, and the only woman.

She married John Aaron White (1917-2003) at the beginning of WWII. After the war, they briefly joined John's family in farming near Sikeston, Missouri, but soon were raising laying hens on Carroll Acres, in middle Tennessee.

By the time they had five children, they were determined to escape the stultifying racism of the South and moved to Washington State. After a few years, John joined the Soil Conservation Service, bringing the White family to Wells, Nevada, to Reno, to Wadsworth & Fernley, and to Reno again.

Helen returned to school at the University of Nevada, Reno to get her teaching certificate after which she taught kindergarten and first grade at Natchez School in Nixon. She happily stowed away all the "Dick and Jane" books and instead had the children write their own stories. Most became wonderful readers.

In the early days of her marriage, Helen was the epitome of the "good farm wife" — gardening, canning and freezing fruit and vegetables, killing chickens and rabbits, baking bread, making wholesome meals and mothering her children in a seemingly effortless way.

By the Sixties, the civil rights movement, and later the women's movement, were in full swing and Helen was deeply committed to both.

She joined others in sit-ins, letter-writing campaigns, and other anti-discrimination activities, and encouraged her children's political activism as well.

In recognition of her hard work and commitment, she was invited by Governor Grant Sawyer to join other civil rights activists as he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

At 50 and divorced after 25 years of marriage, she moved to San Francisco where she taught and inspired "high risk" elementary students.

At 60, she left teaching to open one of the first bed and breakfast inns in San Francisco, the Union Street Inn.

After two fruitful, happy decades in San Francisco, Helen returned to Reno and filled her life with friends and family, her love of reading, especially The New Yorker and The Nation, politics, gardening, and walking her dogs with her friend Evelyn Dees. She always had the coffee pot on and there was always room for another person at the dinner table.

Helen is survived by her brother, John T. Stewart, her five children — John, Mary, Holly, Stewart (Patricia) and Geoffrey (Sally), all of Reno.

She also leaves behind her children's families, including 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren as well as several nieces.

Her family remembers her for her courage, her powerful sense of right and wrong, her unwillingness to be thwarted by social expectations, and her desire to make the world a more beautiful, just, and peaceful place.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Reno-Sparks NAACP or the Unitarian Fellowship of Reno.

A memorial service will be held at the Unitarian Fellowship in Reno, 780 Del Monte Lane, at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 9.

Published in Reno Gazette-Journal from March 6 to March 7, 2013.

My new book is also available through Sundance Books in Reno for $18.95, which is $10.00 less than from the publisher. I think many people will find it a very enjoyable and informative read. Please let your friends know.


Mary White Stewart, Ph.D.
Director of School of Social Research and Justice Studies
Professor of Sociology
Mail Stop 0300
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, Nevada 89557
775-682-6481 (w)


At the memorial service, "the five of us 'kids' sang songs from our childhood, songs we always sang when we got together as a family — It was so good and people talked about how mom had influenced them — she would have been very proud. Very hard to lose your sweet, strong mother". — Mary

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