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Helen Appo Cook was a wealthy, prominent African American community activist in Washington, D.C. and a leader in the women's club movement. Cook was a founder and president of the Colored Women's League, which consolidated with another organization in 1896 to become the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), an organization still active in the 21st century.

In 1892, Helen Cook, Ida B. Bailey, Anna Julie Cooper, Charlotte Forten Grimké, Mary Jane Peterson, Mary Church Terrell, and Evelyn Shaw formed the Colored Women's League in Washington, D.C. The goals of the service-oriented club were to promote unity, social progress and the best interests of the African American community. Helen Cook was elected president.

One African American newspaper noted that she was "easily the wealthiest colored woman in the District of Columbia. The Cook estate has been considered to be worth not less than a quarter of a million dollars...Mrs. Cook was greatly interested in Negro organizations and charity work and was a woman of kindly heart and broad sympathies."


Helen Appo
July 21, 1837
New York, United States

Died November 20, 1913 (aged 76)
Washington, D.C., United States
Occupation women's club leader, community activist

John F. Cook Jr.
(m. 1864; died 1910)

Children 5
Parent(s) William Appo
Elizabeth Brady

Later in 1898, W.E.B. DuBois invited Helen Cook to submit a paper for the third annual Atlanta Conference of Negro Problems held at Atlanta University. The purpose of the conference series (1896–1914) was to identify difficulties the African American community faced and suggest solutions. Others invited to submit papers included Rev. Henry Hugh Proctor of First Congregational Church (Atlanta, Georgia), journalist and attorney Lafayette M. Hershaw, and Miss Minnie L. Perry, board member of the Carrie Steele Orphanage. Helen Cook's paper outlined the accomplishments of the CWL, including the enrollment of more than 100 children in its kindergartens.

In 1895, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, president of the Woman's Era Club of Boston, invited all African American women to convene for a three day conference in Boston to discuss critical issues related to Black women's "moral, mental, physical and financial growth and well-bring" following disparaging remarks about the character of African American women by John Jacks, president of the Missouri Press Association.