Helen Steiner Rice – “The Lady in the Hat”
Posted On: 08/11/2017 - 11:30am, Posted By: Other
This post was originally written by Dorothy Lingg, Former Helen Steiner Rice Archivist.
After careful consideration, and by unanimous consent of the Foundation Trustees, on June 1st of 2009, the Helen Steiner Rice Foundation’s intellectual property and archives were awarded to the Cincinnati Museum Center. A photograph of Helen and a sampling of her poetic works can be found in a display case located at the entrance to the Cincinnati Historical Society Library.
Helen Steiner Rice was born Helen Elaine Steiner on May 19, 1900. As a young child, Helen had the ability to compose rhyming couplets and wrote her first poem at age ten. Since the 1918 flu pandemic claimed her father, the family’s breadwinner, Helen joined the workforce. As an advertising manager, she used her original rhymes and jingles to promote products.
In 1926, she opened up her own lecture service. While speaking in Dayton, Ohio, in 1928, she met a wealthy banker by the name of Franklin Rice. They married on January 30th, 1929. During the Great Depression, Franklin’s bank collapsed and, suddenly bankrupt and jobless, he took his life on October 10, 1932.
Helen Steiner Rice in 1963
Needing work, Helen contacted the Gibson Art Company in Cincinnati. She remained in their employ for five decades and was widely acknowledged as the poet laureate of the greeting card industry.
Aladdin Pallante, a dramatic reader of poetry on the Lawrence Welk Show, received one of Helen’s Christmas cards in 1960. It caught his eye and he gave an impressive recitation of the poem before a nationwide audience. In 1961, Aladdin read “The Praying Hands” on the air and it became one of the most popular greeting cards ever issued.
Helen was short in stature, but could not be mistaken on the streets of Cincinnati due to her very flamboyant hats—which were her hallmark!
During her final days Helen expressed to her lawyer, Eugene Ruehlmann, a desire to set up a Foundation in her name. The Foundation’s mission statement was to award grants to non-profit organizations that assisted the elderly, needy and the sick. Mr. Ruehlmann’s wife, Virginia, compiled over 40 themed books utilizing the poetry. In 2008 the Ruehlmanns donated Helen Steiner Rice’s manuscript collection to CMC. This collection contains her copious correspondence with fans and friends alike and is complimented by her books held in our library collection. They also turned over the Helen Steiner Rice Foundation and the copyright to most of her poems to CMC and her poems are still widely utilized by her fans today.