Helen Motto was born in Warsaw, Poland and immigrated to the United States as a child. She married Jacob Motto and moved to Santa Barbara in 1923. In time, she became a central figure in that city's Jewish religious, philanthropic, and cultural life. She was active in the National Council of Jewish Women, the sisterhood of Santa Barbara's B'nai B'rith Congregation, and Hadassah.
The collection consists of personal and organizational correspondence; a scrapbook that chronicles Motto's many organizational involvements; a manuscript called "History and Development of the Jewish Community of Santa Barbara, 1923-1969," written by Motto; and papers that document Motto's work with refugee resettlement between 1945 and 1950.