January 15, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

Marian Towne. Photo Source: Southern Oregon Historical Society.

The Capital Journal reported an interview with the Legislature’s sole female elected official in its article: “Woman Legislator Gives Interview to Journal Scribe”

Marian Towne (1880-1966) was the first woman elected to the Oregon House of Representatives. She was also the first woman to serve in the Naval Reserve Corps in World War I. She would go on to be a force in expanding opportunities for Oregon women.

The Oregon Encyclopedia provides a brief biography of her role and service to Oregon:

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

On March 29, 1917, just a week before the United States entered World War I, Towne volunteered for service as a Yeoman F (for female) in the U.S. Naval Reserve, the first time that women other than nurses were admitted into the U.S. armed forces. With other women from Medford, Towne served as a clerk at the Bremerton Naval Yard in Washington State. While there, she applied for a regular commission in the navy, but women were not yet admitted as officers and her request was rejected.

Towne gained the rank of Chief Yeoman F and worked in the paymaster’s office before her discharge on June 30, 1920. After the war, Towne worked at the Washington state health department and with the California Bar and Public Welfare Division. In the late 1950s she returned to Phoenix and died there on February 16, 1966.

The Capital Journal interview, written by Mollie Runcorn, relates the writer’s trepidation and the journalistic style of the period:

“You make an erasure here, insert the word ‘house bill’ there, and add -,” Miss Marian Towne was at her desk in the hall of representatives at the capitol building and she was giving instructions to some clerks. “A society reporter wishes to talk to you Miss Towne,” someone interrupted. The lady legislator looked around sort of surprised. “Wants to talk to me,” she quizzed. “Why, I can’t see why a society reporter would want to talk to me!” Now, that sounds rather curt, and almost like a refusal to be interviewed, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t for Miss Towne smiled charmingly. “Sit down,” she said,placing a chair near her own. . . . Miss Towne settled comfortably back in her chair and – the interview was on. Miss Towne . . . is small, petite and built like a flower. She wore a becoming tailored suit, neat blouse and a single ornament, an old-fashioned cameo. she has a mop of soft dark hair, whig she arranges simply in a heavy braid around her head. Her eyes are expressive of a lot of things. Large and beautiful they are – more grey than blue, more brown than grey. Probably no one would call her exactly beautiful, but she has something undeniably attractive about her. Her face is illuminated by a beautiful personality, ready sympathy and an “understanding” and sensitiveness to the joys and sorrows of those about her.

The paper reported that Towne, a Democrat from Phoenix, was the first woman elected to the Oregon legislature, “and one of the few holding similar positions in the United States.” “The responsibility and honor alike effects [sic] her in a sensible way,” the paper reported; “She feels the former and is prepared to do her utmost to fill her position in a satisfactory and beneficial manner,” the reporter concluded.

“I didn’t know there was any honor to being a legislator,” she told the reporter. She went on to say that “I have always heard that the solons were afraid to return to their homes after a session, as there was invariably so much dissatisfaction over the way in which they had represented their constituents.” Expressing her pleasure at traveling, she indicated that she might volunteer as a Red Cross nurse in Europe.

Describing her background the reporter wrote:

When asked where she was born, she replied “in Oregon,” and, she added, “I tell mu friends that I was the first white child born in the state.” “You hardly look that antiquated,” was suggested. She laughed and looked very knowing, but offered no further information. she really looks quit girlish, much younger, in fact, than one would naturally expect a “lady legislator” to.

When asked about her legislative agenda the paper stated “She doesn’t care particularly about politics; hasn’t any designs on them to give her notoriety, and hasn’t any bills of her own to introduce at the present session, for, in her own words, ‘I am there to give my support and assistance to all bills which I sincerely believe will tend to the general betterment and uplift of our people and state at large.’” She thought Oregon’s schools, educational and training institutions were in “many, many” ways inadequate. “These things will all come in time,” the paper reported her as saying, “but they most come largely through the legislators, who are in a way the ‘guardians’ of the people.”

The Capital Journal’s front page reported a major earthquake in Italy:

“Quake Death List Reaches 35,000 in Today’s Reports”

An earthquake January 13th leveled the town of Avezzano in the province of L’Aquila. The temblor measured XI on the Meercalli Scale, the equivalent of 8 on the Richter scale. As reported in the paper:

The toll of death taken in central Italy by Wednesday’s earthquake grew by leaps and bounds this afternoon.

Latest estimates, based on fuller reports from outlying districts placed the total at at least 35,000 and the injured at nearly 100,000.

The minister of public works, who was sent to the quake zone by Premier Salandra telegraphed the premier that every city, town and village in the Lira valley had been damaged. Hundreds of injured survivors are streaming into Rome. Every public building in the city has been converted into a temporary hospital.

The War Lineup, the paper’s summary of the war:

France – One of the most desperate encounters of the present war progressing for positions northeast of Soissons. Germans hurling masses of troops against French line in effort to break through and open way for a new Paris drive.

Turkey and Persia – Turks at Tabriz were pushing on toward Julfa. The object of the drive was to secure control of the highways and railroads leading to the Russian frontier.

Germany – Claimed French losses enormous during fighting north of Soissons. Declared French assault on German lines north of Verdun has failed. Stated French were repeatedly repulsed, with heavy losses, in efforts to take position in St. Mihiel triangle.

Poland and Galicia – Situation generally unchanged. Russians claim that their drive on the northern Prussian frontier is meeting with success were denied in Berlin.

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About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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