Blackburn, Helen (1842–1903), suffragist and writer, was born 22 May 1842 in Knightstown, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry, the only surviving daughter of Bewicke Blackburn, civil engineer and manager of a slate quarry, and Isabella Blackburn (née Lamb) of Ryton Hall, Durham. In 1859 Helen moved with her family to London. Little is known of her childhood or youth, or at what point she decided to become involved in the suffrage movement; however, by 1874 she had become secretary to the Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage, a post she held until 1895. She also served as secretary of the Bristol and West of England Suffrage Society (1881–95), and was sole editor of the Englishwoman's Review (1881–90), after which she was assisted by Ann Mackenzie. Closely involved in the campaign opposing protective legislation for working women, she represented the British National Union of Working Women at the TUC (1881) and went on to found, with the Review's proprietor Jessie Boucherett, the Freedom of Labour Defence League (1889) in an attempt to block factory legislation for women workers. In 1885 she organised an exhibition of women's industries in Bristol.
In 1895 Blackburn was forced to scale down her public work and nurse her sick father. After his death (at the age of 86), she concentrated on writing. Generally regarded by those who knew her as a quiet and retiring woman, she appears to have been happy to remain a background figure in the suffrage movement. Her legacy to the suffrage campaign lies primarily in her writings, particularly her book Women's suffrage: a record of the movement in the British Isles (1902), in which she provides an important account of the movement's formative years and the early history of her colleague Lydia Becker. Significantly, it makes few references to her own contribution, merely mentioning her presence with other suffragists at deputations to lobby MPs, and her membership of the special committee that organised and presented a mass petition in support of women's suffrage to the house of commons (1892). Among her other publications were A handbook for women engaged in social and political work (1881), A handy book of reference for Irishwomen (1888), The conditions of working women (1896) with Boucherett, and Women under the factory acts (1903) with Nora Vynne. She also edited The women's suffrage calendar (1896, 1897) and Becker's writings in a collection entitled Words of a leader (1897). As part of the 1893 international exhibition in Chicago, she put together a series of historical portraits of notable women; she later presented these to the women's hall in the University of Bristol. She died 11 January 1903 at her home in Greycoat Gardens, Westminster, London, and was buried in Brompton cemetery. Her books on women's issues were bequeathed to Girton College, Cambridge.