HELEN DELICH BENTLEY
The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: November 8, 1923, Ruth, White Pine County, NV
Died: August 8, 2016 Timonium, Baltimore County, Maryland
Maiden Name: Helen Delich
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Serbian
Marrried: Roy Bentley
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Tonopah Canyon, Nevada, Baltimore, MD and Washington, D.C.
Major Fields of Work: Journalist, Congresswoman, Chair of the Federal Maritime Commission
Other Role Identities: Radio and TV Personality, International Consultant, President/Chief Executive Officer for HDB International
Awards: National Outstanding high school graduate by the National Elks Club Foundation in 1941, San Francisco Port Commission Order of Maritime Merit, 1969, University of Missouri outstanding female graduate, 1969, Baltimore Women’s Advertising Club “Woman of the Year” 1956 and 1969, Honorary Membership (only woman member) in the Maritime Law Association of the Untied States, 1970, Meritorious Service Awards from the Baltimore Traffic Club, 1958, North Atlantic Ports Association, 1965, AFL-CIO Maritime Port Council of the Maritime Trades Department of the Port of Greater New York, 1965, Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation George Washington Honor medal, 1971 and 1976, University of Missouri Faculty Alumni Gold Medal, 1971, New York Foreign Freight Forwards and Brokers Association “Man of the Year, 1972, Women’s National Republican Club Distinguished Service Medal, 1972, Robert L. Hague Marchant Marine Industries Post No. 1242 American Legion Distinguished Service Medal, 1973, Navy League of the United States Robert M.J. Thompson Award for Outstanding Civilian Leadership, 1973, Nevada State Society Distinguished Woman of the Century award, 1973, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers 22nd Annual Jerry Land Medal for outstanding accomplishments in the Maritime field, 1974, Who’s Who in America and many more.
Education: B.A. in Journalism from the University of Missouri, 1944.
Honorary Degrees: Doctor of Laws from the University of Michigan, University of Maryland, University of Alaska, Long Island University and Boucher College; Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Portland, Oregon and Bryant College of Business Administration
Helen Delich was born on November 23, 1923 in the small White Pine County, Nevada Serbian mining community of Tonopah Canyon just outside Ruth which was located near Ely, NV. According to Wikipedia, Ruth had a ”population of almost 2,300 inhabitants in 1923. Her parents Michael Ivanesevich Delich and Mary Kovich, both immigrated to the United States in 1906. From Ellis Island, N.Y., the Delich’s made their way West and ended up in Ruth. The Mike Delich family had 6 children, Malie, George, Mary, Sam and Helen. A sixth child had died in infancy. Life in a Nevada mining town was rough. Helen later wrote of her family’s experiences which were printed in the “American Serb Life”. She wrote, “Miners worked 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week. Women often took in boarders as her mother did, all the while raising small children of their own. There was no running water in the miners’ homes during the early years. The women carried their buckets a good half mile uphill several times a day to get enough water for all the family needs plus those of the boarders who changed work clothes in the house. The boarders slept in shifts, like they worked. When one group left for work, Mom would quickly straighten out the beds and another group would tumble right back in. Maids were unheard of. These hardy women also reared big families and usually were attended only by a neighbor at childbirth. In two days the mother was up and slaving away again.” As the Great Depression wore on, the population of Ruth diminished. Helen’s father had been stricken with miner’s consumption. In March of 1923, he died at his home. (1) He was 48 years old and left a widow with 3 young children to raise. Helen, the youngest, was eight years old. The family struggled, but as in many immigrant families, education was seen as the key to obtaining a better life. She attended schools in White Pine County. Helen wrote in her “American Life” article, “In those days the Serbs kept pretty much to themselves. They talked the company into building the Serbian Hall and there they’d gather for their drustva meetings and socials. Their kids also isolated themselves, as much in defense of barbs, as in the preference of their own company. But when they began walking with school honors, the jeers and taunts turned to covetous respect. Bit by bit they began taking a more active part in the general life of the community.”
Helen was active in school activities and took her education seriously. In 1938 she placed second and won $250 in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary essay contest. In 1940 she received the Rotary Club citizenship scholarship award. As a White Pine senior she was named a four year honor student and designated valedictorian of her class of 1941. She was also the recipient of the National Elks foundation scholarship for girls at the conclusion of a trip to Philadelphia sponsored by the Elks foundation. While in high school, she did part-time writing for the Ely Record. She continued writing for the Ely Record after she enrolled in the University of Nevada in the fall of 1941. She was interested in politics and in 1942 she managed former Governor James G. Scrugham’s successful Senate campaign in two of Nevada’s Counties. (2) He was elected to the U.S. Senate and Helen went to Washington D.C. with him to work as his secretary. She was never to return to Nevada to live. However, this young woman went on to achieve national recognition in United States politics.
Helen worked as a stringer for the United Press, then as a reporter and Bureau Manager in Fort Wayne, Indiana during 1944-1945. She graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1944, “graduating the same day as her mother became a citizen of the United States almost 1,000 miles away in Ely, Nevada” (3) During 1945 she also worked as a telegraph editor for the Lewiston, Idaho, Tribune. In 1945 she was hired as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun where she primarily covered labor issues. In 1947, at age 24, Helen became the first female newspaper reporter to cover an American Federation of Labor Convention. That same year she was assigned to cover the shipping and waterfront activities at the Baltimore Maryland Port and by 1952, she had been promoted to maritime editor of the Baltimore Sun. Her future began to skyrocket. She was writing and producing her own television show, “The Port that Built a City and a State” which ran on Baltimore WMAR-TV from 1950 to 1965 and on Washington D.C. WTTG-TV from 1955 to 1959. She served as staff advisor on shipping matters for Richard Nixon during his 1968 Presidential campaign and in 1969 he appointed her as Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission where she served until 1975.
During all this upward mobility she married a local school teacher, William Roy Bentley, and together they opened an antique shop in Maryland. As one can surmise, Helen Delich Bently was a self described workaholic. In 1969, Helen was the only woman aboard the S.S. Manhattan when the tanker made its historic voyage through the Arctic waters of the Northwest Passage. Helen served as Congresswoman from Maryland from 1984 to 1994 when she resigned her position to run for Governor of Maryland. She ran as a moderate but was defeated in the primary by a long-time friend and a conservative. During her first term as congresswoman, she helped pass a bill allowing a channel to ”be dredged into the Baltimore port, making it the only East Coast port with that distinction.” (4) After Helen left Congress, she started Helen Bentley & Associates and began working as a lobbyist for maritime and defense industries. In 2004 she was inducted into the International Maritime Hall of Fame in New York. In 2006 former Governor and now Congressman Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced during the 300th anniversary celebration of the Baltimore Port that it had been renamed and was now designated as the “Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore”. She was described by Michael Dresser in the Baltimore Sun as “the colorful and cantankerous former Maryland Congresswoman, whose fierce advocacy for the port of Baltimore led to its being named in her honor…” (5)
Helen Delich Bentley, “Patron of the Port of Baltimore, passed away in Timonium, Baltimore County, Maryland on August 06, 2016.. She was ninety-three years of age. Obituaries appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Pennsylvania Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and the Palm Springs Desert Sun. This author was unable to locate an obituary in a Nevada newspaper. Helen had outlived her husband, William Bentley, by three years. In this author’s opinion, Helen Delich Bentley was arguably the most nationally recognized and most powerful Nevada woman the state has ever produced.
Researched and written by Marcia Cuccaro. Posted to Website April, 2017.
In 2006, Helen Delich Bentley had personally donated clothing and some personal papers to the Nevada State Museum’s Marjorie Guild Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center (NSMMRCTRC) in Carson City, NV. Jan Loverin, Curator of the NWMMRCTRC, had looked through the papers a few years later and at that time she contacted this author to inquire if the NWHP had written a biography on this interesting Nevada woman. At the time Ms. Bentley was still living, but I took the papers and filed them away. I recently learned that Ms. Bentley had passed away in August of 2016 and felt the time had come to document this woman’s remarkable life.
I took the autobiography Helen had written and much of the information in this biography came from it backed up by national newspapers which documented Ms. Bentley’s rise to power. I would also like to note the biography I’ve written does not fully capture her personal character. Pictures show her as a diminutive woman with an apparent determination to succeed. There were many descriptions in the material I reviewed describing her ambitious nature and an extensive longshoreman vocabulary developed throughout the years she covered the Maryland waterfront and which, when necessary, she used to the fullest extent. There is also one documented occasion when in a fit of anger she punched a longshoreman in the jaw when he insulted her appearance. Pictures show a tiny blond woman with a big smile. A friend I know who had once met Helen Delich Bentley said “she knew what she wanted and didn’t settle for less.”
Sources of Information:
- NewspaperArchive.com, Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada) March 12, 1932, “At Home”
- Bentley, Helen Delich 11-24-04 autobiography and http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/9284 Bentley, Helen Delich
- The Nevada State Society of Washington, D.C.; November 8, 1973, Sheraton Hall, Sheraton Park Hotel, Souvenir Program, “Salute to Nevada’s Outstanding Women of the Century
- The New York Times “Helen Delich Bentley, Former Maryland Congresswoman, Dies at 92” by the Associated Press August 8, 2016
- “Helen Delich Bentley, congresswoman who was a staunch advocate of the port of Baltimore, dies” by Michael Dresser
- Delich, Helen, “Life in a Mining Camp”, Printed in the American Serb “Life”
- NewspaperArchive.com; Reno Evening Gazette, October 15, 1938 “Is Announced”
- Ancestry.com; Reno Evening Gazette, February 28, 1940 “Essay Contest”
- Ancestry.com: Reno Evening Gazette August 6, 1941 “Award Winner Tells of Trip”
- Ancestry.com: Reno Evening Gazette, November 10, 1941 “Helen Delich, University of Nevada student, will deliver an Armistice Day address at the Reno High School”
- http://history.house.gov/People/Detail///9284 Bentley, Helen Delich
- http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=167858300 Helen Delich Bentley
- U.S. Census: 1930 Ruth, White Pine, Nevada; Roll 1297, Page 1A, Enumeration District 0016: Image 404.0; FHL microfilm 2341032
- U.S. Census: 1920 Ruth, White Pine, Nevada: Roll T625_1005: page 20B: Enumeration District 66, Image 983, FHL microfilm
- New York, State Census, 1925, database on-line, Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012 (Helen Delich)
- ancestry.com U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 Helen Delich hhttp://nytimes.com/2016/08/09/us./politics/helen-delich-bentley
- Wikipedia.org, Ruth, Nevada