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Devereux marks 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage; celebrates achievements of Helena Devereux


Devereux is celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, and honoring the achievements of all of the innovative women, like our organization’s founder, Helena T. Devereux, whose significant contributions inspire us to make a meaningful and positive difference in the world around us.

Born in Philadelphia on Feb. 2, 1885, Miss Devereux forever changed the course of special education and treatment for youth and adults living with emotional, behavioral and cognitive differences.

Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health is celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, and honoring the achievements of those remarkable and courageous women who fought so hard for their right to vote – and to be treated as equal citizens under the U.S. Constitution.

As we mark this important anniversary, we recognize all of the innovative women whose significant contributions inspire us to make a meaningful and positive difference in the world around us.

Helena Trafford Devereux, special education pioneer and our organization’s founder, was one of those women, devoting her entire life to helping and serving others.

“Miss Devereux was a bright, educated woman who saw boundless possibilities for children with special needs, and challenged the status quo to turn those possibilities into reality through her intellect, entrepreneurship, tenacity and relationships with others,” said Devereux Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rhea Fernandes, Psy.D. “Her strong sense of self and purpose, and the courage of her convictions, was awe-inspiring. She was a change-maker and thought leader at a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote.”

About the women’s suffrage moment …

The women’s suffrage moment began in 1848 when women demanded the right to vote during the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention in the U.S., held in Seneca Falls, N.Y. At the two-day meeting, activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton introduced her Declaration of Sentiments, which was modeled after the Declaration of Independence and outlined the rights women should be entitled to as U.S. citizens.

For the next 72 years, brave and determined women leaders, including Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, lobbied, marched and protested for equality and their right to the ballot.

The 19th Amendment, which guaranteed and protected women’s constitutional right to vote, was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920.

“We are incredibly grateful to these bold and brilliant leaders who tirelessly fought for women’s equality,” noted Devereux Chief Strategy Officer, Leah Yaw. “We have so much more work to do, but we owe a debt which cannot be adequately repaid to those who came before us. As the suffragettes were breaking down barriers at the ballot box, Miss Devereux was breaking down barriers regarding disability rights. We are privileged stewards of her legacy, and honor her achievements, as well as those of other courageous women who continue to inspire us every day.”

Empowered by the need to serve others

Born in Philadelphia on Feb. 2, 1885, Miss Devereux forever changed the course of special education and treatment for youth and adults living with emotional, behavioral and cognitive differences.

At a time when very little was known or understood about individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the south Philadelphia public school teacher was determined to provide a better education for children with special needs.

In 1912, Miss Devereux began teaching youth out of her own home, but was filled with a desire to do more. In 1918, she rented a home in Devon, Pa., for $94 a month and opened a full-time residential school. In 1919, she purchased the rental property along with a neighboring estate. Over time, school enrollment doubled and, in 1922, multiple schools and facilities came together under one name – Devereux Schools.

Over the course of Miss Devereux’s lifetime, the organization continued to grow, earning nonprofit status and operating centers in locations across the country.

Miss Devereux once explained her decision to forge a new path, saying, “My early wish and expectation was to remain attached as a worker to the public schools of Philadelphia. But I soon learned that while women could hold positions on the lower rungs of the ladder in educational activities, they were not permitted to advance to the higher positions of superintendents of districts. Therefore, the vision of establishing just a very small school which would permit complete freedom to continue my personal education along the lines of value to the work to which my head, heart, and hands had become dedicated since 1908, dominated my mind and ambitions.”

Yaw noted, “Miss Devereux followed a path she alone charted. She set herself to the task of helping children with disabilities in creating a meaningful and engaged life, and she never gave up, despite the fundamental barriers society had erected around her, as a woman, and her students. One notable professional journal of the day referenced her, ‘single-mindedness around trying to educate these children, despite flouting the laws of both society and nature by having neither the educational credentials, nor a husband, to speak for her.’ Her resilience and courage to remain focused on her vision created meaningful change in the world.”

Helena Devereux’s legacy of hope

Miss Devereux spent her life devoted to the individuals she served and the organization she founded. She died Nov. 17, 1975, at her home in Devon at the age of 90.

Today, Devereux is one of the largest and most advanced behavioral healthcare organizations in the country, serving many of the most vulnerable members of our society in areas of autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities, specialty mental health and child welfare.

“Miss Devereux’s legacy lives on, first and foremost, in the high standards she set for herself and her services,” Fernandes explained. “She once said, ‘Every child is a program.’ That vision of a child- and family-centered standard of care, drive for excellence, moral authority and integrity has stood the test of time. She paved the way for women leaders, of which Devereux has a rich tradition that continues to this day. We all stand on her strong shoulders, more than a 100 years after she opened her first school, and celebrate her significant accomplishments and servant leader spirit.”

Learn more about Miss Devereux and the history of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.


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