Helen is the strong matriarch of the Morgendorffer clan. A constantly busy lawyer by trade, she still finds time to do her share (and often Jake's share as well) of parenting of Daria and Quinn. Helen is a Type A personality, who is driven to succeed and be the best at everything. She can be short-tempered due to a busy schedule and stress.
She often neglects her family as a result, which she somewhat regrets on a regular basis. She has a strong drive to succeed in the corporate world, but that drive also carries over to succeeding as a mother, wife, and daughter. She often mentions trying to spice up her marriage and truly does care for her husband Jake.
She also makes numerous attempts when she has time to try to bond with her daughters. Helen is compassionate, caring, motherly, and tries her best to give Daria advice on different moments in her life, even if it's not always the best advice.
When Helen sings a duet with Quinn, she admits to Daria that "I could do a half-assed job and nobody would care" but she's too addicted to work, her career, and being the best. She keeps those feelings to herself. Daria notes that Helen is both resentful about needing to work so hard and guilty that she enjoys working that hard. She is driven to despair by the idea that she is only pretending to care about her family and is consequently ruining her daughters' lives.
Helen is a woman with brown hair that is above shoulder length. She is usually seen in her business suit consisting of a yellow blouse, double breasted maroon jacket, maroon knee-length skirt, and maroon dress shoes. For accessories she wears a pearl necklace and matching earrings.
When not at work, she wears a teal short-sleeved shirt, khaki pants, and teal sneakers. In most scenes, she still wears her necklace and earrings.
Helen Barksdale was born on February 26, 1950, to Grandma and Grandpa Barksdale.
Helen's formative years were spent in the shadow of her sister Rita Barksdale, whom her mother favored and spoiled constantly with money. Helen grew up determined to be the best at whatever she did, mainly so that she could finally feel like her mother was proud of her.
This caused resentment to fester from Rita and Amy Barksdale, who felt they were expected to equal Helen in their studies. Helen and Amy never got along, but the two have bonded over the fact that their mother never gave them any attention, love, or affection.
Once Helen entered Middleton College, in September 1968 she became a hippie, and met Jake Morgendorffer and they quickly began dating. The two bonded over their shared familial issues, and both got arrested in the summer of 1969. They graduated in June 1972, and quickly moved into a commune with their friends before getting married on June 26, 1975.
By the late 1970s, she gave up the hippie lifestyle and embraced the capitalistic corporate American dream. On occasion, she is known to feel guilty about not retaining her hippie ideals. Helen became a corporate lawyer, and despite having two daughters, she continued to work and remained the main breadwinner of the family, often at the expense of her family.
Jake often frustrates Helen with his personality quirks such as cluelessness, neuroticism, and crazy antics, which she often plays off as background noise but really gives her great discontent. She can be vicious towards Jake, and berates him for not getting over his childhood trauma. The couple has tried to rekindle their marriage on multiple occasions, but their romantic retreats and therapy often fails to reignite that spark. Helen is the lead parent, and Jake's lack of initiative irritates Helen. In general, Helen truly cares about Jake, and often apologizes to him for her angry remarks.
Helen is constantly pushing Daria to be more involved in school activities, make friends/social network with popular students at Lawndale High, open up to her, be more positive, and be more of a conformist. She often bribes or pressures Daria into going along with her demands. She believes Daria is hiding behind an antisocial mask and refuses to let her 'become that mask'. Daria speaks to Helen more than Quinn, and her conversations have an adult level of maturity. Helen understands Daria more than she gets credit for, and fears she emotionally shut her out. She also has a huge fear of Daria becoming sexually active. Despite Daria being sardonic and cynical, she is proud of her for being gifted, perceptive, and committed to her principles.
Helen is very supportive of Quinn, and often cheerleads her in everything she does. She views Quinn as well-engaged and social (the antithesis of Daria). However, she is also concerned that Quinn is too shallow or may be likely of being taken advantage of, and is more concerned about this with Quinn than with Daria. She is also more concerned about Quinn's welfare because she believes that Daria is capable of taking care of herself. During psychotherapy, she unwittingly reveals that she considers Quinn one of her failures, revealing "Quinn—well, I can't even think about what happened there, not right now." Naturally, she is horrified by this, and tries to explain.
Helen never got over Rita being the favored daughter, and is irritated that she still is. She is shocked when Rita reveals that she resented Helen too because Helen was so academically achieving and made the other girls look lazy in comparison. Though they both resent each other and argue whenever they meet, the two still maintain contact with each other. Helen tends to try to make up with Rita, but the two will begin to argue intensely, which pushes away their younger sister, Amy. Rita denies that she was ever their mother's favorite, and thinks Helen deliberately worked in order to make Amy and Rita look bad. Eventually, Daria and Quinn sufficiently shame their mother and aunts into calling a truce over the major argument the women were having.
Helen believes Amy used her and Rita's bickering as an excuse to get out of family responsibilities. Amy, in turn, accuses Helen of nursing a grudge against Rita into adulthood and ruining their family dynamic, which is pretty accurate. Amy commends Jake for staying with Helen, saying it takes "formidable fortitude", which is a particularly nasty jab that Helen ignores. When Amy comments on Rita and Helen's fight, she blames Helen for it, saying she's jealous that Rita got a new car during high school, which turns out to be correct. Amy does not maintain contact with Helen.
Helen is resentful of Grandma Barksdale because she always favored Rita, and showered her with gifts and money. The majority of her life, her drive, her work ethic, her job, etc. have all been based on making her mother proud of her, and finally being the favorite. She never succeeds in the latter part, her mother paying for Erin's (Rita's daughter) wedding, Rita's new living room, and Erin's time in Switzerland during Rita's marital crisis. Rita has never been employed because her mother pays for all of her material things.