Helen Congdon d’Autremont (1889-1966)
Inducted in 1986
Used by permission from the Arizona Historical Society
Helen Congdon d’Autremont’s life displayed her commitment to be involved with, and concerned for her community. She gave generously of her wealth, but she had such a consuming respect for the basic dignity and rights of those who were deprived or oppressed that she often chose to remain anonymous in her giving. She was so unassuming and unpretentious that many examples of her philanthrophic efforts will never be publicly known. Indeed, it has been said that the extent of Helen d’Autremont’s generosity was one of Tucson’s best-kept secrets.
The d’Autremont family came to Tucson in the late 1920s and both Helen and her banker husband, State Senator Hubert H. d’Autremont, became active in civic affairs. During the Depression years, the d’Autrenionts were real benefactors to the needy, perhaps the largest individual contributors to Tucson charities.
Helen d’Autremont’s friendships were wide-ranging and without concern for social or cultural status. She quietly gave aid to students at the University of Arizona; she help found an interracial low-cost housing development, then gave her own financial resources to enable families to meet the heavy closing costs for new homes. She worked in health and childcare efforts with the Pasqua Village, and helped found the Amerind Foundation, an American Indian social aid society.
Helen also served on many committees and boards, including the Mayor’s Committee on Human Relations and the boards for the Association for Papago Affairs, the NAACP, and the YWCA. Before the YWCA facilities were fully equipped, Helen d’Autremont would often take the young children to her own home and teach them to swim in her own backyard swimming pool.
Founder and first president of the Tucson Chapter of League of Women Voters, Helen d’Autremont also served as an early president of the state organization. She was a founding Trustee of Prescott College, theTucson Medical Center, and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. But she still found time to be active in the First Congregational Church and gave generously of artifacts to furnish a small chapel. Later, when a new church building was erected, Mrs. d’Autremont commissioned the well known artist, Charles Clements, to design and build a mosaic over the stage in the fellowship hall.
In 1962, Tucsonans honored Helen d’Autremont for her efforts on behalf of interracial housing by naming her Tucson’s “Woman of the Year.” In 1973, it was deemed appropriate by the Arizona Historical Society, the Tucson Heritage Foundation, and the d’Autremont Memorial Association to again honor Helen and Hubert d’Autremont, for their outstanding civic services. In their honor, a permanent scholarship for needy students was established at the University of Arizona and a foundation and plaque at the John C. Fremont House was dedicated to them.