March: Women's History Month in Oregon


Free Speech, Free Press, Free People. 
The New Northwest is not a WOMAN'S RIGHTS but a HUMAN RIGHTS organ, devoted to whatever policy may be necessary to secure the greatest good to the greatest number. It knows no sex, no politics, no religion, no party, no color, no creed. Its foundation is, Universal Emancipation, Eternal Liberty, Untrammeled Progression.
---Masthead on the New Northwest weekly newspaper, April 12, 1872, published in Portland, Oregon, by Abigail Scott Duniway.

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Women in Oregon Politics


Sarah Winnemucca
by Mary Oberst

Sarah Winnemucca, a Paiute, had a clear purpose in life: “I mean to fight for my down-trodden race while life lasts.” Winnemucca lived part of her adult life on reservations in Oregon and was an important figure in the Bannock Indian War of 1878 before becoming a nationally prominent spokesperson for Indian justice. She is recognized for overcoming the stereotypes of her gender and race to raise public awareness of the harsh conditions that Indians endured in the United States in the late nineteenth century.

Sarah Winnemucca was born in about 1844, probably in present-day Nevada, a member of the Kuyuidika-a band that lived on the delta where the Truckee River flows into Pyramid Lake. Her Paiute name was Thocmetony, which means “shell flower.” Her grandfather Truckee and her father Winnemucca were chiefs of the band. When thousands of whites moved into the tribe’s homeland in the 1840s, attracted by claims of silver and gold on the Comstock, Truckee served as a guide for several emigrant parties.

Millie R. Trumbull
by Janice Dilg

Millie Reid Trumbull was a forceful advocate for women and children in the industrial workplace. As the first executive secretary of the Oregon Board of Inspectors of Child Labor, Trumbull helped enforce child labor laws. She was so well known in that role that early twentieth-century employers exclaimed when Trumbull approached their business: “Put on your hat Willie! Here comes Millie!”

Millie Wunderlich began life in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1866. Her father, John Wunderlich, was a German immigrant, and her mother, Elizabeth Reid, was from Pennsylvania. Millie had two sisters, Laura and Mary. Trumbull’s formal education was limited, but she studied at Iowa Normal School and the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago. In 1887, Millie Wunderlich married Bernhard Trumbull, and they settled in Chicago.

Trumbull later traced her introduction to the social reform movement to a talk she heard at the Chicago Women’s Club in 1892 given by Florence Kelley on “The Sweating System.” Trumbull became acquainted with the renowned reformer and learned about child labor laws and the fledgling development of Chicago’s juvenile court. When the Illinois Central Railroad Company transferred Trumbull’s husband to Portland in 1900, Trumbull brought her activism West.


Mary Anna Cooke Thompson
by Jean Ward

Controversial in her politics, yet honored in her lifetime as one of Oregon's pioneer doctors, Mary Anna Cooke Thompson practiced medicine in Portland for over forty years. Although she held no degree, Thompson began advertising in Portland newspapers in 1867 and was eventually known as "Portland's first woman physician."...

Mary Anna Thompson's accomplishments extended beyond her medical practice to her advocacy for human rights. She was an articulate agent for political and economic change in the liberal and progressive tradition of Henry George. Active in the woman suffrage movement, Thompson was committed, with her friends Dr. Bethenia Owens-Adair and Frances Fuller Victor, to temperance and prohibition. Although Abigail Scott Duniway did not agree with Thompson that there should be a connection between temperance and prohibition and the woman suffrage movement, each recognized the strength of character and ability in the other.

During an extended speaking tour in the East in 1877-1878, Thompson addressed audiences in a variety of venues, participated in the National Woman Suffrage Association Convention in Washington, D.C., and spoke before the U.S. Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections. She called on President Rutherford B. Hayes at the White House and visited with co-workers and friends such as Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone.



Lola Baldwin
by Gloria E. Myers

On April 1, 1908, Portland Mayor Harry Lane administered the police oath to forty-eighty-year-old Lola Greene Baldwin, the first woman hired under civil service rules in the United States as a fulltime paid law enforcement officer.

n late 1904, the New York-based National Travelers' Aid Association asked Portland’s Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) to sponsor a vice-policing program for the Lewis and Clark Exposition. The effort would target young females visiting the fair or filling temporary jobs associated with it. The idea was a response to a national “white slavery” scare, whose proponents claimed that innocent young women were enticed into vice during large conventions or lengthy events.

Baldwin had recently served on the committee that organized Portland’s Juvenile Court, and its head, Judge Arthur Frazer, had appointed her to be an unpaid probation officer for girls. The YWCA now hired her to supervise its Travelers' Aid program. Baldwin resorted to law enforcement and the courts judiciously; she preferred to use a pointed lecture, provide safe housing or employment, or devise other alternatives to help offenders avoid a police record.


Kathryn Clark
by Kimberly Jensen

Women in Oregon achieved the vote in 1912, and the November 1914 elections were the first in which women were eligible to seek office in the legislature. That year, Douglas County voters reelected State Senator George Neuner Jr., but he resigned in early January 1915 to become district attorney. Governor Oswald West offered the post to Douglas County judge Dexter Rice. Rice declined and West appointed his cousin, Kathryn Clarke, to the post. County officials set a special election for January 20 to decide the seat. Clarke filed her candidacy as a Republican on a platform of saving taxpayer dollars and supporting law enforcement. After mass meetings in Douglas County and an endorsement by her city newspaper, Clarke won the special election by 76 votes. She was featured, along with two other women who had been elected as state senators in the United States (in Colorado and Arizona) was featured in the International Woman Suffrage News and the Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News.

As a senator, Clarke supported Douglas County with bills to amend county boundaries, raise salaries for county treasury employees, and address property and homestead concerns. In 1915, she became a member of the Oregon branch of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and began to work for the passage of a federal woman suffrage amendment.

Marian B. Towne
by Kimberly Jensen

Oregon women had achieved the right to vote in November 1912, and Marian B. Towne decided to run for the state legislature in 1914, the first time women were eligible to campaign for that office. She secured endorsements and advice from Medford Mayor W.H. Canon and Medford Mail Tribune publisher George Putnam, and she filed her candidacy for representative from Jackson County as a Democrat. Towne estimated that she visited three-quarters of the households in the Rogue River Valley in her successful house-to-house campaign, and she gave speeches to various community groups.

Towne was elected and went to Salem for the 1915 legislative session. She met opposition from many male legislators, but also found success in her work. She served on three House standing committees, including Education, Health and Public Morals, and Salaries. She introduced a bill that would have increased school funding and expanded the minimum school term from six to eight months, and spoke in defense of funding the Oregon Girl’s Industrial Home, an institution for young women without family or resources. Towne sought, but did not achieve, reelection in 1916.



Abigail Scott Duniway
by Jean M. Ward

Outspoken and often controversial, Abigail Scott Duniway is remembered as Oregon's "Mother of Equal Suffrage" and "the pioneer Woman Suffragist of the great Northwest." As lecturer, organizer, writer, and editor, Duniway devoted over forty years to the cause of women's rights.

In Idaho Territory in 1896, Duniway celebrated victory for woman suffrage. In Washington Territory, her early successes were overturned, although the State of Washington would give women the vote in 1910. In Oregon, which defeated woman suffrage more times than any other state, Duniway witnessed five losses—in 1884, 1900, 1906, 1908, and 1910—before Oregon women gained the ballot in 1912.

Encouraged by her mentor, Susan B. Anthony, Duniway attended national suffrage conventions and became one of five NWSA (National Woman Suffrage Association) vice-presidents-at-large. In 1890, she helped negotiate the merger of the NWSA and AWSA (American Woman Suffrage Association) as the National American Woman Suffrage Association.


Esther Clayson Pohl Lovejoy
by Kimberly Jensen

Physician Esther Clayson Pohl Lovejoy took an active and significant role in public health reform, suffrage, and politics in early twentieth century Portland. Lessons she learned in Oregon became the foundation for her subsequent career in transnational medical relief and international health.  

Esther Clayson was born in Seabeck, Washington Territory, in 1869. Her parents Edward and Annie Quinton Clayson moved the family to Portland in 1883. Esther enrolled at the Medical Department of the University of Oregon in 1890 and earned tuition money by clerking at department stores. She graduated in April 1894 with the H.A. Wall Prize and three weeks later married Emil Pohl, her medical school colleague. After their son Frederick was born in 1901, Esther’s mother came to assist with child care in the family’s East Portland home. Frederick died in September 1908, and Emil died in May 1911. In 1912, Esther married Portland businessman George A. Lovejoy; they divorced in 1920.

Portland Mayor Harry Lane, M.D., appointed Esther Pohl to Portland’s city health board in 1905. She served as the city health officer from 1907 to 1909, the first woman to hold such a position in a major U.S. city. Pohl believed that healthy communities were an important responsibility of citizens and their government. She prevented an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1907-1908 and brought national public health priorities to Portland by working for pure food and milk, improved collection of garbage, and inspection of school children for communicable disease. During her tenure, she built important coalitions for action with the Portland Woman’s Club, the Council of Jewish Women, the Consumers' League, and other civic groups.


Marie Equi

by Michael Helquist

Dr. Marie Equi was a fiercely independent Oregon physician who was engaged in the political turmoil and social change of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She was a fearless advocate for woman's suffrage, labor rights, and free speech, and her raucous protests against imperialism and war gave her a reputation in Portland as one of the most outspoken agitators in town. For all her boldness, Equi was a dedicated caregiver who held her profession so dearly that even her close companions called her "Doc." 

For ten years, 1903-1913, Equi was a model Progressive Era activist. She aligned herself with Oregon's indomitable champion of woman suffrage, Abigail Scott Duniway. She also pushed for an eight-hour workday, state support for higher education, and prison reform. In 1906, she earned widespread acclaim for her relief work in San Francisco after that city's devastating earthquake and fire. But a violent clash with police during a Portland cannery strike in 1913 radicalized Equi. She espoused anarchism, no longer believing that gradual political reform could achieve justice for workers. She supported the Industrial Workers of the World and criticized Portland's civic leaders for oppressing the working class and suppressing radical dissent. Never content with protest alone, Equi obtained food and shelter for the unemployed, distributed birth control information, and provided abortions to both poor and upper-class women. 


Katherine Manion
by Kimberly Jensen

As an activist and physician, Katherine Manion contributed to Oregon women's quest for complete citizenship in the early twentieth century. She also worked for a secure place for women physicians in Oregon medicine.

Katherine C. Galbraith was born in Walla Walla, Washington, in 1867 and graduated from St. Mary’s Academy in Portland in 1888. She married James Manion, had a son, and was widowed. She may have sought a medical education to support herself and her son.

In 1903, Manion graduated with honors from the University of Oregon Medical Department, received her medical license, and established a practice in Portland, specializing in diseases of women and children. She joined the Medical Club of Portland, a society organized in 1900 to promote and support the work of women physicians in the city, and served as secretary of the club in 1905 and as president in 1908. She was also active in the University of Oregon Alumnae Association and was president of the Portland chapter for two years, from 1906 to 1908. A member of the Oregon State Medical Society and Portland City and County Medical Societies, Manion served as treasurer for both organizations and assisted in organizing events for visiting women at annual meetings in Oregon.

As a strong supporter of woman suffrage, Manion served on the board of the Portland Branch of the College Equal Suffrage Association in 1912. That year she was in charge of the distribution of suffrage literature for the successful ballot measure.

Many women saw the opportunity to serve in World War I as an important extension of citizenship for women. During the war, many of the 6,000 women physicians in the nation mounted a campaign to challenge the U.S. Army and War Department policies prohibiting officer status for medical women. Katherine Manion was at the center of one of several important cases that tested this policy.


Cornelia Marvin Pierce
by Cheryl Gunselman

From her first arrival in Oregon in 1905 until her death in 1957, Cornelia Marvin Pierce helped shape the state's social, educational, and political conditions as state librarian, political activist, and reformer.

 Marvin moved to Salem in 1905 to direct a new agency, the Oregon Library Commission (OLC), which became the State Library in 1913. At thirty-one, she was already developing a national reputation, and her skills were in great demand. The market for experienced, effective, professionally trained library leaders was extremely competitive, but the Oregon position was so appealing to Marvin that she accepted a substantial cut in salary. Under her direction, the OLC and the State Library assisted communities in organizing, opening, and securing tax funding for libraries and provided direct services from its offices in Salem.

Historian Dorothy Johansen said that her friend Cornelia Marvin Pierce "wheedled, wangled, and walloped her way toward her goals" at a time when there were few women in government leadership. She was a formidable, high-profile advocate for libraries and, more generally, for public education. She demonstrated strong executive ability and political sophistication, continually challenging the legislature, governors, and other prominent Oregonians to support the work of the State Library.

Harriet "Hattie" Redmond
by Janice Dilg

Harriet “Hattie” Redmond was a leader in the long struggle for Oregon woman suffrage, especially during the successful campaign of 1912. The right to vote was especially important to Redmond as a black woman living in a state that had codified black exclusion laws in its constitution. Redmond’s work for voting rights helped lay the groundwork for the Black Civil Rights movement of the mid-twentieth century. Her parents, Reuben and LaVinia “Vina” Crawford, were emancipated slaves who instilled their quest for freedom and full citizenship in their daughter. Hattie helped bring those dreams to fruition through her civic activism.

Harriet Crawford was born in about 1862 in St. Louis, Missouri, the oldest of eight children. The family lived briefly in Hood River, Oregon, before permanently settling in Portland by 1880. There they became a prominent family in the city’s nascent African American community of several hundred people. Vina Crawford worked as a domestic, and Reuben Crawford worked as a skilled ship caulker. He was also active in the Republican Lincoln Club and the Portland Colored Immigration Society. The family attended the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church on Northwest Seventh (now Broadway) and Everett after its founding in 1907. Hattie Redmond held suffrage meetings and lectures at the church in 1912.



Fern Hobbs
by Gary Dielman

In January 1914, thirty-year-old Fern Hobbs achieved international celebrity when Oregon Governor Oswald West sent her, along with several National Guardsmen, to tame the reputed “lawless” town of Copperfield on Snake River in eastern Oregon. While best known for her role in what became known as the Copperfield Affair, in 1914, Hobbs considered her participation in that event far less important than her subsequent civic efforts on behalf of Oregon and the nation.

Hobbs was born on May 8, 1883, on a sheep ranch near Bloomington, Nebraska. At age six, the family moved to Salt Lake City, where Fern graduated from high school in 1904. That year the family moved to Portland, where Hobbs found employment as governess in the family of banker J. Wesley Ladd.

Fern Hobbs studied stenography at night and by 1906 was working as private secretary to J. Thorburn Ross, president of Title Guarantee and Trust Company. The bank soon failed, but Fern stayed on to help settle the bank's affairs and impressed attorney Ben W. Olcott, later governor of Oregon (1919-1923), with her abilities. In 1910, Olcott introduced Hobbs to Governor-elect Oswald West, and he hired her as his chief clerk. While working for the governor, she attended law school at Willamette University, graduating in May 1913.

Lizzie Weeks
by Kimberly Jensen

Lizzie Koontz Weeks was an African American activist in Portland in the years after women in Oregon had achieved the right to vote in 1912. She organized black women to empower them to be successful voters and was an early candidate for local party office. Weeks was the first female African American social worker to be employed by Multnomah County.

Lizzie Koontz was born in in 1879 in Washington, D.C. In 1904, she married George W. Weeks, who worked as a packer for Prael, Hegele and Company, a kitchen and tableware store in Portland.

Oregon women achieved the right to vote in 1912, several years before the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution became law in 1920. In the fall of 1914, in the first national election after the success of woman’s suffrage in Oregon, Weeks helped organize a meeting in Portland of African American women who supported the Republican Party, the party of most blacks from the time of the Civil War until the Great Depression. The group formed the Colored Women’s Republican Club and elected Weeks, who was already a registered voter, as president. At the conclusion of the meeting, the group went to the Multnomah County courthouse so that those who were not yet registered could do so.



Beatrice Morrow Cannady
by Quintard Taylor

Beatrice Morrow Cannady was the most noted civil rights activist in early twentieth-century Oregon. Using her position as editor of the Advocate, Oregon's largest, and at times the only, African American newspaper, Cannady launched numerous efforts to defend the civil rights of the approximately 2,500 African Americans in the state (in 1930) and to challenge racial discrimination in its varied forms.

Beatrice Morrow was born in 1889 in Littig, Texas. She reportedly graduated from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, in 1908, worked briefly as a teacher in Oklahoma, and then enrolled in the University of Chicago, where she studied music. In 1912, she left the city for Portland, Oregon, to marry Edward Daniel Cannady, the founder and editor of the Advocate. Upon their marriage, Beatrice Cannady became assistant editor of the newspaper, beginning an affiliation that would continue for the next twenty-four years; she would become the editor and owner of the Advocate in 1930 after her divorce from Edward. In 1922, at the age of thirty-three, Cannady became the first African American woman to graduate from Northwestern College of Law in Portland. She was one of only two women in a class of twenty-two.

Mattie Cone Sleeth
by Janet Asteroff

Mattie Cone Sleeth was a significant force for change in Oregon during the early decades of the twentieth century. A devoted minister’s wife, she arrived in Portland with her family in 1903 and established herself as a leader of the Oregon Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). She was an ardent supporter of woman suffrage, a licensed local preacher in Oregon for the Methodist Episcopal Church, and among the first woman jurors in the state.

Born in 1852 in Delaware, Ohio, Sleeth was a child of the midwestern frontier, the last of eight children to Luther Cone Sr. and Margaret Obershimer Cone. The family moved to Lawrence, Kansas, shortly before the Civil War for the opportunities offered by the newly organized territories of the Great Plains and Far West frontiers. A supporter of Kansas woman suffrage, Margaret Cone, a Methodist convert, instilled in her children a strong sense of religion and temperance and a respect for education.



Caroline Gleason
by Robert Bunting

Caroline J. Gleason—Roman Catholic nun, social reformer, and educator—helped shape Oregon labor law and the state's social conditions through the numerous social workers she trained.

Born in 1886 to politically active Roman Catholic Irish and French-Canadian parents in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Gleason was educated at Catholic schools before matriculating to the University of Minnesota. Following graduation in 1908, she joined the faculty at St. Mary's Academy in Portland. In 1910, she left Portland for two years to pursue graduate work at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, where she became interested in the conditions of working women in northeastern mills and factors. Returning to Portland in 1912, she was hired as the field secretary for the Catholic Women's League, a position that required her to teach evening classes as well as administer the League's employment bureau.

In 1912, the Oregon Consumers League asked Gleason to organize a staff to survey women's working conditions in Oregon's factories, stores, and offices. Those findings became the data for Oregon's passage of the nation's first minimum wage and maximum hour law in 1913 and the U.S. Supreme Court's 1917 decision upholding the law in Stettler v. O'Hara. To implement the new law, Governor Oswald West (1911-1915) created the Industrial Welfare Commission, with Gleason as executive secretary.

Grace Wick
by Kathy Tucker

Grace Wick was a political gadfly in Portland, where she was an activist against the New Deal. While she had once been involved in mainstream politics as a supporter and friendly acquantaince of Democratic Governor Walter M. Pierce, the Great Depression crushed her economically, and she was increasingly attracted to the marginalized politics of right-wing America.

Wick, who had been an actress on the East Coast, moved to Jackson County in 1922. There she actively helped Pierce in his successful 1922 gubernatorial campaign. In 1927, she moved to Portland and worked as an actress and radio producer. She continued to be politically active, and, according to biographer June Melby Benowitz, “began both a crusade against capital punishment and an attempt to destroy the political career of Governor Pierce.” Politics were personal for Wick, who turned against Pierce after he refused to pardon the son of a friend who had been sentenced to death.

Wick campaigned for Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election and in 1934 ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a pro-Roosevelt Independent. Nonetheless, when Roosevelt’s relief programs failed to help her find long-term work, Wick turned against Roosevelt and the New Deal. In May 1935, she marched down Broadway wearing a barrel plastered with political slogans, including “One of the Forgotten Women of the New Deal!” and “The New Deal of Oregon stinks.”


Mary Perry Stone
by Aurora King

Over the course of her ninety-eight years (1909-2007), artist Mary Perry Stone tirelessly combated war and injustice. Her weapons were the stroke of a paintbrush and the artful collision of color, creating art she hoped would “transcend [society’s idea of] the pretty to hit the soul.” In her long career, she produced sculptures, paintings, and over fifty murals.

Stone believed that as an artist it was her obligation to create art that "says something about the world." She did so by showcasing the horrors brought on by war and prejudice, taking a stand that demands social change. Her work was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, New York University, and Rockefeller Center, and she was one of forty women sculptors on the New York City Federal Arts Project in 1937. After the eruption of World War II, the Federal Arts Project was discontinued, and many works of art were lost. Rumor has it that the missing works were pitched into New York's Eastside River. Tragically, none of Stone’s WPA works remain.


Julia Ruuttila
by Sandy Polishuk

Julia Ruuttila was a labor and investigative journalist, a poet and fiction writer, and a union, peace, and justice activist who lived all but a few years of her life in Oregon.

Ruuttila was born Julia Evelyn Godman on April 26, 1907, in Eugene to John B. Godman and Ella B. Padan Godman. She was raised there, as well as on a Lane County farm and in logging camps. The Godman home was frequented by socialists, anarchists, and traveling Wobblies (members of the Industrial Workers of the World), and as a young girl she eavesdropped on their discussions and began to absorb their ideas. She was also influenced by her father’s history books and often accompanied her mother on marches for woman suffrage and when she went door-to-door distributing then-illegal birth control information.

Katherine Hall Bogle
by Kimberley Mangun

A freelance journalist, social worker, and community activist, Kathryn Hall Bogle is remembered as “one of Portland’s earliest and most passionate advocates of racial diversity.” She wrote articles for many African American newspapers, including the Pittsburgh Courier, the Seattle-based Northwest Enterprise, the Portland Observer, and The Skanner, and was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Portland Association of Black Journalists in 1993.

Bogle may be best known for “An American Negro Speaks of Color,” a 2,000-word article she sold to the Oregonian in 1937, which described the realities of being black in Portland. It was the first time the newspaper paid an African American for a story, and Bogle would contribute many more articles to the Oregonian over the years.



Dorothy McCullough Lee
by Meryl Lipman

In 1947, the city of Portland crawled with gambling halls, strip joints, bars, and brothels. Violence and venereal disease rates were so high that sea captains refused sailors liberty time in the city. Crime rings paid off police and politicians, and there were suspicions that Portland Mayor Earl Riley was skimming off the protection money collected by local police. The influential City Club charged Riley with "negligence in stamping out vice in the Rose City." It was in this atmosphere that Portland City Commissioner Dorothy McCullough Lee began testing the waters for a run against the cigar-chewing, two-term mayor

The wife of a Standard Oil executive, Lee’s demeanor may have been that of a forty-seven-year-old schoolmarm, but she was not to be underestimated. She had served fourteen years in the Oregon House of Representatives and Senate and had been on the City Commission since 1943—the only woman in both bodies. As commissioner, Lee was known as an effective administrator who dealt mostly with infrastructure, updating the streetcar and bus system, and implementing a successful mosquito-control program. She promised that, if elected mayor, she would enforce the law.

Fed up with Riley, Portland voters ousted him in the primary on May 21, 1948, giving Lee 85,045 to Riley’s 22,510 votes. Lee took office in January 1949, the second woman to serve as mayor of a major U.S. city.

Gertrude Jensen
by Katrine Barber

Gertrude Glutsch Jensen was a civic leader in the protection of the Columbia River Gorge, from the 1940s until her death in 1986. She operated as a lobbyist at the state level and eventually on the national stage through her involvement in organizations such as the Portland Women’s Forum and the Oregon Roadside Council, whose board she sat on for more than twenty-five years. In 1953, Oregon Governor Paul Patterson appointed Jensen chair of the state’s Columbia River Gorge Commission. During her tenure, the organization oversaw the protection of more than three thousand acres of scenic land.


Shizue Iwatsuki
by Linda Tamura

A humble wife, mother, and public servant in Hood River, Shizue Iwatsuki was also an internationally recognized poet. Born in Okayama, Japan, in 1896, Shizue immigrated to the United States in 1916 with her new husband, Kamegoro. Eager for a promising life in America, she was unprepared for the primitive lifestyle in Hood River—living in a cramped hut with a wood stove, kerosene lamp, outside toilet, and no running water—the taxing manual labor, and the loneliness that came from being apart from her family.

Iwatsuki struggled to earn a living by growing strawberries and apples while raising three children. She also assisted her husband as he survived pneumonia and suffered the failure of his first two orchards.

Recognizing the rising wave of anti-Japanese sentiment in the Hood River Valley, Iwatsuki helped organize the local Japanese Women’s Society. She was intent on helping other Issei women—the first generation of people who emigrated from Japan to the U.S.—learn American customs.

Iwatsuki was the first Issei woman in Hood River to get a driver’s license, and she ran errands and made deliveries to help others. In 1926, the Iwatsukis became founding members of Hood River’s Japanese Methodist Church.

When West Coast Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes for concentration camps during World War II, the couple was incarcerated at Pinedale Assembly Center, then Tule Lake in north-central California and Minidoka in southern Idaho. During those years, Shizue took a home-nursing course and dedicated herself to volunteer work as a nurse and a teacher of needlework. She was also a member of the school board, church, and women’s society.


Maurine Neuberger
by Kimberly Jensen

Maurine Brown Neuberger entered politics as an Oregon state legislator and, as of 2010, was Oregon’s first and only woman to serve in the United States Senate. Neuberger was an advocate for consumer rights and women’s issues, and she advanced the causes of the Democratic Party in Oregon and the nation.

Richard Neuberger won election to the U.S. Senate in 1954, the first Democrat from Oregon in that body in forty years. In failing health, he died in March 1960. Many Democrats hoped that Governor Mark Hatfield would appoint Neuberger to fill her husband's seat, but he declined. She ran for the seat in November 1960 and won with 54 percent of the vote. She represented Oregon in Washington, D.C., for one six-year term.

In the Oregon state legislature, Neuberger advocated for education and sponsored legislation for consumers. Most famously, she put on an apron and demonstrated the difficulty of mixing yellow food coloring into margarine to end a ban on colored margarine that was supported by the powerful dairy industry. She also sponsored legislation that would have given equal pay for equal work for women and men.

Edith Starrett Green
by Philip Cogswell

Democrat Edith Starrett Green represented Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District from 1955 through 1974. During her twenty years in the U.S. House of Representatives, she gained a national reputation for her leadership in shaping federal education policy and her advocacy for equal rights for women. She was known for her independence, tenacity, and ability.

As a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Green set the stage for widespread federal aid to higher education.  In 1958, she helped pass the National Defense Education Act, which provided support for math and science education and assistance to graduate students in those fields. As chair of the subcommittee on higher education, she led the effort to pass the Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963 and the Higher Education Act of 1965. Those measures authorized, for the first time, funding for college and university libraries and classrooms, and provided the first federal financial aid to undergraduate students.

Green also worked with Rep. Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind) to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination against women in federally supported education programs. Now known as Title IX of the 1972 Education Act, the provision caused a dramatic expansion of athletic programs for women and gave them access to academic programs and faculty positions that had been closed to them.


betty roberts  

Betty Roberts
by Gail Wells

Betty Roberts was a thirty-two-year-old housewife with four children when she went back to college in 1955. Her decision went against the wishes of her banker husband and the conventions of 1950s society. That marriage did not last, but Roberts’s step toward independence bore abundant fruit, putting her on the path to a long career in Oregon law and politics. She broke two significant gender barriers, becoming the first woman to serve on both the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court.

Betty Roberts earned a masters of science degree in 1961 and mounted her first campaign for the Oregon House of Representatives in 1962, losing in the May primary election. She resolved to study for a doctorate in political science at the University of Oregon, but a discouraging conversation with department chair Burt Wingert—who told her plainly that he would not allow a thirty-nine-year-old woman to matriculate in his department—led her to the Northwestern College of Law in Portland instead.

Mildred Schwab
by Philip Cogswell

A Portland city commissioner for fourteen years, Mildred Schwab was known for her sharp tongue, colorful personality, and frugality regarding city funds. A lover of music and an accomplished pianist, she played an important role as the commissioner in charge of the development of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.

Schwab practiced law in Portland until her appointment to the City Council in January 1973, filling the vacancy created when Commissioner Neil Goldschmidt became mayor. She easily won election three times until her retirement in December 1986.

As a city commissioner, including the time when she was in charge of the police and fire bureaus, Schwab enjoyed considerable public popularity for her informal, flamboyant manner and quick wit. But at City Hall she had a reputation for being temperamental, unpredictable, and disruptive and for not hesitating to publicly criticize fellow politicians and city staff members or to derail a colleague's proposal.


kitts young  

Jean Kitts Young
by Laura Jane Gifford

Jean Kitts Young amassed a half-century of volunteer service and political activism ranging from civic advocacy and governmental reform to work on behalf of the Republican Party in Oregon. “Few people,” U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield wrote, “have ever, and I emphasize the word ever, compiled a working record such as [Young’s] in Oregon politics."

Young believed in advocating for women in all spheres of life. She told the Oregonian in 1979 that America’s tradition of voluntarism “is the strength of the country….So many people are helpless to help themselves. Those who can help should.” 

n an era marked by women leaders in Oregon politics, including Representative Edith Green and Senator Maurine Neuberger, Young was deeply involved in the Oregon Federation of Republican Women. She served as president from 1971 to 1973 and earned the title of Republican Woman of the Year in 1969. She won Republican Party primaries—and Oregonian endorsements—in the South City [Portland] Subdistrict in 1958 and 1966. 

Young represented the Republican Party on a legislative Interim Committee on Elections from 1955 to 1957 and served on the Republican State Central Committee for several years, including a six-year stint as secretary from 1954 to 1960. She was a presidential elector from 1960 onward, although not in 1964 when Goldwater was the Republican nominee for president. She served seventeen years on the King City Council (1974-1989), including eight as mayor (1981-1989).

Kathryn Harrison
by Kristine Olson

Kathryn Jones Harrison of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is one of Oregon's important tribal leaders. She is known especially for her work as a member of the Tribal Council of the Grand Ronde and for her contributions during the Termination era, a time when the Eisenhower Administration deprived tribes of formal "recognition."

In 1954, the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act ended the tribal status of sixty-one tribes in Oregon. In 1956, each Harrison family member received a $35 check from the sale of their land, but the loss of tribal status meant the end of access to Indian health care and educational services, further imperiling the Harrison family.  

In 1974, at age fifty, Kathryn Harrison left her abusive, alcoholic husband and went on welfare. She registered for classes at Lane Community College and, after graduating from the School of Nursing, got a job at the Lincoln City Hospital on the Oregon Coast.

Living near the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indian Reservation, Harrison reconnected with friends and relations there and was elected secretary of the Tribal Council. She joined in the successful effort to regain federal recognition for the tribes, testifying before Congress in 1976. Having succeeded in that effort, she returned to her father's tribal home at Grand Ronde and worked with other tribal leaders to achieve the official restoration of their tribal status in 1983. Harrison served on the Tribal Council at Grand Ronde for two decades, often in executive leadership roles.


Nancy Wyly Ryles

by Joan C. Johnson

In 1978, Ryles—a moderate, pro-choice Republican—was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives, where she served two terms. In 1982 and again in 1986, she was elected to the Oregon Senate. While a member of both the House and Senate, she was appointed to serve on the Education Commission of the States—an interstate, nonprofit, nonpartisan group.

Ryles considered passage of the 1981 bill mandating public kindergartens in Oregon one of her proudest legislative accomplishments. It completed an effort begun in 1965 by Justice Betty Roberts when she was a first-term legislator. According to the (Washington County) Times, however, "Ryles failed to win her greatest cause—the passage of two 'death with dignity' bills which would have expanded the rights of the terminally ill and injured." This legislation, based on the work of a Senate Task  Force which she co-chaired in 1985-86, finally passed in the early 1990s after her death.

On September 15, 1990, the Oregonian reported that Ryles "went about her duties . . . pursuing principle, building coalitions, advancing causes and earning respect and support regardless of party identity. She left her signature on laws that have strengthened the education system and advanced the causes of civil rights and human decency. As a problem-solver, she was among the best."

Ryles resigned her senate seat on May 15, 1987, when Governor Neil Goldschmidt appointed her the first woman to serve on the Public Utility Commission. That same year, the Oregon Commission for Women gave her the Oregon Women of Achievement Award, one of many honors she received in her lifetime.


Avel Gordly
by Patricia Schechter

In 1996, Avel Louise Gordly became the first African American woman to be elected to the Oregon State Senate. 

A key affiliation for Gordly was the Black United Front (BUF). A national civil rights group headquartered in Chicago, Portland’s dynamic BUF was founded in 1979 by a core group of activists, including Ronald Herndon and the Reverend John Jackson. In addition to handling media work for the group, Gordly coordinated the Front’s Saturday School, whose African American history program was tied to curriculum reform in the public education system. With the Front’s spin-off, Portlanders Organized for Southern African Freedom, and in concert with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Gordly helped score key anti-apartheid victories in Oregon during the 1980s, including the resignation of the South African consul from his Portland office and divestiture legislation in Salem.

In 1979, Gordly joined the Urban League of Portland as head of its Youth Service Center. In 1983, AFSC hired her to lead their Southern Africa Program, which was focused on anti-apartheid and refugee relief, and Gordly made national headlines when she was promoted to regional director of AFSC. Gordly was resident coordinator of a safe-haven program for youth at the House of Umoja in northeast Portland when she was tapped to fill a vacancy created by a retirement in the legislature in 1991. The call came from the community, first from political activist Thalia Zepatos and also the local Black Leadership Conference (BLC). Zepatos and BLC's call was echoed and supported by other activists, local leaders, friends, and allies who were all eager for Gordly to serve.

Gordly was subsequently elected state representative from north and northeast Portland in 1992, and she served until retiring in 2009.


Susan Castillo
by Kimberly Jensen

Susan Castillo was the first Latina elected to the Oregon State Legislature and the first to hold statewide elected office as superintendent of public instruction. She was also the last person to fill that post, which was abolished by legislation in 2011. Castillo made important legislative and policy contributions to Oregon and has provided leadership during challenging times for education in the state and the nation.

On January 17, 1997, when she was sworn in as a Democratic state senator, Castillo became the first Latina to serve in the Oregon legislature. During her years in the state senate, from 1997 to 2002, she was vice chair of the Education Committee (1999 to 2001) and worked for women’s rights, including sponsoring a successful 1997 bill requiring Oregon insurers to provide equal prescription coverage for contraceptives for women. She also sponsored bills on farmworker and immigrant rights, voter registration, and the tracking of pesticides. Castillo served on the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs and the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Agricultural Labor.

In 2002, Castillo won election as Oregon superintendent of public instruction and held that office from January 3, 2003, to June 30, 2012—a year when the state system served 500,000 students. She was an advocate for students of color and those from low-income households, supporting increased Head Start coverage, full-day kindergarten, and English for second-language learners. She sponsored awards for schools with the best records for educating all students and worked to prioritize teacher training for diverse cultural competencies in the curriculum.

Castillo petitioned the federal government for exceptions to the No Child Left Behind Act, to revise measurements of student success in math and reading, and to focus on graduation rates. During her tenure as superintendent, Castillo was criticized for not moving quickly enough to prevent delays in implementing stronger high school diploma standards and graduation rates, which were just 66 percent in 2009 and 2010 and 67 percent for students graduating in 2011.


Stu Rasmussen
by Joe Fitzgibbon

In a state heralded for its tolerance, Stu Rasmussen stands out. The charismatic city council member of Silverton—serving terms in 1984-1996 and 2004-2008—was the first openly transgender mayor in the United States. He/she (the pronoun that Rasmussen prefers) once described himself/herself as “a dude, a heterosexual man who appears to be female.”

In the mostly conservative, agricultural community of 9,600 people guided by a strong mayor-city council government, Rasmussen—with flaming red hair, breast implants, stylish dresses, and high heels—might seem out of place. Voters elected Rasmussen several times, primarily because of his/her progressive thinking, fiscal conservatism, and leadership style. During council meetings and for functions as mayor, Rasmussen usually dressed conservatively and took a no-nonsense approach to running the city.

Rasmussen, a Silverton native, is easily the most recognized person in the community, in great part because he/she owns and runs the historic Palace Theater, located in the heart of the town’s Commercial National Historic District. As a teenager in the 1960s, Rasmussen sold tickets, ran the concession stand, and operated the projector for his/her father, Albert. As a young adult, Rasmussen managed the seventy-five-year-old theater and took over operations in 1984, the same year he/she was elected to city council.