Helen O'Bannon was born in 1939 in Ridgewood, New Jersey. She majored in economics at Wellesley College and later earned a master's degree at Stanford. O'Bannon was an associate dean at the Carnegie Institute between 1973 and 1976, where she strove to make the university more accessible to women.
In 1976 O'Bannon published an economics text titled Money and Banking: Theory, Policy, and Institutions' (Harper and Row, ISBN 0-06-044877-6). O’Bannon was Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Public Welfare from 1979 until 1983, when she returned to academia, becoming the first woman to hold the position of vice president at the University of Pennsylvania. She died on October 19, 1988 after a long illness.
- "Person of the Week: Helen O'Bannon". Wilma Slaight. Susan V.G. Pinto, Office of Public Information, Wellesley College. July 11, 2000. Retrieved 2006-09-29.
- 1975-1992: Timeline of Women at Penn, University of Pennsylvania Archives - Mark Frazier Lloyd, July 2001
- Free to Choose - Media - A complete transcript from the discussion panel from volume four of the 1980 Milton Friedman PBS documentary "Free to Choose"
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