Inga Olla Helseth was born in Oslo, Norway on January 16, 1888, and was the eldest child of a Norwegian family who moved to Indian River County, Florida when she was eight years old. After moving to Florida she was tutored by her father and began her teaching career in a one room school house in Malabar, Florida at the age of sixteen. Helseth entered the Florida State College for Women, where she was president of her 1914 graduating class. During her senior year she competed in the annual oratorical contest, speaking on the topic of "Seeking Poise." In 1915 Helseth organized the senior high school in St. Lucie County, Florida and served as its first principal. She returned to FSCW in 1917 to teach in the college normal school, and the next year was appointed as instructor in elementary education in the School of Education. She would go on to earn her M.A., also from FSCW in 1920, and her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1926. She left the FSCW faculty as a full professor after the 1929 school year. During her teaching career, she served as an instructor during the summer session at Columbia University in 1923, worked on growth pattern studies at the University of Chicago, and served as professor of education at Ball State Teacher's College during the 1929-1930 academic year.
In 1930 she joined the faculty of William & Mary where she served as Dean of Women. In May 1937, while a professor of Education and director of Student Teaching at the College of William & Mary, she was awarded the Florida State College for Women "Alumnae Medallion" for outstanding achievement during the years since she graduated from FSCW. While at William & Mary, Helseth became a conspicuous figure in curriculum revision work.
In 1950 she returned home to Indian River County to care for her aging parents. It was there that she began working in the field of mental health, especially with disturbed children and children with learning disabilities. Helseth taught nurses how to recognize the signs of mental stress and was instrumental in starting a two year nursing program at Indian River Junior College. She also directed a county survey which was awarded federal funds to establish a four county mental health clinic at Ft. Pierce, Florida. After a disabling accident in 1973, she was forced to retire. However, she continued to be active in the community, and consulted regularly with professionals in the county educational system. Helseth served as president of the FSCW Alumnae Association, as a permanent member of the Florida State University board of directors, was awarded many honorary degrees, and at the time of her death on October 7, 1987, was the oldest living alumnae of Florida State University. In 1997 the Florida House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring Inga Olla Helseth as, "a pioneer, writer, educator, children's counselor, and community leader for better mental health practices in Florida."
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- The Flat Hat student newspaper; search the index available in the SCRC by person's name, student group name, event, or topical heading
- Colonial Echo yearbook
- William & Mary Catalogs.
- Florida House of Representatives, House Bill 9039 (1997); "Faculty for F.S.C.W. Grows; Many New Instructors," Florida Flambeau, 28 September 1918; Blanton Barrett, "Caps and Gowns Dominate Scenes on Florida State College Campus," The Miami News, 30 May 1937; "State P.T.A. to Meet at Smyrna," The Sunday Morning Star, 24 April 1938; Flastacowo 1914, n.p.; Flastacowo 1927, 19; "Brief History Shows Varied Activities of Alumnae Association," Florida Flambeau, 12 April 1940.