By Joyce Voss
If the name Helen Steiner Rice seems familiar to you, it may be because you have read a verse composed by her in a greeting card you received or sent. During her career, she wrote hundreds of such greetings, beginning at Gibson Greetings, Inc. Along the way, she became an international speaker and writer of poetry.
Beginning her life at the start of a new century in 1900, she was raised in Lorain, Ohio. She was blessed with a loving, service-oriented family. Her desire to share her love of Scripture was influenced by her grandmother, and she wrote her first poem at the age of ten.
She had planned to attend college, but these plans were interrupted by the death of her father. Needing to support the family, she began a business career with Lorain Power and Light. Here, and in subsequent employments, she constantly improved her position by showing what she could do by means of her convincing speech. Her speaking skills were well recognized and resulted in a new branch of her career. In 1928 she was contracted to speak at a dinner arranged by a Dayton Savings and Trust Company. Its Board of Directors had heard good things about Helen, known as the “Lorain Tornado”, and her talk “Living and Working Enthusiastically,” was well received. Her arranged escort for the evening was Franklin Rice, an officer of the Trust Company.
A romance was kindled between them, but as it became serious her mother worried about the difference in the couple’s economic status because Franklin came from a wealthy background. Happily, that was weathered but the marriage would face big challenges including the stock market crash, Franklin’s job loss, Helen’s traveling for speaking engagements, and difficulty with the Rice patriarch, Franklin’s older brother. Everything came crashing down with Franklin’s suicide in 1932. The grief was overwhelming. Family, friends, and her poetry helped her to return to her job of reorganizing the Gibson Company’s marketing efforts.
Her mother was a seamstress and her daughters, Helen and Dorothy, were always well-dressed. Helen in particular loved putting outfits together, including stunning hats and shoes. She also loved photography and enjoyed taking pictures, as well as being photographed herself. All of this helped in promoting her skills in a world where economic decisions were made by men, and this offered encouragement to other women in business, as well as their promotion.
By 1939, Helen was considered one of the leading poets in the greeting card industry. In the years that followed she was offered many other employment opportunities, including one for a radio show in New York City. But she stayed at Gibson, enjoying her career while encouraging other writers and keeping the company at the forefront of the industry.
In 1945 her mother Anna Steiner died. In her grief, she penned a poem “My Mother’s Message to Me.” Thinking that these words might help others who had suffered a similar loss, she decided to share them. The poem became a bestselling sympathy card for the Gibson Company.
By the 1950s, Helen began to concentrate on re-directing her talents for cheering people with her writing to providing spiritual counsel and compassion. To the world, she had become an “Ambassador of Sunshine,” but life had given her a fair share of pain, confusion, and depression. The number of her poetry books increased in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1960s her poems were read on the Lawrence Welk Show by one of the entertainers. Her popularity became more widespread.
It has been said that Helen was “at home with eternal truths.” Shortly before her death in 1981, Helen set up the Helen Steiner Rice Foundation to benefit the poor and the elderly.
Like the poem that follows, THE EASTER STORY…, her language is honest, genuine, and touching to the heart to those who are open to her keen observations.