Helen Lyle Pettigrew (1894–1977)

Helen Lyle Pettigrew was an author of word puzzles (including crossword puzzles). Her puzzles appeared in newspapers, magazines, and books, including several books for which she was the sole author. She was probably the first Arkansas native to author a syndicated crossword puzzle.

Helen Pettigrew was born on October 31, 1894, in Charleston (Franklin County) to Thomas Aldridge Pettigrew, who was a prominent lawyer and educator, and Lucy Lee Ervin Pettigrew. Her father was the son of Charleston Academy founder John M. Pettigrew. She had three sisters and one brother, and was a member of the local Presbyterian Church.

Helen Pettigrew was a teacher in the Charleston School District around 1920. Pettigrew’s first known puzzle was a crossword published in 1928 by the New York Herald Tribune; by 1930, her crosswords had also appeared in the New York World and in Simon and Schuster’s Cross Word Puzzle Book series. In the 1940s, Pettigrew began publishing puzzles in The Rotarian, continuing into the 1960s. In the 1950s, she created puzzles containing images and poetry as well as word play; these were published in various newspapers. In the 1970s, she started writing Bible-themed puzzle books (her sister Lucile Pettigrew Johnson also wrote puzzle books of this type). Pettigrew’s only known crossword to appear in the New York Times was published on April 15, 1974.

Pettigrew also wrote poetry, plays for children, and religious literature. Her first known published work was a poem for The Kindergarten-Primary Magazine in 1919; she also published poems in The Instructor magazine. Pettigrew wrote verses for greeting cards, as well as one song (“Oh, You Flu”), which was copyrighted in 1919.

Pettigrew never married; she lived with and took care of her father in Charleston for much of her life. She moved to Booneville (Logan County) shortly before her death on March 6, 1977. Pettigrew is buried in Parks Cemetery in Charleston near her father and other family members.

For additional information:
“Helen Lyle Pettigrew.” Find-a-Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Pettigrew&GSiman=1&GScid=55591&GRid=21532949& (accessed September 8, 2020).

“…A Major Report on Early Female Constructor Helen Pettigrew.” The Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project. http://www.preshortzianpuzzleproject.com/2016/05/todd-gross-christy-ridley-helen-pettigrew.html (accessed September 8, 2020).

Shropshire, Lola. Franklin County. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2000.

Todd Gross
Mesquite, Nevada


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