Helen Ashby was born in Bellefontaine, Ohio, in 1915. She attended Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee, where she met her husband, Professor Warren Ashby. The Ashbys moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where Prof. Ashby taught philosophy at UNC, but moved again to Greensboro in 1949. Helen Ashby quickly became involved in several local progressive and interracial groups, including the YWCA, which appointed her to its board.
In 1958, Mrs. Ashby obtained her master’s degree in child development and family relations from Woman's College (now UNCG). She was then hired as the assistant director for the Institute for Child and Family Development at UNCG, and worked there until 1964, when she resigned to travel to India for two years with the American, British, and Canadian Friends Service Committee. While in India, Ashby also served as a consultant for the Ford Foundation in helping to establish a graduate program in Child Development and Family Relations at Lady Irwin College in Delhi. Upon returning to the United States in 1967, Mrs. Ashby taught family sociology at Guilford College for one semester and resumed her involvement with the Greensboro YWCA. In 1967, she was appointed executive director of the YWCA, but she resigned in 1970. Later in life she became a professional weaver, with many of her weavings gracing UNCG in the library, observatory, Residential College, and other locations.