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An Instrumental Woman in Crater Lake National Park’s History

July 17, 2019

By Steve Mark, National Parks Service Historian

Marian B. Towne, Photo from Southern Oregon Historical Society

It is rare that national parks like Crater Lake can feature among the milestones in social history, rather than highlighting the past in reference to the environmental or scientific areas. Yet the first woman elected to the Oregon Legislature played a key role in transferring the park from state to exclusively federal jurisdiction. It started with voters in the eighth representative district (Jackson County) electing Marian B. Towne (1880-1966) on November 3, 1914, for the legislative session to begin two months later.

Women won the right to vote in Oregon by referendum on the sixth try, in 1912. Female candidates could thus run for seats in the legislature for the first time in 1914, but only Towne prevailed during the general election that November. One of only four Democrats in the 60-member Oregon House of Representatives for the 1915 session, Towne delivered the first speech ever made by a female member of the legislature on January 19 of that year. She made it to introduce HB 48, a bill aimed at the state ceding “military and police jurisdiction” over Crater Lake National Park. This bill passed unanimously in the house and received similar action in the state senate, so that the governor could sign the legislation just six says later. She even received a letter of thanks from the Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane, as part of accomplishing the first step in having the federal government assume exclusive jurisdiction at Crater Lake.

A much longer bill introduced in the federal House of Representatives by Congressman Nicholas J. Sinnott was aimed at better spelling out what accepting exclusive jurisdiction meant and took another 18 months to become law. The President signed this legislation on August 21, 1916- just four days before a bill aimed at establishing a National Park Service became law. Meanwhile, Towne served just one term in the Oregon Legislature and could not repeat the success experienced with her first bill. After losing her seat during the 1916 general election, she enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve. This occurred at a time when women had not previously been allowed to serve as part of the armed forces in any capacity expect nursing. Upon her discharge in June 1920, Towne embarked on a long career as a civil servant in Washington State and California, ending her days at the family house in the Rogue Valley.

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Vote. To encourage heritage organizations to start planning for the Centennial, Oregon Heritage is sharing stories of notable women in Oregon’s history. This article was originally published under the title “More than One Centennial” in the National Parks Service employee newsletter “Crater Lake Currents,” in December 15, 2015. For ideas on how to research women’s history in your community, visit Oregonheritage.org and refer to our Centennial Vote Planning Guide.

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