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Helen Magill completed her Ph.D. in Greek in 1877 at Boston University. She served as principal of the Howard Collegiate Institute, a girls' school in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts; taught briefly at Evelyn College, a short-lived women's annex to Princeton University; and taught physical geography at Brooklyn High School. In September 1887, while presenting a paper at the annual meeting of the American Social Science Association, she met Andrew Dickson White, a friend of her father, Edward Hicks Magill, then president of Swarthmore College. This meeting was the beginning of a friendship which led to marriage in 1890. She administered their household and traveled with White to Russia and Germany. After White's death in 1918, she lived abroad and in Ithaca, New York, and then retired to Kittery Point, Maine, where she died in 1944.