Women of Olympia

Highlighting interesting and exceptional women of our community

This biographical series celebrates a diverse sampling of Olympia women, from all walks of life. We have sought to represent Olympia’s unsung, and in some cases the ordinary, as well as leaders and achievers from the distant to the recent past, and women’s rights advocates whose persistence won us the right to vote. In one way or another, they all persisted. They are a part of our heritage today.

Several entries include personal reflections written by women in our community today, including local artists, writers, professionals, historians, and our city Mayor. Their heartfelt reflections stand as witness to our deep connections to each other, to the present, and to the past.

Women of Olympia is a celebration of National Historic Preservation Month and the 2020 National Women’s Suffrage Centennial. Impossibly incomplete, we acknowledge this is just a sampling of the depth and talent of the women of Olympia over the course of time.

Amanda Benek Smith portrait

Amanda Benek Smith (1906-1996)

In 1953 Amanda Smith became the first female mayor of Olympia and the first female mayor for a US state capital city. Born in France in 1906, Amanda’s family immigrated to the US when she was very young.

Olympia’s First Madam Mayor

In 1953 Amanda Smith became the first female mayor of Olympia and the first female mayor for a US state capital city. Born in France in 1906, Amanda’s family immigrated to the US when she was very young. Amanda graduated from Olympia’s Dietz Business College (then located in the Capitol Park Building at 11th and Capitol Way, site of the State’s new Helen Sommers Building). Following graduation, she began her career at the Thurston County Courthouse, right across the street.

Amanda went on to work for the Olympia Credit Bureau where she quickly promoted to management. In 1931 she married Charles Rochon Smith, and they purchased the Credit Bureau and ran it together until Charles’ death in 1964. The couple had one child.

An active community volunteer, Amanda Smith was spurred into public service by a desire for greater city responsiveness and reforms. She served as mayor for two terms, from 1953 to 1960, a period of growth and modernization that included construction of Interstate 5, the damming of the Deschutes River to create Capitol Lake, a fight alongside Margaret McKenny to save Sylvester Park from becoming a State parking garage, and the inaugural Lakefair Festival in 1957.

Amanda is remembered as a reformer on both large and small scale, bringing greater efficiencies to the organization of the police department for example, while making an effort to visit prisoners at the jail on Fridays and ensuring they had good reading materials. She banned gambling in downtown, moved the city dump from State Avenue to the outskirts of town, and advocated for the planting of street trees.

Reflection by Cheryl Selby

Cheryl Selby was elected Mayor of Olympia in November 2015, after serving two years on City Council. She was reelected in 2019. She has lived in Olympia since 1994.

The first female Olympia Mayor, Amanda Smith, left office the year I was born. As only the third female mayor in over 160 years of Olympia history, I often wish I had been able to meet her. Mayor Smith’s desire to build a world class capital city is what initially drove me to run for office and is what sustains me as I enter my second term.

Much has changed for Olympia in the 60 years since she left office, but after reading more about her years as mayor, it’s remarkable how many of the challenges we face are still the same. How I wish I could interview her now about surviving the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic as we battle our current COVID-19 crisis!

Mayor Smith legacy lives on in many public projects across infrastructure, public safety and parks.

I appreciate that we have this opportunity to look back on the amazing impact of this woman who truly shaped the community we call Olympia.

Sources and links

Ann Elizabeth White Bigelow (1836-1926)

Born in Springfield, Illinois in 1836, Ann Elizbeth White came west with her mother and siblings over the Oregon Trail in 1851 to join her father in Oregon. The family lived in the Portland area and in Chehalis, and then moved to Chambers Prairie.

A remarkable life from covered wagon to the advent of the airplane

Contributed by Shanna Stevenson with assistance from George and Pam Bigelow

Born in Springfield, Illinois in 1836, Ann Elizbeth White came west with her mother and siblings over the Oregon Trail in 1851 to join her father in Oregon. The family lived in the Portland area and in Chehalis, and then moved to Chambers Prairie.

Recognized as one the county’s earliest Euro-American teachers, Ann Elizabeth taught school at the Packwood House on the Nisqually River. She told about teaching:

“My school was on the Nisqually flats. I taught the three Rs with no frills. The school room was one of the bedrooms in the Packwood house and my pupils were the Packwood, McAllister and Shaser children. Every Monday morning I rode to my school on horse back, turned the horse loose and it would run home. On Fridays my brother came for me.”

She married Harvard-educated lawyer, legislator, Probate Judge and fellow Oregon Trail pioneer Daniel Bigelow in 1854. By one account, the marriage was “One of the most notable events of early pioneer days around Olympia.” Bigelow was 30 and she was 18 when they married. He was well-educated and serious, his diary noting the occasion with “I was married,” on June 18, 1854. She was adventurous, as illustrated by her account of crossing the plains, “We had a campfire in the center and had a great deal of fun on the way, for there were many young people in our train.”

The Gothic Revival Style home they built overlooking Budd Inlet in 1860 is one of Olympia’s oldest surviving homes today. In a 1923 reminiscence, Ann Elizabeth said of her new home, “I was so pleased with my two-room mansion. The furniture for this palatial home consisted of seven chairs, a table, two bedsteads, a cook stove and a stove in the living room. It was one of the long-to-be-remembered days of my life when we bought some lace curtains for the house.”

The Bigelows had interactions with area Native Americans in their prominent Olympia homestead. There is evidence that they met Snoqualmie Chief Patkanim, who came to Budd Inlet during the Indian War to negotiate with Isaac Stevens through the priests at Priest Point Mission. There is also an account of a visit to the house by Betsy Edgar of Nisqually and Yakama descent, wife of John Edgar.

In the 1860s the Bigelows hosted some of the “Mercer Girls,” and Mrs. Bigelow was a member of the reception Committee. She must have made a good impression; of the 64 east coast women who came to Seattle in 1866, 16 later settled or lived in Olympia.

Mrs. Bigelow along with her mother were among the 16 women who called for a Territorial Suffrage Convention in Olympia (using her own name!) in November 1871. She and Daniel Bigelow were active in the convention along with Susan B. Anthony, who had dinner at the Bigelow House that year and declared Mrs. Bigelow “Splendid.” Mrs. Bigelow registered to vote in 1883 - as soon as women were allowed during the Territorial Era.

After Daniel’s death in 1905 she lived on until 1926. Her obituary described her as a fine horsewoman who later became “very fond of motoring and purchased an automobile.” It also noted that “her orchard and her garden were her pet hobbies and she developed her home into one of the beauty spots in the capital city.”

The Bigelow House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is owned and maintained by the non-profit Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum who acquired it in the 1990s. The house has the original furnishings, clothing, books, photographs and papers of the family and is open for tours.

Sources and links

  • “Ann Bigelow Pioneer Dies,” Seattle Post Intelligencer, February 8, 1926.
  • Robert A. Bennett, ”M. M. Ruddell”  in A Small World of Our Own, Walla Walla:  Pioneer Press: 1985, pg. 162-167.
  • Mrs. George Blankenship, Early History of Thurston County, Washington Together with Biographies and Reminiscences of Those Identified With Pioneer Days, Olympia: n.p., 1914, (Facsimile Reproduction, Seattle:  The Shorey Book Store, 1972), 206-211.
  • Marie Rowe Dunbar, “Indians Haunted Pioneer of Olympia,” Tacoma Sunday Ledger, November 19, 1923, Magazine Section, p. 5.
  • “Flowers Last Thought As Oldest Pioneer Dies,” Olympia Recorder, February 8, 1926.
  • Joseph Hazard, Pioneer Teachers of Washington, Seattle Retired Teacher Association.  Seattle: Hanford Printing Co. 1955, pg. 43-45.
  • Edmond Meany, “Living Pioneers:  Mrs. Ann Elizabeth Bigelow,” Seattle Post Intelligencer, April 3, 1926.
  • “Mrs. C. W. [sic] Bigelow Pioneer Teacher of Thurston County, Morning Olympian? September 1, 1922, pg. 5.
  • Library of Congress, Susan B. Anthony Papers: Daybook and Diaries, 1856-1906; Diaries; 1865, October 18, 1871
  • The New Northwest, October 27, 1871.
  • “Oldest Pioneer of Olympia Is Dead,” Daily Olympian, February 9, 1926.
  • Isaac Stevens Papers at Washington State Archives.
  • Voting Records at Washington State Archives SW540-3-0-5_p0047.
  • “Woman Resident of Thurston County for 71 Years Dies,” Seattle Times, February 8, 1926.
  • “Woman Suffrage Convention,” The New Northwest, November 3, 1871, pg. 2.
  • “Woman Suffrage Convention,” The New Northwest, November 17, 1871, pg. 2.

Barbara O'Neill (1936-2008)

Before her death in 2008, Barbara provided free holiday dinners for those in need for 38 years beginning in 1971. She began serving meals in her kitchen and then moved to her restaurant at 4th and Columbia Streets where she featured soul food and music.

Generous Visionary and Founder of Barb’s Soul Food

Contributed by Thelma Jackson

Barbara O'Neill, compassionate, inspirational, visionary, woman of integrity and accountability was born April 23, 1936 in Harlem, New York. She was raised by her aunt and uncle after the loss of her parents at a very early age. She came to Washington by way of her husband's military service in the 1960's and later the family moved to the North Thurston area in 1969. Lacking the features and characteristics of true city life as they knew it, her family embraced the North Thurston area because of the employment and educational opportunities during that time. Washington, in the North Thurston area, became home to the O'Neill family to include her sons Gregory and Rodney, and daughters, Sheryl and Nina.

Before her death in 2008, Barbara provided free holiday dinners for those in need for 38 years beginning in 1971. She began serving meals in her kitchen and then moved to her restaurant at 4th and Columbia Streets where she featured soul food and music. She later moved to a larger facility at the United Churches building and the tradition continues today through “Barb O'Neill's Family & Friends," which provides holiday meals to over 2,500 people annually, as well as 500 Easter Baskets.

Barb O'Neill was active in various organizations in Thurston County including the Board of Washington State Employees Credit Union (WSECU), Founding Member of New Life Baptist Church, Board of Generations Credit Union, President of the YWCA, President of the Thurston Urban League Committee, Washington Center for the Performing Arts Board, Community Action Council Board, and Founding Member of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Barb graduated from The Evergreen State College in 1977. She was named Grand Marshal of the 2003 Lakefair Parade.

Reflection by Thelma Jackson

Dr. Thelma Jackson has resided in the Lacey area for more than 50 years, served on numerous Boards, Commissions and Task Forces in leadership capacities of community, civic, and service organizations, and is the recipient of a number of recognitions and awards for educational and community service; some of which she founded. Thelma and her husband Nat of 54 years are the proud parents of three children and the grandparents of four granddaughters.

Barbara O'Neill was an extraordinary individual who epitomized public service as a personal responsibility. She was a prime example of the kind of human being that I greatly admired for her caring, compassion, and commitment to the underserved and disenfranchised in our community. Barbara was a visionary who saw a problem and recognized a need among those individuals and families who suffered from hunger, homelessness and the lack of a family structure and chose to do something about it.

She recognized the need for community unity, for all people to be embraced by their community regardless of their origin, racial background, culture, or economic status. The underserved and the homeless weighed on her heart long before the community recognized the need for food banks and community kitchens. This led to the establishment of her organization "Barb O'Neill's Family & Friends," a non-profit organization that started fifty years ago with free Thanksgiving dinners for people in need. This annual activity expanded to Christmas dinners and toys for children, clothes and furniture for people in need, and Easter Basket Giveaways in the Spring. Her inspiration attracted numerous resources, supporters, volunteers and generosity from throughout the community.

My life has been enriched and my community activism was influenced by this role model. Several years ago, before her death, I prepared a nomination application for Barbara to be recognized as Thurston County Citizen of the Year and was so very disappointed that she was not selected given her many years of outstanding service to this community. I am so pleased to see her legacy being carried on by her son, Rodney. She will always be an important part of this area's history and I shall always remember her for her love and graciousness to all.

Cora Pinson (1934-1994)

Cora was a legislative liaison for the Washington State Department of Employment Security and served on the Olympia City Council from 1987 to 1991, becoming only the second Black woman in the state to hold such a position.

First Black Olympia City Council Member, Champion for African American History in Our Community

Contributed by Shanna Stevenson in collaboration with Dr. Thelma Jackson and Edward Echtle

Cora Pinson was born March 7, 1934 to Vada Pinson Sr. and Josephine Alexander Pinson in Holly springs, Mississippi.

Cora was a legislative liaison for the Washington State Department of Employment Security and served on the Olympia City Council from 1987 to 1991, becoming only the second Black woman in the state to hold such a position. She also served on the Housing Authority of Thurston County, the county Economic Development Council, the Greater Olympia Visitor and Convention Bureau, the Eastside Neighborhood Association and a credit union board. She was very active in the Kiwanis Club of Olympia and the New Life Baptist Church of Olympia. Cora lived in Olympia for 18 years.

Cora Pinson worked hard, in a remarkable variety of ways, to bring recognition to the contributions of African Americans in our local community. She created and produced a local radio show emphasizing cultural diversity. She was the founder of the Thurston County Black Historical and Cultural Society; a founding member and first president of the Olympia Capitol Chapter of Blacks in Government; and founder and chair of Capital City Caucus, National League of Cities in Washington, D. C. She was president of the Northwest Conference of Black Elected Officials and served as chair of the Region 6 Advisory Council for the Department of Social and Health Services. Cora Pinson was a member of The National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials and was Precinct 15 officer for the Thurston County Democratic Party.

Cora died January 17, 1994 in a Seattle hospital. She was recognized by the Washington State Senate for her contributions in January, 1994.

Sources and links

  • Obituary for Cora Pinson in The Olympian
  • Senate Resolution 1994-8663 sponsored by Senators Fraser and Franklin.

Elizabeth Ayer (1897-1987)

Elizabeth Ayer was the first woman graduate of the professional architecture program at the University of Washington where she excelled despite persistent sexism, and the first registered female architect in the State of Washington.

Washington’s First Female Registered Architect

Elizabeth Ayer was the first woman graduate of the professional architecture program at the University of Washington where she excelled despite persistent sexism, and the first registered female architect in the State of Washington. She forged a distinguished career over five decades and has been called a pioneer in 20th century architecture.

Born in Thurston County in 1897, Ayer was the great-granddaughter of settlers from Missouri who came to the area in 1851, only a year after Olympia had been platted. She was the granddaughter of Olympia Mayor Isaac Chase Ellis, and the daughter of Charles Henry Ayer, Superior Court Judge and also a Mayor of Olympia. She graduated from Olympia High School.

Working as a Seattle architect, Elizabeth established a strong reputation for fine residential design in a style often called English Revival, simplified to suit a modern American aesthetic and clientele. She also served as an architect in the United States Engineers’ Office during World War II. Ayer designed many distinguished homes in the Seattle area, and there are two known Ayer-designed homes in Olympia. The residence at 301 21st Ave SW (pictured above) was built in 1923 for Supreme Court Justice Jessie B. Bridges. It has many hallmarks of Ayer’s style. The state-owned duplex at 1417 Columbia Street known as the White House is a simplified Ayer design.

Ayer retired as principal of Ayer and Lamping and returned to the South Sound to live in Lacey, where she served on the Planning Commission through 1980.

Reflection by Debra Delzell

Debra Delzell is a Civil Engineer working for the State of Washington’s Department of Enterprise Services. She is currently detailed to help with the State’s Emergency Operations Center at Camp Murray during the COVID crisis.

As a State Construction Project Manager, I have worked on Public Works project all over the state, including numerous projects at the Washington State Capitol Campus and at our state community colleges. In this role I’ve had the opportunity to visit and tour two residences designed by architect Elizabeth Ayer. Elizabeth’s work feels distinctive for its time.

One of her residences in Olympia is on the Capitol Campus. For decades it has been leased by the state as offices, to representatives of the news media. It is a sweet two-story home of simple design with charming details and a unique character. The home’s interiors include spaces that seem as if they were designed with the personal needs of her client in mind. There is a small, cozy space for an office or library and the kitchen has a breakfast nook with built in-seating. Ayer often used shaped edge trim such as scalloping to define these spaces, adding a light, feminine flourish.

Ayer had a way of designing a home that felt grand on the one hand, with sweeping staircases and large entries, but also personal, cozy, and comfortable. I also had the pleasure of visiting an expansive home in Bremerton, WA designed by Ayer. This home included rooms clearly designed to fit the lifestyle and personality of her client, featuring music rooms with special seating, a sewing studio with built in ironing board and layout table, and an intimate reading nook. The kitchen was designed to be gathering space, somewhat unique for the time, with built-in seating and ample space for more than one cook. The grand living and dining room were proportioned to incorporate the client’s collections and passion for art, not hidden from view but highlighted to be shared with their guests. Grand bookcases and window seats flanked a grand fireplace.

The Bremerton residence further highlighted Ayer’s talent for extending her custom design to the landscape, so that it related to and enhanced the residence. The original residents of the home were horticulturalists who had collected plants from all over. Elizabeth was able to artfully bring the beauty of the gardens inside by thoughtful placement of the windows, doors and outside seating spaces. It was magnificent and masterful.

Sources and links

Emma Page (1852-1910)

Emma Elizabeth Page is perhaps Olympia’s best known animal rights activist. Blinded at age seven in an accident, she did not let her blindness stop her from living an active life in an era when disabled people faced much discrimination.

That fountain in Sylvester Park? A tribute to Olympia’s best-known animal rights activist

Contributed by Jennifer Crooks

Emma Elizabeth Page is perhaps Olympia’s best known animal rights activist. She was born July 30, 1852 in Metamore, Illinois. Blinded at age seven in an accident, she did not let her blindness stop her from living an active life in an era when disabled people faced much discrimination. Graduating from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Emma taught music. She later taught private music and public speaking lessons in Olympia.

In 1888, Emma and her family moved to homestead in Wyoming where Emma became an organizer and lecturer for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.). She served as a county delegate for her father’s Prohibition Party, later becoming party chair when he became ill. She even ran for office for the State House of Representatives, but lost.

In 1893, Emma relocated to Olympia to join family. Emma dedicated herself to W.C.T.U. work. In 1895 she officially became an organizer and lecturer for the group’s Department of Mercy, which promoted the rights of animals.  As part of her work she organized speaking contests and gave lectures throughout the state. She was also an ordained minister at the First Christian Church, Olympia.

In 1895, through the lobbying efforts of the W.C.T.U. and Emma, the State Legislature passed a law, which is still in effect, requiring that schools teach students about kindness to animals. Emma also wrote many short stories, poems, pamphlets and books about animal welfare. Perhaps her most famous work is a textbook Heart Culture.

Emma Page died on July 27, 1910. The local W.C.T.U. decided to dedicate a drinking fountain to her memory. Funded through speaking contests throughout the state, it was installed at Sylvester Park in Olympia in 1912. The fountain was rededicated in 2000 after being vandalized and restored. True to Emma’s love of animals, it includes a trough for animals.

Sources and links

  • Lynn Erickson, Sylvester’s Window, 2005.
  • “Local Leader of W.C.T.U. Passes Away.” Morning Olympian (Olympia, WA), July 28, 1910.
  • “Memory of Miss Page Honored by W.C.T.U.” Morning Olympian (Olympia, WA), June 30, 1912.

Frances Haskell (1871-1947)

Frances M. Haskell spent time in Olympia as the only woman in the state legislature when she was elected to represent Pierce County in 1919. Frances was a devout Methodist, Republican, and worked tirelessly for women’s suffrage.

One Woman’s Voice

Biography and Reflection contributed by Bryan Willis, with information provided by the Washington State Historical Society. Special thanks to Keith Eisner for additional research.

  • Birth: 1871?, New York
  • Death: November 26, 1947, Tacoma, Washington
  • Party Affiliation: Republican
  • Years Served: 1919-1921
  • Office: Representative
  • District: 38 (Pierce County)

Personal

  • Resided in Tacoma, Washington. Married to Herbert B. Haskell.

Affiliations

  • First Methodist Church, Tacoma

Legislative and State Service

  • Led in securing the law for equal pay for men and women teachers.
  • Committees: (1919) Public Morals, chair; Education; Medicine, Surgery, Dentistry and Hygiene; State Libraries; State Soldiers’ and Veterans’ Homes (1921) Appropriations; Education; Medicine, Surgery, Dentistry and Hygiene; State Library; State Soldiers’ and Veterans’ Homes
  • House Bills sponsored: (1919 session)
  • 71 - Relating to juvenile insurance by fraternal benefit societies. Signed by Governor Lister.
  • 145 - Providing for the care of graves of soldiers, sailors, and marines. Went to third reading.
  • House Joint Resolutions sponsored: (1920 session)
  • 1-Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States extending the right of Suffrage to women. Passed.

Leadership, Positions, and Appointments

  • Introduced the Federal Suffrage Amendment upon ratification on March 22, 1920 at an extraordinary session of the Washington State legislature
  • Held a number of national offices with the Ladies of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic)
  • National President of the Ladies of the G.A.R., 1939
  • Superintendent of the Ladies’ G.A.R. Home, Puyallup, n.d.

Frances M. Haskell spent time in Olympia as the only woman in the state legislature when she was elected to represent District 38 (Pierce county) in 1919. Frances was a devout Methodist, Republican, worked tirelessly for women’s suffrage and later served as the National President of the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.).

She was also in Olympia at the time of the opening of the Hotel Olympian, which soon became the social and political hub of the community (some historians speculate more laws were passed in the Hotel than in the adjacent Capitol Building). It is unknown whether or not Frances supported moving the capitol to Tacoma (it was thought that Olympia lacked adequate accommodations for the legislature, lobbyists and tourists), though she was an active member of the legislative session which approved additional funds to complete Olympia’s new capital campus. Governor Hart made reference to these negotiations during his speech at the Hotel’s Gala Opening.

Local actress Debe Edden will be portraying Frances in a re-enactment of the opening day gala for the Hotel Olympian (scene written by Keith Eisner). On the actual day in July 1920, small tours were conducted before the ceremonies (featuring Gov. Hart, Mayor/funeral parlor owner Jesse T. Mills & others) which officially opened the Hotel. In our re-enactment, “Frances” will be leading one of these tours and it’s quite possible she’ll have stern words regarding the committee formed to create the “Special Punch” served during the musical entertainment and speechmaking scheduled for the evening’s Gala. Of course, federal Prohibition has been passed in 1919 but the laws had just recently taken effect. What a challenge it must have been for her, as the only woman among all those fellas, fighting for such “outlandish” ideas as Equal Pay for male & female teachers – an issue which still, unfortunately, has yet to be resolved in today’s mainstream workforce.

Thank you to our sponsors, including the Thurston County Historic Commission, Olympia Arts Commission and PBIA Downtown Parking District, for supporting our upcoming production, “The Hotel Olympian 100th Anniversary and Grand Gala Extravaganza,” directed by Deane Shellman, musical director Daven Tillinghast, lead writer (and native Olympian) Bryan Willis.

Sara Genevra Chafra Lake Cutter (1844-1921)

In 1898, with a national reputation as a Spiritualist lecturer devoted to topics of women’s rights, love, marriage and divorce, Genevra Lake advertised that she was establishing a vegetarian commune near Olympia, Washington.

Turn of the Century Poet, Minister and Advocate for Women’s Rights Who Pushed the Boundaries of Convention

Contributed by Shanna Stevenson with special thanks for Dr. Albert von Frank for his assistance

In 1898, with a national reputation as a Spiritualist lecturer devoted to topics of women’s rights, love, marriage and divorce, Genevra Lake advertised that she was establishing a vegetarian commune near Olympia, Washington. She later started a radical independent church here as well. As a nationally recognized “Poet Prophet and Teacher” Olympia newspapers regularly covered accounts of her activity. Her progressive ideas and connections to national figures combined with the strength of her own experiences made for captivating reading.

In her early years Genevra taught school, studied elocution, published poetry and performed as a “dramatic reader” at the Union Square Theater in New York City, preparing her for a life on stage as a lecturer.

In 1874 she married a Catholic priest, Henry S. Lake and they fled to California fearing persecution. Lake died just a year later, and spiritually awakened, Mrs. Lake began lecturing with an anti-Catholic theme and a quest to connect with the deceased through the spirit world. In 1877, she married fellow spiritualist William F. Peck in Oregon but with a specific marriage contract, a reflection of her belief in equal marriage. She was known to be follower of Victoria Woodhull (early feminist and the first woman to run for the Presidency, in 1872).

Lake’s lecturing continued for the rest of her life, guided by her spiritual beliefs and well-tuned to social and political movements of the day. She lectured widely on human rights in 1878, turned to women’s rights by 1884, and following a difficult divorce from Peck which was widely covered in the Boston papers, she lectured on love, marriage, and divorce, in 1891. That year her audience included suffragist Susan B. Anthony, and Lake naturally evolved into a strong advocate for women’s right to vote.

When the National American Woman Suffrage Association met in Seattle in July 1909 to kick off the suffrage amendment campaign, Lake was called upon to memorialize the convention with a well-published poetic anthem to women’s rights, “Flags of All Nations Where Woman is Known as the Equal of Man.” Lake continued to use her rhetorical skills for the cause in Washington until the Washington State Constitution was amended in November 1910, empowering most Washington women to vote.

Soon after, the first all-woman jury in the state was empaneled in Olympia, in December 1910. Genevra Lake joined four other activists on what was described in the national press as an “all suffragist jury.”

Lake continued to appear in Olympia papers as a poet and preacher until her third husband and spiritual companion J. B. Cutter died in 1920. At his death, Lake refused to let his body be taken away and a charge of insanity was leveled against her, citing an “over-active brain.”

In early 1921, Lake was committed to Western State Hospital in Washington and died there less than two weeks later, February 12, 1921. She is buried near Cutter in Olympia.

Sources and links

  • The most active part of Mrs. Lake’s career, from 1885 to 1892, is well covered in the Boston periodical Banner of Light, the nation’s leading spiritualist journal.
  • See also Albert von Frank and Phyllis Cole, “Margaret Fuller: How She Haunts,” ESQ: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American literature and Culture, 64.1 (2018): 66-131, and von Frank, “Mrs. Lake and Margaret Fuller’s Posthumous Lecture on ‘Home,’” in Conversations: The Newsletter of the Margaret Fuller Society, Spring, 2019;
  • Newspaper accounts in the Olympia Daily Recorder and Morning Olympian;
  • Dee Morris, Boston in the Golden Age of Spiritualism: Seances, Mediums & Immortality, (Charleston, S. C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2014);
  • Madame Lake:  Speaking for the Future”; Washington State Archives records and probate files;
  • Lydia R. Chase, Biographical Sketch of Mrs. H. S. Lake, Speaker of the First Spiritual Temple (Boston: The Spiritual Fraternity, 1891);
  • Three chapters of autobiography in The Light of Truth, a Spiritualist journal, March and April, 1900.

Georgiana Mitchell Smith Blankenship (1862-1936)

Blankenship was an active clubwoman as a member of the Pioneer Historical Society of Thurston County, Order of the Eastern Star, Ladies Relief Society of Olympia, Eenati, Woman’s Club of Olympia and was vice-president of the Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Author, suffragist, historian of Thurston County’s early pioneers

By Shanna Stevenson

Georgiana Blankenship was born in Minnesota to George and Elizabeth Pennimer Mitchell. She crossed the plains three times with her parents before she was twelve, the family eventually settling in Spokane, where she worked as city librarian. She married Frank Smith in Boise, Idaho in 1880 and had two children. She later married George Blankenship in Olympia in 1892.

Blankenship was an active clubwoman as a member of the Pioneer Historical Society of Thurston County, Order of the Eastern Star, Ladies Relief Society of Olympia, Eenati, Woman’s Club of Olympia and was vice-president of the Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs. During the Washington Suffrage movement, she was active as the President of the Olympia Political Equality Club and delegate to the 1909 National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention. Her home in the South Capitol Neighborhood was a meeting and gathering place for suffragists. Blankenship was also an avid bicyclist in the 1890s.

She was a correspondent writer for the Seattle Times and Portland Oregonian. Her most important work was as compiler and editor of Early History of Thurston County, Washington: Together with Biographies and Reminiscences of Those Identified with Pioneer Days. Also known as “Tillicum Tales” and written in 1914 as Mrs. Blankenship interviewed remaining original pioneers and their families, it stands as the greatest single contribution to the perpetuation of the record of those pioneers.  The digital version of Tillicum Tales is available on Internet Archive.

Sources and links

Harriet Humphrey Henderson Noble (1856-1925)

Married at 17 years of age, Harriet Humphrey Henderson moved to Olympia in 1878, raised six children, adopted two more in 1899, and was twice-divorced by 1914, once for “desertion” and the second time for “abandonment and cruelty.”

 

One-woman adoption agency

Married at 17 years of age, Harriet Humphrey Henderson moved to Olympia in 1878, raised six children, adopted two more in 1899, and was twice-divorced by 1914, once for “desertion” and the second time for “abandonment and cruelty.” She moved with her two youngest daughters into the prominent home at 503 Puget Street (pictured above) owned by Harriet’s younger sister, Hanna Florence Humphrey, who also shared the house with her mother, a cousin, and a boarder. The house continued its legacy as a boardinghouse, was remodeled into multiple small apartments in the 1940’s and has long been known as Henderson House.

Oral history, newspaper articles and circumstantial evidence, taken together, point to Harriet as the deliverer of eight or more “doorstep babies” – infants that appeared on the porches of well-to-do Olympia families between 1899 and 1902. Olympia society was apparently tolerant of the practice and protected identities. Reporting on an abandoned child, The Morning Olympian of November 22, 1899 said that “In some quarters, at least, it is definitely known who the parents of the child are, and…the identity of the party who carried the baby to the porch is also known…it is the old story, and no one would be the gainer by the publication of the names in the case.” As the story is told, the wealthy families took the infants in and raised them as their own. One of the adopted babies became mayor of Olympia (J.T. Trullinger, 1941).

Harriet’s own two daughters were adopted in the same year as the first documented doorstep baby. Options for unwed mothers were few in this period. Olympia did not have an orphanage, and illegitimate children were distinctly disadvantaged in society.

Harriet was a deeply religious, 35-year member of the Methodist Episcopal church and the Pentecostal Mission located in Olympia’s downtown red-light district. The church moved in 1919 to a new building at 618 Puget Street, constructed on property donated by Harriet. In her local history of Olympia’s East side neighborhoods titled Workingman’s Hill, Rebecca Christie concludes that “Mrs. Harriet Henderson may well have been filling an unmet need in Olympia by acting as a highly selective, one-woman adoption agency, carefully choosing the prospective parents and delivering infants to their doorsteps, secure in the knowledge they would be cared for in good Christian homes.”

Reflection by Madeline Jennings

Madeline Jennings is an Olympia native. She holds a teaching degree from Western Washington University and bartends at Dillinger’s.

When I first moved into the black house at 503 Puget Street last June multiple friends asked me the same question, “Didn’t that house used to be a brothel or something?” Intrigued by the thought that the building could have such an interesting past, I looked into it.

I found out that the house was built in the 1880s and became known as the Henderson House for its most renowned occupant, Harriet Henderson. She was a three-time divorcee who moved in with her sister Miss Florence Humphrey, who never married. Florence actively invested in local real estate and owned the big house at 503 Puget. Go girls. Even to have been divorced three times in Mrs. Henderson’s era is crazy, but that’s not what she or the house became known for.

The story is that Harriet cultivated relationships with the prostitutes working in downtown Olympia and would offer them help and resources. In that same period a number of babies were mysteriously left on the doorsteps of wealthy families in the Oly area. The lore is that this was Harriet’s way of re-homing children that the prostitutes couldn’t keep. I like to think that she may have guessed who the likely fathers might have been... but there’s no evidence of that.

It’s funny to me how community gossip and imagination can rewrite the history of a building or a person. Perhaps because the house is large and dark and looms over Puget Street, the legend that lives on in my generation of Olympia gossip suggests it saw dark times, and that Harriet was some kind of infamous bawd looking out for her girls. From all the actual evidence of Harriet, she seems to have been devoutly Christian and perceived by her community as being of high moral character.

Sources and links

Ida Yeager Burford (1886-1964)

A descendant of local pioneer families, Ida Burford was born in Olympia on March 10, 1886 and resided in the community her entire life. She helped found several women's organizations in Olympia and Thurston County.

Founding Director-Curator of the State Capital Museum, education advocate and promoter of programs for women and girls

A descendant of local pioneer families, Ida Burford was born in Olympia on March 10, 1886 and resided in the community her entire life. The organizations she helped found in Olympia and Thurston County include a branch of the American Association of University Women, Girl Scouting in Thurston County, the Thurston County Pioneer Association and the Olympia chapter of the Daughters of Washington Pioneers.

It was with the support and dedication of the “Daughters”, that Ida and others were able to persuade the legislature that the capital city was the most suitable location for a museum of state-wide interest. Following the death of the wealthy Clarence Lord in 1937, his daughter and widow deeded the family’s grand mansion to the State of Washington, “suggesting” that it serve as a museum. Organizing for the 1941 legislative session, pioneer descendants from across the state “took up residence in the capital city.” They packed the gallery viewing spots in the house and senate chambers to make their position clear - the mansion must become a museum. The bill to create the museum passed. The doors opened on March 5, 1942, and Ida became the first and long-time serving Director-Curator of the museum at age 53.

Dedicated to bringing history, natural history, arts and culture to the community, under her leadership the museum flourished. The museum opening included 44 chair-people representing nearly 20 different committees and the entire officialdom of state government.

Ida was forward looking. In 1942 she had a communication committee, and by the late 1940s they were hosting live KIRO radio broadcasts of events from the museum. Ida maintained ongoing correspondence with members of Washington State’s congressional delegation. She asked for assistance in the 1950s television broadcast from the museum and for help obtaining artifacts to add to the museum’s collection.

Ida is credited with establishing a wealth of archived materials including manuscripts, furnishings, artifacts and early photographs donated by The Olympian. They are preserved and archived and are now an important part of the collections of the Washington State Historical Society.

Reflection by Susan Rohrer

Susan Rohrer retired from the Washington State Historical Society in 2019 following a 23-year career in the museum field including Manager of the State Capital Museum.  She is a member of the Olympia Heritage Commission.

As a staff member and later the manager of the State Capital Museum, I was frequently asked about exhibits Ida curated or made possible from the collections she amassed. The extensive rock and mineral collection, a large collection of historic newspapers, a ship in a bottle someone’s grandfather made and donated were all remembered. An elderly man stopped by once and described a bent, square nail he found as a child growing up in the museum’s neighborhood and donated. He assured me it was on display for many years, and I am certain it was.

Ida and her husband Richard Burford built their home at 1517-1519 Columbia Street in the South Capital Neighborhood, not far from the Lord Mansion and the Capitol Building. A charming duplex, Ida occupied the home (her husband passed away in 1948) until her death in 1964. I wonder how many days after she retired Ida walked over to the museum to see the exhibits her work created. My favorite picture features an elderly Ida breaking all museum rules by leaning against a glass exhibit case with her hands on the surface. She gazes lovingly into a display case of a miscellaneous collection of objects that today are more frequently found in antique store jumble than contemporary exhibits. Her dedication made the museum a beloved cornerstone of the Olympia community for many years.

Sources and links

  • City of Olympia Women’s History Walking Tour. Be sure to click on “55 more” in the left side bar and scroll down to Ida Burford
  • City of Olympia Historic Property Inventory Report, Ida Burford House
  • Olympia Historical Society entry on Ida Burford House
  • National Register of Historic Places entry on Lord Mansion
  • Rohrer, Susan. “From Mansion to Museum.”  In Olympia Washington: A People’s History, edited by Drew W. Crooks, 96-101, Olympia: City of Olympia, 2009.

Joyce Simmons Cheeka (1901-1974)

Born and raised at Mud Bay, WA, 1 of 7 children, was being trained as a Rememberer, some special person who is to remember important Dates, happenings, events, by her Grandfather Mud Bay Sam.

Biography and Reflection by Cecil Cheeka

Born and raised at Mud Bay, WA, 1 of 7 children, was being trained as a Rememberer, some special person who is to remember important Dates, happenings, events, by her Grandfather Mud Bay Sam.

At 10 years old she was taken to Indian Boarding School at Tulalip Indian Boarding School. Befriended by the school nurse she received nursing training.

She spoke Squaxin Island Lashootee and English but could only speak English. Attended several Boarding schools and at one met her future husband Ernest R. Cheeka Sr., Makah Indian.

Eventually, they married and had 7 children. They settled in Neah Bay, WA. While there she learned to speak and understand Makah language. Her husband Ernest R. Cheeka Sr. passed on in the early 1950’s and Joyce eventually moved back to Olympia in the mid 1950’s.

Upon settling she started to become involved in the community. Serving on quite a few committees, American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, Women’s Club, YWCA, to name a few. Also speaking at many organizations and schools.

She met a lady, Wernda Finley, who sponsored her in a Mother of the Year competition by Soroptimist International. Joyce won State of Washington, and 3rd National runner-up in 1965.

Her and her friend Werdna Finley, recorded many hours of her stories, happenings, etc. and put together in a yet unpublished book.

Along the way she taught languages to many teachers, she spoke Squaxin Island Lashootsee, Makah, and Chinook Trading Jargon.

Joyce Simmons Cheeka passed on Summer of 1974.

RIP Mom

My Mother, Joyce S. Cheeka touched and inspired many lives in her time her in this world. She still is through a play, The Rememberer by Steven Dietz, done for the Seattle Children’s Theater. Where I became an Actor.

This is just the “Tip of the Iceberg” so to speak of my Mother’s accomplishments.

Katie Gale (d.1899)

Katie Gale was an early oyster farmer and business person on Oyster Bay at the head of Totten Inlet from the late 1800s until her death. She was a Native American woman and among many refugees compelled to leave their villages by the war of 1855-56.

Independent Native American Oyster Farmer

Contributed by LLyn De Danaan, emerita, The Evergreen State College, author and anthropologist. Her book, Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), has been called “a masterpiece of creative interpretation.” She consulted for Washington Tribes, produced curricula with Indian educators and the State Superintendent of Public Education’s office, and received the State Historical Society’s Peace and Friendship Award.

Katie Gale was an early oyster farmer and business person on Oyster Bay at the head of Totten Inlet from the late 1800s until her death. She was a Native American woman and among many refugees compelled to leave their villages by the war of 1855-56 between indigenous people in Washington Territory and The United States Army and armed militia and volunteers. Treaties had established reservations in the territory, but Katie Gale joined relatives, including Louisa Kettle Tobin, James Tobin and Chief Kettle, in the Mud Bay and Oyster Bay area to cultivate and harvest oysters. They were among those who chose not to go to reservations but to live independently and engage in their own businesses or seek employment.

Around 1878, she met the entrepreneur Joseph Gale, a veteran of the Oregon Trail, who along with his partner moved to Mason County from Olympia to establish a business in the burgeoning oyster industry. Joseph and Katie eventually married and together acquired many acres of tidelands and uplands. They had three children. Two of those children survived their parents and inherited a small fortune from Katie upon her death.

Katie and her husband were estranged after about 1893. According to court records, he abused and neglected her and the family. Katie went to court and, famously, argued her case against Joseph and was ultimately awarded a considerable share of the property that the couple had accumulated. It was an important victory for a woman and one that proved Katie's mettle. She carried on with her own oyster business after the courtroom victories and was described as a strong, independent, and admirable woman by those who knew her.

In the last years of her life, Katie managed her business with hired laborers including Cora G. Chase’s parents. Cora recorded her recollections in, The Oyster Was Our World: Life on Oyster Bay, 1898-1914. (Shorey Bookstore: 1981).

Katie Gale died in August of 1899. Her grave is high above the Oyster Bay tidelands she worked.

Sources and links

Mary Anna Phillips Rambo, Lillian Phillips and Pearl Harder

Lillian and Pearl were half-sisters who lived together on Central Street in Olympia, both daughters of Mary Anna Rambo, by different fathers. Their partnership became their lasting story as co-owners of the Gwen Gayle Market at the corner of State and Central.

 

Window into a Local Family History

Lillian and Pearl were half-sisters who lived together on Central Street in Olympia, both daughters of Mary Anna Rambo, by different fathers. Mary Anna was born in 1862. Her family settled in Steilacoom, and she made her way to Olympia in 1871, where she met and married Albert Phillips, a shoemaker 16 years her senior. They had four children, the last of whom, Lillian, was born in 1890 the same year that Albert passed away. Mary Anna married Harry Rambo, a fireman, in 1891, and he built a home for the family at 222 Central Street.

Sisters Retta and Pearl were born sometime before 1900. By 1910, only the younger children, Lillian, Pearl and Retta, lived at the Central Street home with Mary Anna. Older sister Margaret and her husband ran the Rainier Hotel in downtown Olympia in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Lillian and Retta worked at the knitting mills, and later Retta worked for Mottman Mercantile. Lillian also worked at the State License Department for 13 years.

Lilllian and Pearl’s partnership became their lasting story as co-owner of the Gwen Gayle Market through the 1930’s and 40’s, at the corner of State and Central (pictured above). The building is home today to a successful neighborhood pub. The sisters were known to run a tight grocery business, fully stocked with quality goods and willing to extend credit and fill orders for regular customers; but were reputed to be grouchy and by some accounts, did not get along. Both had seen tragedy, losing children at young ages. The store was a such a popular after-school candy stop for local children that the sisters would lock the doors and let only a few in at a time. Neighborhood children called it the “old maids store.” By another local recollection, Lillian taught a young girl to embroider, sitting behind the grocery counter.

Lillian and Pearl lived together with Retta at 222 Central Street, in separate apartments, until 1971. They grew flowers in their yard for the graves of their family members.

Reflection by Anne Reub

Anne Reub was born and raised in Manhattan and spent two years in the Peace Corps in Colombia, South America where she met her husband Greg. In 1994 they moved to Olympia. After 32 years in the telecommunications business Anne retired as an executive specializing in technical operations, in 2014. She and Greg have two adult children.

I have one sister. She is 13 months younger than me. We grew up like twins, dressed in the same outfits, singing Edelweiss together for mom and dad’s friends at cocktail parties, acting out our favorite Beatles characters, spying on neighbors from the 10th floor of our apartment, walking our numerous dogs (my mom rescued stray animals) through the streets of Manhattan, and caring for one another through every phase of life. She is my best friend, but that doesn’t mean that we always get along, or see the world through the same lens.

After reading about two half-sisters, Lillian Phillips and Pearl Harder, who ran the Gwen Gayle Grocery Market together from 1935 to 1965, at 125 Central, in Olympia Washington, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to run a business with my sister Diana.

Lillian Phillip’s father, Albert L Phillips, died in 1890 leaving his wife Mary Ann, and four children: Josephine (Joe), Ralph, Margaret (Daisy) and Lillian. In 1891 Mary Ann remarried. She had two more children with her new husband, Harry (Sam Rambo), whose names were Retta and Pearl. The family lived at 222 N Central in Olympia. As the story goes, Sam Rambo had the home built as a gift for his new bride. From all accounts, it appears that Lillian and Pearl lived in that same home until 1971

Lillian Phillips and her half-sister Pearl Harder were co-owners of The Gwen Gayle Grocery store. It was named after Pearl’s daughters, Gayle who died of pneumonia at age 4, and Gwen who died at age 13 from unknow causes. The sisters were referred to as “old maids” and described as severely lacking in quality customer service skills; unfriendly, severe, and generally suspicious of their customers. However, the business ran successfully from 1935 to 1965 and was known for being well stocked with quality products

Which brings me back to my earlier thought; what would it be like to run a grocery store with my own sister. I suppose, like our sisterhood, it would be multifaceted. On the one hand the thought of a partnership together is delightful, on the other, somewhat dismal. I am by nature a results-oriented woman who believes she knows best. My sister, by nature, is a compassionate, concerned people person with no sense, or aspiration for business. So, on the one hand, I believe our customers would be well cared for, and the quality of the market, top of the line, but I wonder; what would our profits margins look like? I can envision customer lines around the block waiting for the cashier as my sister questions, listens to, and resolves the tribulations of each customer. We might need a back room for the ombudsman-like arm of our business.  I’ve played with a variety of names for our store ranging from, McMullen’s (that’s our maiden name) Commodities and Counseling, McMullen’s Shopping and Shrinking, or just, McMullen’s Nurture and Nourish.

At the end of the day, I admire Lillian and Pearl as entrepreneur sisters who made it work; as for me and my sister, I’ll hold dear the idea.

Sources and links

  • Workingman’s Hill – A History of an Olympia Neighborhood by Rebecca Christie, 2001, Bigelow House Preservation Association and Bigelow Highlands Neighborhood Association

Lim Shee Kay (1887-1987)

It is New Year’s Eve, 1915, Seattle, Washington. The Japanese freighter had just docked at the Garfield Street Pier and its few passengers begin to disembark. A diminutive Chinese lady steps off the gangplank holding the hands of two young boys, aged 5 and 9.

A Life Spanning an Entire Century and Two Entirely Different Cultures, Mainstay of Olympia’s Early Chinese Community

Contributed by Toy Kay

It is New Year’s Eve, 1915, Seattle, Washington. The Japanese freighter had just docked at the Garfield Street Pier and its few passengers begin to disembark. A diminutive Chinese lady steps off the gangplank holding the hands of two young boys, aged 5 and 9. She had her children, carryng their personal possessions, begin the long walk up the hill to the U.S. Customs Detention Center, then located on the top of Magnolia Hill. This center was used to detain arriving immigrants who required official clearance.

At age 27, Lim Shee, wife of Suie Kay of Olympia, Washington, had arrived at her new home, a strange land that she had only heard about through her husband and father-in-law. It was dark, and the bitter, cold wind of the waterfront cut through her tropical clothing, which consisted of a loose Chinese-styled jacket and wide leg pants made of tightly woven black cotton sateen. She wore padded black cotton slipper-shoes on her feet; feet which had been bound at age 9 and later released at age 17. The permanent injuries from these bindings would give her pain for the rest of her life, forever a reminder of the hard, unforgiving life of her homeland.

As Lim Shee Kay set off with her two boys, carrying their packages, the excitement of finally arriving in “Gold Mountain” overcame her fears. The photo of her taken with the two boys for their immigration papers reflects the face of a serious, determined, and courageous young woman. Lim Shee was held at the detention center for three days before her husband, Suie Kay, was allowed to make arrangements for her release and she and her family could travel to Olympia by steamship.

According to statements filed in 1901 by A. A. Phillips and William Billings of Olympia, Charlie Yeck, father of Suie Kay, had settled in Olympia in 1879—ten years before Washington had become a state, and was a merchant in the Hong Yeck Kee Company. So on the basis of Suie Kay’s citizenship, Lim Shee was granted entry into the United states, along with their two sons—Lin Tung and Lin Tuck.

Because she was among the earlier of the Chinese women to arrive in the United States, Lim Shee was “family” to the young men who immigrated to Olympia to find their future. Even though she spoke very little English, she encouraged them to obtain their schooling, and taught them work skills and habits to see them through life. She also maintained strong friendships and support for many Chinese women who later came to the United States, helping them to become assimilated to this foreign land.

She was also the mainstay of her own family. During the 30s when Suie Kay, who was a cook, found work in the hotels and restaurants in Seattle, Lim She worked in the Lock family partnership restaurant in Olympia. In 1940, with the help of the family she opened Kay’s Café, and her husband quit his job in Seattle and returned to Olympia to help her when the business flourished. They retired in 1958, turning the business over to one of their sons Bill and his wife Toy.

Lim Shee was especially proud to be in America.  She and her husband traveled extensively around the country in 1951 and were deep moved when they visited our nation’s capital and the White House. Her story, which reflects the chronology and record of the Kay family, show roots which are deep in Washington State and particularly in Olympia.

Lim Shee Kay, who was born on April 17, 1887 in the Toysun District of Kwantung Province in China, died December 16, 1987 at 100 years of age—her life spanning an entire century and two entirely different cultures. Her spirit lives on in the lives of her children and their families and the many contributions that they have made to this community.

Sources and links

Lucia Perillo (1958-2016)

In her thirty-year career as a poet, Perillo won international acclaim for her honest, direct and accessible poetry. The poet Rodney Jones told The Chicago Tribune: “Her goal is lucidity. She does not like the idea of writing a poem that people cannot understand.”

Wildlife biologist and poet

Contributed by Doyle Fanning

When she learned that she had been granted a $500,000 MacArthur Genius Fellowship for her award- winning poetry, Lucia Perillo told The Olympian: “I like living here. This is my favorite place. I think the best thing about winning the MacArthur, to me, is I can come back to Olympia all the time.”

In her thirty-year career as a poet, Perillo won international acclaim for her honest, direct and accessible poetry. The poet Rodney Jones told The Chicago Tribune: “Her goal is lucidity. She does not like the idea of writing a poem that people cannot understand.” Until her death in 2016, she wrote poetry that gained national recognition including as a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, a finalist for the 2005 The Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a National Critics Circle Award finalist.

Diagnosed at the age of thirty with multiple scleroses, her illness informed much of her work. Trained as a biologist, she brings the unflinching eye and voice of a scientist to her exploration of mortality and the fragility of the body. “Craig Morgan Teicher, in The Los Angeles Times, praised her fervor and courage, noting, ‘Each dose of hopelessness is met with some kind of call for singing.’”

Born in Manhattan and raised in New Jersey, Perillo trained as a wildlife biologist at McGill University in Montreal. She first traveled to the west as a naturalist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was while working at Mt. Rainier National Park that she moved to Olympia in the early 1980s. She continued to make Olympia her home as she earned a master’s degree in literature from Syracuse University, taught at St. Martin’s College and Southern Illinois University, and wrote her first books of poetry.  While at Syracuse she met her future husband, James Rudy. She taught until 2000 when her illness made it difficult for her to continue to commute from Southern Illinois University to her home in Olympia. The MacArthur Fellowship allowed her to return to Olympia permanently where she wrote some of her most acclaimed work.

Perillo’s 2015 “haiku-style” poetry series “Walking on Land by Water” graces a retaining wall along much of West Bay Drive in Olympia, the place she called home.

Reflection by Doyle Fanning

Doyle Fanning is a photographer, paper-cut artist, and printmaker living and working in Olympia. Her work is in public and private collections and carried by Childhood’s End Gallery.

I first came to know Perillo’s poetry while driving on West Bay, the water on one side, her enigmatic words engraved on the retaining wall on the other side. Mysterious and engaging, her poetry called me to slow down, at first to read and then over time to slow down from the reading. She speaks quietude and grace, and reflects a biologist’s understanding of the natural world.

When she peels back the layers of time to reveal the fragility of the moment, of a body caught in a struggle with mortality, of endless cycles of death and rebirth, I am transported to deep time. The natural world is at once both of the moment and timeless.

On the MacArthur Foundation website, her work is described as confronting “violence through dashing narratives and a direct, precise voice” and as turning “her attention inward, using the notion of illness to capture the struggle between body and spirit with conscientious candor, meticulously accurate language, and comic spirit.”

What better description of the synthesis that is the poet, scientist, and naturalist, Lucia Perillo?

Margaret McKenny (1885-1964)

Margaret McKenny the youngest child in a prominent pioneer family. She grew up to be a garden designer, nationally published writer, a Montessori-trained teacher, award winning photographer, lecturer, and conservationist, recognized both locally and nationally.

The “Mushroom Lady” and Beloved Naturalist

Contributed by Anne Kilgannon

Margaret McKenny was born in Olympia, April 17, 1885, the youngest child in a prominent pioneer family. She grew up to be a garden designer, nationally published writer, a Montessori-trained teacher, award winning photographer, lecturer, and conservationist, recognized both locally and nationally. She was an expert mycologist and founder of the Olympia Audubon Society. Her work and viewpoint represent an important expression of the conservation movement of her day.

As a young woman, Margaret McKenny explored the undeveloped areas near Olympia and her interest in botany and garden design led her to study landscape architecture in Massachusetts. She went on to work in New York City with the Garden Club of America and the New York City Gardens Club, and she launched her writing and lecturing career with growing contacts in national conservation circles.

Margaret returned to Olympia in 1943 to help publicize the state’s natural beauty through her work with the State Progress Commission. She then traveled statewide working for Washington State Parks, building an enormous photograph collection which became the basis of slide-show lectures for many years to come. In 1953 Margaret helped launch the Olympia Audubon Society. As president, she advocated for many conservation projects and brought speakers to Olympia to educate the community on many subjects - including mushrooms.

Margaret was at the forefront of several battles with the City to preserve natural  areas, including campaigns to turn the City’s old watershed area into a natural preserve (Watershed Park), to dissuade the City from logging parts of Priest Point Park, and opposing construction of a parking garage beneath Sylvester Park. She marshaled community concern to save the Nisqually River delta from development that threatened the important estuary environment. Appointed by the mayor, she served on the City Tree committee to restore the canopy of street trees lost to development over time.

Margaret continued to write newspaper columns and other publications, teach classes in nature lore, writing and art, and conducted a gourmet mushroom business supplying New York City restaurants.  She was widely known as The Mushroom Lady, always available for neighborly consultations about various mushrooms. She was a founding member of the Puget Sound Mycological Society.

Margaret stayed active and involved in conservation issues until her death on August 4, 1969, age eighty-four. Her achievements, conservation ethic, and spirit continue to inspire all who know her story.

Several places in Olympia are named for her: a local elementary school, a neighborhood park and a campground site in Capital Forest.

The Margaret McKenny Home

Margaret McKenny built the small bungalow at 2201 Water Street in 1915 as both a home for herself and her mother, as well as a space to house her Montessori style school. She ran the school until 1919 and then converted the school room into suites that she rented to various tenants for the rest of her life. Margaret’s house suited her needs and helped supplement her income, but it was really her garden that was her pride and joy. She had a small grove of Douglas-fir and native dogwood trees that created a natural shady place for her extensive fern collection and sheltered places for the numerous wildflowers to thrive that she had gathered during her rambles in nearby wild places.

The house overlooked the Deschutes River and beyond to the Black Hills, a favorite view. The house was used thereafter for a time as the home for the Audubon Society among other uses. It has since changed hands but still remains a house containing rental spaces. It is a contributing property to the South Capitol Neighborhood Historic District.

Margie Reeves (1924-2013)

Margie was born in Estill, South Carolina in 1924 and received her bachelor’s degree from Florida State College for women in Tallahassee. She dedicated more than 60 years advocating on behalf of children and families in Olympia, Thurston County and the State of Washington.

Advocate for Children and Families

Contributed by Debi Beagle

Margie Reeves dedicated more than 60 years advocating on behalf of children and families in Olympia, Thurston County and the State of Washington.

Margie was born in Estill, South Carolina in 1924 and received her bachelor’s degree from Florida State College for women in Tallahassee. She and her husband, Bruce Reeves, raised four children in Olympia. Margie served on numerous boards and organizations, working tirelessly to assure that children have early and sustainable access to safe and nurturing places to live and learn, and that families have the training and assistance they need to raise their children.

Margie was a founding member of Child Care Resource and Referral Network, the Children’s Alliance, the Washington Association for the Education of Young Children, the Child care Coordinating Committee, the Early Learning Action Alliance, the Child Care Action Council, Thurston Early Childhood Coalition, and statewide chair of Children and Family Issues for the League of Women Voters.

Her impacts in Olympia and beyond are still felt today. Margie passed away on October 15, 2013 at the age of 89. She spent 60 years working tirelessly to assure that children have early and sustainable access to safe and nurturing places to live and learn and that families have the training and assistance they need to raise their children.

Reflection by Debi Beagle

Debi Beagle is the Director for Program Operations, Head Start/ECAEP for local Educational Service District #113

In the summer of 1977, as a recent graduate of The Evergreen State College, I was living on the Oregon coast. My college studies had focused on early childhood education and community advocacy.  Somehow, without cell phones or other technology of today, Margie Reeves tracked me down with the offer of a Head Start teaching position.

I first met Margie during my college years when she taught me how to follow bills in the legislature and persuaded me to write regular legislative updates for our local Olympia Association for the Education of Young Children. Margie was a Head Start Director under a grant with the Community Action Program. From 1975-76 I was a Head Start intern. I recall Margie’s basement office in the Lincoln Elementary building and her encouragement for my work with Vietnamese refugee children at Evergreen Villages Apartments. I received mentoring from her amazing staff and plenty of supplies for the children. However, what I remember most is her advocacy efforts. She seemed to know everyone of importance in Olympia, Thurston County and the state whom she could rely on or convince to support services for young children and their families. Eventually Margie left the Head Start program but not her crusade. I continued in the program for another 30 years; her efforts to find me on the beach in Oregon had set me on my professional journey.

I continued to interact with Margie at various events over the years and felt her influence on child and family services. When she was actively pursuing the idea of a Family Support Center in downtown Olympia, I recall fundraising efforts and planning meetings with her. When the doors opened I referred many families to the services and taught classes for child care providers. I oversaw enrollment of Head Start/ECEAP families in collaboration with the Olympia Child Care Center, which was housed in the Family Support Center building. Having all of these resources for children, families, and providers in one convenient location was a dream of Margie’s come true.

Margie wasn’t just a dreamer. She was adamant that children and their families needed and deserved high-quality affordable services provided by trained professionals who earned a livable wage. If you shared an idea or need, she was quick to look for ways to meet it. Creation of the Crisis Nursery is probably the best example. Margie worked with the Child Care Action Council to fund and start the Crisis Nursery, a free drop-in childcare for anyone in crisis. Child Care Providers receive special training and compensation for children to attend existing childcare centers for up to a week. This allows families in crisis a safe place for their children while the parents get help or assistance. I had many opportunities to see the need for and the success of Crisis Nursery services at our local Head Start centers. This program is now named Margie’s Crisis Nursery.

Margie took full advantage of living in Olympia, the state capital. Children, families, and everyone working on their behalf benefited from Margie’s unrelenting advocacy. Alone or with a cadre of followers, she testified, chased the bills as they moved through the legislative process, and celebrated at bill signings. Attending any meetings with Margie, such as the Thurston Community Network which she and I both served as Board members, always included Margie’s plug for the latest child or family initiative and specific action steps we should take. From Margie I learned you can’t just work in the field, you have to advocate and take action at higher levels too.

Fran Williams, Family Services Program Manager at CCAC says, “Margie walked the halls of the legislature until the end of her life.” To which Beth Schilling, CCAC ECEAP Administrator replied, “my Margie story involves running into her at the Capitol one day shortly after my family moved here from King County (where she was also well known in the ECE community). My kids were 11 and 12 at the time and we were just touring the campus. As you said, she walked the halls tirelessly during her last years, and that day was no exception. I said hello to her and introduced her to my kids. She then said "come with me" and insisted we follow her into the legislative building. I can't remember which legislators we saw that day, but she gave us a real lesson in advocacy - passionate, articulate and committed to issues regarding children and families.”

Gail Gosney-Wrede concurred: “I went with Margie to talk to legislators and she would not leave the office until she got assurance from the legislator that they would support the piece of legislation or budget that she was advocating for, but she did it in such a nice way. She taught me most of what I know about how to lobby. She was a tenacious and genteel lobbyist.”

Governor Christine Gregoire signed a Proclamation on January 13, 2013 recognizing all the amazing work Margie did for the children in our state. In 2014 I received the Margie Reeves Memorial Angel Award from the Thurston Early Childhood Coalition for “showing remarkable fortitude in advocating for the wellbeing of children”. Awards for individuals are not usually earned without the support, encouragement, modeling and teaching by others along the way. Margie initiated that with me during an Oregon coast phone booth conversation. Clearly I was not the only beneficiary of her dedication to making positive change for children and their families!

Marie Rowe Dunbar (1896-1983)

Marie Rowe was born 1896 in the Lacey area to Asa “Ace” M. and Lizzie Rowe. “Ace” was a Thurston County commissioner who also owned racing horses. Marie graduated from Olympia High School in 1914, where she was one of the staff for the student periodical, the Olympus.

Determined and Far-ranging Journalist

Contributed by Jennifer Crooks

Marie Rowe was born 1896 in the Lacey area to Asa “Ace” M. and Lizzie Rowe. “Ace” was a Thurston County commissioner who also owned racing horses. Marie graduated from Olympia High School in 1914, where she was one of the staff for the student periodical, the Olympus. She studied journalism at the University of Washington.

Returning to Olympia, she became a regular reporter for the Olympia Daily Recorder. Like most female news reporters of the period she covered social events (by her actual name when the other writers for the paper were usually anonymous). These included parties, kindergarten opera performances, buying Liberty Bonds, and the American Legion Food and Household Equipment Show. She wrote in a lively, engaging style.

Marie broke new ground by covering the state legislature for the newspaper. In one notable event, when sent to pick up some papers at the State Capitol in 1917 she witnessed the arrest of a man who had just assassinated the State Insurance Commissioner. She was even able to persuade the police to allow her to question the killer.

Marie was also involved in the community. In 1917 she was elected head of the Thurston County Humane Society and worked as publicity chair for the Business and Professional Women’s Club when it formed in 1920.

In May 1917 she married John Dunbar, who was State Attorney General from 1923 to 1933. They had a daughter, Dorothy, in 1924, who later went into advertising and journalism like her mother. Marie continued working for the Olympia Daily Recorder and also began to write for the Tacoma Ledger. She and John divorced and she moved to Seattle to do freelance journalism. In 1929 she married Joseph Newberger, vice president of Seattle First National Bank. Marie became social editor at the Seattle Times, picking the pen name Virginia Boren, after two streets near the Times building.

Marie and Joseph divorced in 1942 and she moved several times across the country, writing for various newspapers. In 1956 she married William H. Towle, whom she met while researching her book, Vigilante Women (under the name Virginia Rowe Towle), about female pioneers in Montana. Marie continued to write for newspapers across the United States.

The determined journalist died in Salt Lake City in 1983. The house she shared with John Dunbar (426 17th Avenue) is on the Olympia Heritage Register.

Sources and links

  • Bob Royer, “The many lives and names of a woman journalist,” Crosscut.com, March 1, 2012
  • City of Olympia Historic Property Inventory for Dunbar House , 426 17th Avenue SE Olympia
  • Olympia Historical Society entry for John Dunbar House

Martha Davis (1922-1996)

Martha graduated from Valisca High School in Valisca, Iowa. She worked for the United States Forest Service in Oregon and Washington before marrying George E. Davis in Olympia in 1951. She and her husband became co-owners of Davis’ Brown Derby.

Co-Owner of Davis’ Brown Derby, Baker of Sublime Pies

Contributed by Jennifer Crooks

Doris Martha (who went by her middle name Martha) graduated from Valisca High School in Valisca, Iowa. She worked for the United States Forest Service in Oregon and Washington before marrying George E. Davis in Olympia in 1951. She and her husband became co-owners of Davis’ Brown Derby, a restaurant that George had opened at 1001 Capitol Way South in 1936.

Billing the Brown Derby as “the leaders of quality,” Martha took over management of the restaurant with Rayma Sullivan, a former librarian, after George passed away in 1971. Rayma made soup and coffee while Martha served as bookkeeper and baker.

Living next door, Martha would rise at 4 a.m. to bake the bread, pastries, cakes and pies that her restaurant was known for. She was most famous for her pies. Although reluctant to share her baking secrets, Martha once told a local reporter that she did everything by hand, rolling her dough out on a floured canvas using a canvas-covered rolling pin. She used shortening in her crusts and fresh, high quality ingredients. Her favorite pies were blackberry and lemon meringue. Joan Kross, a friend of the family and customer, fondly remembers those lemon meringues. She once asked Martha how she was able to make a meringue several inches thick and Martha said she used twelve egg whites. She also told Joan that she soaked her French fries in salt water to make them extra crispy.

Martha and Rayma retired in 1980 and the former restaurant is now home to Poppet Kids’ Resale Boutique. The Brown Derby sign at 1001 Capitol Way South remains a community landmark today.

Reflection by Jennifer Crooks

Jennifer Crooks is a local writer and historian whose frequent articles for Thurston Talks are widely enjoyed.  She contributed her writing skills for several biographies in this series.

The Brown Derby restaurant remains a favorite memory of many in Olympia. My uncle Marc Crooks remembers how his father Andy Crooks and other workers from the nearby United States Forest Service office would walk down to the restaurant for coffee breaks and lunch. Grandpa would get a cup of coffee and an occasional piece of pie, and believed it was the best restaurant in town. But moreover, my uncle describes it as a place where his father felt welcome. Martha must have been proud to see the positive impact that her restaurant had on her community.

Sources and links

  • “Martha Davis, Paul Tupper are bakers supreme…getting up at 4 a.m. to bake your berry pie,” Daily Olympian, April 2, 1978
  • “Obituaries: Doris Martha Davis,” Olympian, January 24, 1996

Mary Ann (Campbell) Bigelow (1913-2005)

Mary Ann Campbell Bigelow, the daughter of Laverne and Hazel Rich Campbell, was a woman of phenomenal talents. She was a gifted vocalist who accompanied herself on the zither. She was also an internationally recognized artist.

Raconteur, Musician, and Storyteller Kept Pioneer History Alive in Olympia

Contributed by the Bigelow Family and Shanna Stevenson

Mary Ann Campbell Bigelow, the daughter of Laverne and Hazel Rich Campbell, was a woman of phenomenal talents. She was a gifted vocalist who accompanied herself on the zither. She was also an internationally recognized artist. Her portraits and wood carvings are to be found in homes and offices locally and around the world. On her 90th birthday a celebration of her life held at the First United Methodist Church included hundreds of examples of her art. Her lifelong involvement with the church included being named its Artist in Residence, teaching art classes at its summer camp in Indianola, and acting as a lay speaker for many, many years.

In 1960, Mary Ann led her family to Florida as the Washington State representatives in the All-America Family Search. In 1964, she was named Washington State Mother of the Year. Mary Ann was a founding and longtime member of the Olympia Heritage Commission. In 1993, she and her husband Daniel received the Outstanding Stewardship Award from the Washington State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for their work in preserving the Bigelow House. In 1999 she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Olympia YWCA; and in 2001, she was celebrated as a Living Legend of Thurston County by the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Thurston County.

One of Mary Ann’s passions in life was the preservation and stewardship of the historic Bigelow House in which she spent her 69 years of marriage. She provided “Pioneer Days” for local children in the house and often opened it to the public, including Christmas Open Houses for over 30 years. In 1994, her efforts culminated with her home’s purchase and extensive restoration by the Bigelow House Preservation Association. It remains a lasting monument to her love of history and of Olympia’s history in particular. She also loved backpacking in the mountains and traveling with her family.

Mary Ann’s wit and inimitable style is fondly recalled by those her knew her. Never without a stylish outfit, an engaging reminiscence or apt adage, Mary Ann was a true original. Her husband Daniel also passed away in 2005. Listed on the National, State and Olympia Register of Historic Places, Bigelow House, now owned and maintained by the non-profit Olympia Historical Society & Bigelow House Museum, will celebrate 25 years as a museum in summer 2020. For more information visit olympiahistory.org.

Sources and links

Mary Olney Brown (1821-1886)

Mrs. Brown had an extraordinary writing ability, showcased in writings on suffrage in local newspapers and legislative work. She was also a poet. She began to advocate for women’s right to vote as early as 1865.

Suffragist and Mother of 11, “Wielding a Trenchant Pen”

Contributed by Shanna Stevenson with thanks to Dawn Mason for her assistance.

Mary Olney was born in New York on February 7, 1821 and married Benjamin F. Brown in 1840 in Jefferson, Iowa.

The Browns left Iowa in 1852 with an oxen team and four children, the youngest a newborn. They lost one child along the way; according to a family bible entry, a daughter died along the Platte River “on the Plains.” They settled on a Donation Land Claim in Thurston County near Olympia in March 1853, with Mary’s sister and fellow suffragist Emily Olney French settled nearby. Mary bore eleven children in all, with five living to adulthood.

Mrs. Brown had an extraordinary writing ability, showcased in writings on suffrage in local newspapers and legislative work. She was also a poet. She began to advocate for women’s right to vote as early as 1865. She organized and encouraged other women to vote in elections in 1869 and again in 1870, when she was turned away from the polls. Under the nom de plume “Equal Rights,” she often wrote well-argued letters, published in local papers, urging women to go to the polls.

In 1871, Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Scott Duniway toured the Northwest, and that October Mrs. Brown was among 16 women to publish a call for a Territorial Suffrage Association Convention in Olympia starting November 8, 1871. She went on to organize and advocate tirelessly for Washington Territory to become a State, with voting rights for women. She canvassed Olympia for signatures herself—securing 300 names, and wrote a five-part series about “Equality of Citizenship” in The New Northwest in February-March, 1878.

After a close vote in 1881, the Washington Territorial Legislature passed women’s voting rights in 1883, and Abigail Scott Duniway lauded her “as a consistent and able worker in the movement for forty years.” 

Meanwhile, by 1875 Mrs. Brown had become known as Dr. Mary O. Brown, a “Physician and Accoucher” operating from an office in downtown Olympia. In Tillicum Tales, the author details her work in effecting cures with a water treatment, calling her “Mrs. Coldwater Brown.” In a letter to a relative in 1861 she mentioned the “Watercure Journal.”

The voter registration rolls for the City of Olympia in 1883 include Mary Olney Brown. She continued to work as an organizer for National Women’s Suffrage until her death in November 1886.

Her obituary called her “a woman of more than ordinary intellectual endowments and a zealous advocate of many of the modern measures of reform… a firm advocate of equality of race and sex before the law. She wielded…a trenchant pen, and many of her essays have aided very materially in shaping popular sentiment towards woman’s enfranchisement.”

Sources and links

  •  “An Appeal to the Women of W. T.,” Olympia Transcript, May 28, 1870.
  • Georgiana Blankenship, comp., Early History of Thurston County, Washington, Olympia: np, 1914.  (Facsimile Reproduction The Shorey Book Store Seattle, WA:  1972) p. 116-121.
  • Census Records for Iowa, accessed at Ancestry library.
  • “Centennial Protest of the Women of Washington Territory,” The New Northwest, July 14, 1876, p. 2.
  • Clara Dorothy Bewick Colby, “The Woman's Tribune. Vol. 2, No. 5. March 1885,” Ann Lewis Women's Suffrage Collection, accessed March 19, 2020.
  • Donation Land Claim microfilm No. 252 Benjamin F. Brown accessed at the Washington State Library.
  • “Dr. Mary O. Brown Physician and Accoucher,” Washington Standard, September 25, 1875, pg. 4.  This ad ran in the Washington Standard throughout 1874-1875.
  • Ellen Carol Dubois, “Taking the Law into Our Own Hands,” in Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, ed, One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, Troutdale, OR:  New Sage Press, 1996, 81-98.
  • Information from the Brown Family and Charles Miles and O. B. Sperlin, eds., Building a State Washington 1889-1939.  Tacoma:  Washington State Historical Society, 1940, pg. 437-438.
  • Journal of the House of Representatives of Washington Territory During the Eighth Biennial Session, Olympia:  C. B. Bagley, Printer, 1881, pg. 119-120.
  • Letter to Almeida Olney Hardy from Mary Olney Brown, Slaughter, King Co. Wash Terr, Jan. 30th, 1870.
  • Letter to Almeida Olney Hardy from Mary Olney Brown, West Olympia, Sunday, September 29, 1861.
  • Library of Congress, Susan B. Anthony Papers: Daybook and Diaries, 1856-1906; Diaries; 1865, November 1, 1871
  • The New Northwest: February 19, 1878; March 8, 1878; March 15, 1878; March 22, 1878 and March 29, 1878.
  • The New Northwest, November 29, 1883, pg. 1.
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, 6 volumes (Rochester and New York City, 1881-1922), account by Mary Olney Brown, 3:781.
  • Woman Suffrage Convention, The New Northwest, October 27, 1871.
  • “Woman Suffrage Convention,” Washington Standard, November 11, 1871, pg. 2.
  • “Woman Suffrage Convention,” Washington Standard, October 28, 1871, pg. 2.
  • “Territorial Woman’s Suffrage Convention,” The Echo, November 13, 1873, pg. 3.
  • Washington Standard, October 24, 1874, pg. 3.
  • “The Washington Legislature,” The New Northwest, November 10, 1881, pg. 1.
  • Washington Standard, November 19, 1886, pg. 3.

Mary Randlett (1924-2019)

Mary Randlett was among the most prolific and notable northwest photographers of the last 75 years. Passionate and dedicated to her art, she is quoted by Deloris Ament in her biography “Iridescent Light” as saying, “My life is my work; my work is my life.”

Master Photographer

Contributed by Doyle Fanning

Mary Randlett was among the most prolific and notable northwest photographers of the last 75 years. Passionate and dedicated to her art, she is quoted by Deloris Ament in her biography “Iridescent Light” as saying, “My life is my work; my work is my life.”  Working on behalf of the University of Washington Press, she captured iconic images of some of the most prominent northwest artist and writers, evoked the singular beauty and mystery of the northwest landscape, and contributed photographs to more than 75 books on art, architecture and poetry.

She first gained acclaim for a series of portraits of notable artists and writers including Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, Mark Tobey,  Theodore Roethke and Tom Robbins. Her photograph of Theodore Roethke, taken two weeks before his death, gave her early career a boost and lead to her life- long association with the University of Washington Press. But it was her landscape photographs that gained her acclaim as an artist. David Martin, curator with the Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds, said it best, “I think she was a better artist than many of the people she photographed, but she never would have thought that.”

Born in Seattle in 1924, she attended Queen Anne High School and then earned a B.A. from Whitman College in 1947 where she pursued her love of photography. Returning to Seattle, she studied with renowned fashion photographer Hans Jorgensen and later with George Mantor, who introduced her to portraiture.  In 1950 she married Herbert Randlett, whom she met at Whitman, and raised four children. After the children were in school, she renewed her career as a professional photographer gaining recognition as one of the most important photographers of her generation.  In 1997 she moved her home and studio to Olympia where she continued to work until her death in 2019. Her work is included in the collections of more than three dozen major institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and the University of Washington’s Allen Library.

For more insight into Randlett’s life and work, https://www.historylink.org/File/3844

Reflection by Marianne Partlow

Marianne Partlow is an artist, art historian, fine art appraiser and consultant who has run several art galleries during her career. She has worked as a consulting museum curator and has taught art history and studio watercolor at the college level.  She ran the Marianne Partlow Gallery in Olympia from 1984-92 where she represented mid-career northwest and international artists.

I believe that I met Mary Randlett at her 1983 exhibition at the State Capital Museum in Olympia. It was entitled Mary Randlett, a selection from 35 years. That year she had received the Governor’s Arts Award for her photography - a first in her field. In those days the Governor’s Invitational Exhibitions highlighted the state’s most prominent artists in various disciplines. I had heard about Mary before meeting her and had expected a big personality. I wasn’t disappointed. I remember Mary as being very comfortable and confident in her own skin. She was clearly a personality to be reckoned with.  She was warm, very direct and artistically in tune. And she was a talker and a very salty storyteller.  You settled in for the listening when you saw Mary coming toward you in a room. I could tell right off that she considered herself significantly connected to the coterie of artists of the so called “Northwest School” - Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan and the younger Guy Anderson. She reveled  in  describing her many personal photographic sessions with them and other of the Northwest’s prominent artists and architects. She saw them in their intimate home and studio settings and captured their personal lives and attitudes. She was in a way, defined by her photographic subjects and their enthusiasms. And conversely these pivotal artists were defined by Mary’s photographic portraits of them. They were almost symbiotic.  During the second half of the twentieth century this confluence of talents illuminated the northwest spirit and vision for the nation to see and appreciate.  She enhanced the legend of the northwest artists prominent in her time. She often mentioned how her mother, a prominent curator, teacher, artist and collector had given her entrée to the homes of these artists and that she was fortunate for her connections. She treasured them.

As an art dealer and gallerist I knew of her important documentary and portrait work but I was not particularly interested in her own landscape photography. I was barely aware of it. And I certainly didn’t think she was working all the time on her private vision. She didn’t really discuss it much. She was self-effacing in relation to her own work.  So I was overwhelmed when near the end of her life I went to visit her home in Olympia to discuss an appraisal I was doing on one of her landscape photographs. Her modest home was packed and piled to the rafters - with art books, her photographs and paintings by many of the important Northwest painters. She had traded her photographs for their paintings. Her collection was overflowing and personal.

But her myriad photographs were sublime and her sensibility was the opposite of her very robust and sometimes blustery personality. They were genuinely mystical. These black and white visions of the northwest landscape knocked me over. I thought I had become too jaded to appreciate such romantic and spiritual visions. So many others I had seen had become just hackneyed. But Mary’s were particularly well composed and distilled, disciplined and iconic.  They were organized to suggest meanings in nature.  They were quiet directives for the viewer. They were masterful and unique. Mary Randlett had developed her “inner eye” all her life in private but in tandem with her more famous artist friends and in her own art she genuinely triumphed. I am forever grateful to have seen her home and artistic abundance.

Rebecca Groundage Howard (1827-1881)

Rebecca Howard, an outstanding hotelier and cook, was one of Olympia ‘s earliest businesswomen. Born in 1827 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rebecca Groundage married Alexander Howard, a local cooper, in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1843.

Early Black Settler, Respected Hotelier, Businesswoman and Community Member

Contributed by Shanna Stevenson in collaboration with Dr. Terrell Bryan, Dr. Thelma Jackson and Edward Echtle

Rebecca Howard, an outstanding hotelier and cook, was one of Olympia ‘s earliest businesswomen. Born in 1827 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rebecca Groundage married Alexander Howard, a local cooper, in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1843. By 1859 Rebecca and her husband had moved to Olympia and opened a hotel and restaurant in what would come to be known as the Pacific House Building on Main Street (now Capitol Way). In 1860 Rebecca Howard advertised the building as the “Pacific Restaurant.”

Memoirs of visitors to Olympia record the fine inn keeping provided by Mrs. Howard. The Howard’s hotel and restaurant was frequented by legislators and visitors to the city including President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife Lucy in 1880. When the building was razed in 1902, the Olympia, Washington Standard said that the Pacific Hotel was the leading hotel on Puget Sound under “the ministration of Rebecca Howard,  . . .whose wit and humor . . . made the Pacific an oasis in the then desert of travel.”  In its heyday the Pacific House served as the informal headquarters of the Republican Party during legislative sessions. Rebecca’s reputation as a successful, no-nonsense businesswoman commanded respect and empowered her to challenge anyone, even legislators, who dared call her “Aunt Becky” without her permission.

In June 1862, Mrs. Howard and her husband signed an agreement to take care of Isaac I. Stevens Glasgow, a part-Indian child of American settler Thomas Glasgow and Julia Patkanim, who by most accounts was being mistreated by his father. The Howards officially adopted the child in 1877 and he took the name Frank A. Howard. Frank Howard became a leading citizen of the city, inheriting his adopted parents’ properties and investing in land and development. He married Lillian Howard (no relation) and eventually moved to the East Coast.

Rebecca Howard helped raise funds for the northern Sanitary Commission during the Civil War and donated land for the terminus of the railroad in Olympia in the 1870s. She was a long time member of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

When Rebecca Howard died in 1881, twenty-six pages were needed to enumerate her property which was valued at over $6,200.00. Alexander Howard died in 1890. Both are buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Tumwater, Washington.

Sources and links

  • Adapted from Blackpast entry for Rebecca Howard
  • “Destruction of a Landmark,” Washington Standard, September 5, 1902.
  • Ladd Allison, “The Respectable Aunt Becky,” July 15, 1977, privately published.
  • Rev. Thomas Edwin Jessett, M. A., Rector, “St John’s  Church of Olympia (1853-1941).
  • Marjorie Queen, “The Probate Records of Mrs. Rebecca H. Howard 1862-1883”, privately published.
  • “Rebecca Howard died last Sunday,” Washington Standard, July 15, 1881, p 2.
  • Sanitary Commission Donor:  Overland Press, October 31, 1862; ticket sales Box 7, Folders 392, 3939 William Winlock Miller Collection, WA MSS S-1172, Bienecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Anne Buck (1925 – 2019)

Anne Buck and her husband Charles moved to Olympia from Iowa in January 1968. They brought two of their four children—the older two had already left home—and quickly became active Olympia community members.

“Piquant” Businesswoman and Quirky Olympia Original

Contributed by the Buck Family, edited by Janice Arnold

Anne Buck and her husband Charles moved to Olympia from Iowa in January 1968. They brought two of their four children—the older two had already left home—and quickly became active Olympia community members. Charles worked for the State, and Anne decided to open a high-end nautical gift shop catering to boaters from up and down the Puget Sound. They built a single-room A-frame in the front of their property on French Loop Rd and called the shop “Out of Sight” because it literally was hidden out of sight. On request Anne would shuttle customers back and forth from the Olympia Yacht Club to the store.

In April 1969, 15 months after they moved to Olympia, Charles passed away suddenly and Anne was widowed at age 43 with two young boys to support. She continued operating Out of Sight and also found part time work at the Legislature, filling many roles for the House of Representatives including managing the Legislative Hot Line -- which received, documented and passed on hundreds of calls from citizens every day during the Legislative Session.

After her kids left home, Anne decided to go to the Wenatchee Valley to try her hand at retail there, opening a gift shop known as “Apple Annies” in Leavenworth, becoming a respected business owner and active community member. A year or two later she moved to New York City to work at Tiffany & Co in fine jewelry sales—a long standing dream of hers—but after tiring of the turf wars and petty politics, she returned to Olympia.

She returned to the Senate in a position known as the “Page Mother.” There she mentored, monitored, and supported countless middle and high school students from around the State who worked as Legislative Interns - her nickname was “Mother Superior”.  Anne loved this position and she was well-loved by the State Capitol community in return.

But Anne was an entrepreneur at heart, and she again re-entered the world of being a store proprietor. This time in downtown Olympia, in a rented room on the second floor of the Donald Building on 5th Street. As she continued to grow her business, she increased her rental space until, in the mid 80’s, she bought the building from the Donald J. Martin Estate. She moved downstairs, and created Chattery Down, an English Tea Room and a shop with eclectic gifts and specialty teas.  Because she wanted to be known as Buck’s Fifth Avenue, she lobbied the City to change 5th Street to 5th Avenue.

This shop was Anne’s most well-known endeavor among a handful of downtown business enterprises, and her best. It showcased her delight in unique and hard-to find items. Her inventory gradually moved into culinary spices with a specialty in exotic mushrooms, all of which she shipped world-wide. She was well known among quite a few internationally famous chefs.  She took unexpected tangents at times, into wearable art, health foods, gifts for pets, and wooden children's toys. At one point she created the equivalent of a tool library for cooks, offering expensive and unusual culinary and kitchen tools for rent.

Innovative and successful, with an eccentric flair for the unexpected, Anne created a de facto small business incubator, renting out small second floor spaces at very reasonable rates to entrepreneurs. She favored renting to artists, educators, and environmentalists as small businesses, some of which moved on to flourish in other locations.

Anne was also an artist and designer in her own right, creating a portrait gallery of Olympia notables, called the Rogue Gallery. She would paint and add people to the collection on a frequent basis through the years.

Her experiences as a downtown business and building owner led to her involvement in many progressive political and community groups for whom she provided free meeting space. Her forward, independent thinking led to Anne’s advocacy for countless downtown issues, including public restrooms for the homeless.

Anne Buck was a woman whose vision, independence and wonderfully quirky creativity set her in a league of her own.