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Calling for Sites that Tell Women's History

January 14, 2020

By Jason Allen, Oregon State Historic Preservation Office

One hundred years ago today, Oregon became the 25th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, affirming the right of women to fully participate in our democracy. Because it would require another eight months to reach the necessary 36 states to adopt it formally into the United States Constitution, 2020 is a year full of significant dates marking the centenary.

Lord Schryver Conservancy, Salem

In this important anniversary year, one way we can draw attention to the historically unrecognized contributions of women in Oregon is to connect those accomplishments with the places where they happened and record those sites in the Oregon Statewide Inventory, the State’s collection of information on historically significant places.

As the Survey and Inventory Program Coordinator at Oregon Heritage, I’ve become familiar with quite a lot of the significant places across Oregon. For example, the Lord & Schryver Conservancy was the Northwest’s first woman owned and operated landscape architecture firm, and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

More importantly, I’ve learned of some properties that I hadn’t known anything about, such as the Patton Home for the Aged, a stately Georgian/Colonial Revival-style building in Portland that may have been the first retirement home in Oregon. Prior to the New Deal programs that assisted older people into their later years, support for the elderly was a charity cause.

Patton Home, Portland. Photo:Wikipedia

Among those charitable organizations was the Ladies’ Union Relief Society, established in 1887 and dedicated to assisting any who needed it. In 1889 land was donated for the purpose of establishing a home of the aged, which the Society accepted, and the first phase of construction of the Patton Home was built. Members of the Ladies’ Union Relief Society held all offices in the new organization, led by Mary A. Knox, who served as President of the Patton Home for many years. The building was expanded many times over the following decades, initially serving as a retirement home for vulnerable, elderly women, but ultimately opening to both men and women. The building is now low-income housing, but stands as a testament to the efforts of Mary Knox and the other women of the Society to provide for women in their later years.

Maybe most importantly, I’ve also learned about some places that I thought I knew, but was introduced to connections that were wholly new to me. One such property is Lincoln Hall on the Portland State University campus in downtown Portland. I knew that this building had started its life in 1911 as Lincoln High School, later becoming the first building occupied by the University on its opening on the South Park Blocks in 1953. What I learned, however, was that the building was also central to the early development of Portland’s now thriving independent film scene.

In the early 1960s, a student group called the Portland State Film Committee began screening films in the basement of Lincoln Hall. The group’s leader was Brooke Jacobson, then an undergraduate student. Brooke went on to a lifetime of achievements in the advancement of independent, local filmmaking, including the founding of the Northwest Media Project, co-founding the Northwest Film Center, and the securing of critical grants early in the history of both, serving on a committee of the National Endowment for the Arts that sought to identify resources for independent filmmakers, earned a PhD from USC, and returned to PSU to teach film. Through her efforts, future artists like Bill Plympton, Matt Groening, Gus Van Sant, and others were exposed to independent film through their participation in screenings held in Lincoln Hall. Ms. Jacobson is recognized as one of the leading early drivers behind independent film in Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest, and it all began in the basement, Room 75, and the auditorium at Lincoln Hall.

My work here at Oregon Heritage gives me the great opportunity to see many places in Oregon, to learn about their role in history, and to share them with others. On this 100th anniversary of Oregon’s acknowledgment of the right of women to vote, let us all take a moment to acknowledge the great achievements of Oregon’s women, sung and unsung, and of those everywhere whose contributions stand far above the recognition they’ve received.

Do you know of other important Oregon places associated with women’s history? These may be residences, business places, social gathering spaces, sites for suffrage and women’s rights efforts, burial sites, campuses, etc… Please provide all information and documentation you can to inform our Historic Sites Database.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2020 8:47 am

    On the afternoon of 12 December 1904, a few well-dressed Klamath Falls women bundle up against the cold and set out in the bright sunshine from their various homes for a meeting at the home of Mrs. William S. Worden. The women form a club and agree that the new club will be known as “The Woman’s Club.” They adopt by-laws and a constitution.

    Four days later the women meet again and discuss the reading room they plan to open on Main Street.

    1905 The population of Klamath Falls in 1900 was only 447 residents, but by 1905, about 2500 people live in Klamath Falls, and business is booming. One of the headlines in a 1905 Klamath Falls newspaper reads: “Watch Us Grow! Here Are a Few of the Latest: Railroads, Street Cars, Steamboats, Irrigation, and Creameries.”

    That same year of 1905, the City of Klamath Falls incorporates, the Chamber of Commerce organizes, and Fred Melhase builds the two-story rock building on the corner of Main and Second Streets

    Early in the Spring, the members of the Woman’s Club expand their plans and decide to open not only a reading room but also a library. By then they have acquired over one hundred books. All year the members of the Woman’s Club hold various money-raising events, including ice cream socials, concerts, excursions and boat rides on the lakes.

    The women submit an article for the newspaper in which they state that the purpose of the reading room is to provide “a place of resort for quiet rest and refreshment of mind, and the help which comes from association with those who enjoy means of self-improvement rather than self-indulgence.” The Woman’s Club intends that the free reading room will assist both the “young, innocent and well-meaning persons of the town, and people from the country.”

    On 26 November, the Woman’s Club opens the “Klamath Falls Public Library and Free Reading Room” on the second floor of the Melhase Building.

    Within a few months, the club begins receiving a small sum of money from the Klamath Falls City Council to help support the library, and the women continue raising funds.

    1906 Julia Zumwalt gives her first of many concerts over the years to support the library. Someone once said that history is “the action of people.” When we look at the history of public libraries, much of that history depends on actions taken by members of the community who care about public libraries.

    Julia Zumwalt was one of the people who cared passionately about the library in Klamath Falls. Julia Kinsey was born 21 Sep 1874 in California, the daughter of a Methodist minister. On 28 June 1905, Julia married Don J. Zumwalt, the civil engineer for the Klamath Abstract Company of Klamath Falls.

    It was later said that Julia Zumwalt “came as a bride to Klamath Falls by way of Thrall, Pokegama and a four-horse stage.”

    Within the first few weeks of her arrival in Klamath Falls, Julia joined the Woman’s Club and supported the library for the rest of her life. She was a singer, a musician, and a member of a touring opera troupe. She gave piano and voice lessons to the children of the area.

    Almost every year, for many years, she gave concerts, with the proceeds going to the library.

    Years later, when Julia was an elderly woman in a nursing home in Ashland, she wrote to a friend in Klamath Falls, saying how much she missed the Klamath Falls Library and how important the library had been to her during her life.

    Julia Zumwalt’s obituary stated that she was “credited by the community of Klamath Falls with having contributed more to the cultural background of the city than any other woman of her generation.”

    1907 The library in the upstairs rooms of the Melhase Building is so successful that the women are in the process of trying to find new quarters for the library.

    The main part of town is located between Link River and about Eighth Street. The courthouse block contains the frame court house built in 1888 and the little city hall, both facing Main Street. Across Third Street from city hall is an Methodist Church no longer used; the lot has been sold and the Woman’s Club given the opportunity to buy the building.

    The women accept the offer, and spend over one thousand dollars to move the church building to the courthouse block, to install a new roof, and for carpentry work, plastering, painting, and decorating.

    The statistics for library usage during August 1907 are startling. In that month alone, more than eleven hundred people use the library, and the library loans almost two hundred books. The library loans books not only for adults but also for children, as shown by the titles from a list published in the newspaper: The Wonder Book, Treasure Island, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, The Wizard of Oz, Poems Every Child Should Know, and many other children’s titles.

    1909 Members of the Woman’s Club vote to change the name of their club to the Woman’s Library Club.

    1910 Early in 1910, the Woman’s Library Club receives a letter signed by William S. Worden, Secretary of the Klamath Development Company. The Klamath Development Company is developing the hot springs area, the area we know today as the location of Klamath Union High School and Pacific Terrace. In the letter, Worden offers a site for the women to build a new library.

    The women discuss the offer and decide “that we express our gratitude and appreciation for this offer, and investigate other possible offers and locations.”

    To understand the beginning of the Klamath County Carnegie Library and the changes in the city library, one must also understand how Klamath County came to have three courthouses at one time, because the story of the libraries is interwoven with the story of the courthouses.

    About the same time that the Klamath Development Company submits its offer to the Woman’s Library Club, the company also contacts Klamath County and offers five acres free to build a new courthouse.

    The men who own businesses in the main part of town, around the courthouse block, oppose the offer and want the new courthouse built in the courthouse block. Those men, including Fred Melhase who had built the building where the first library was located, are called the “Hog Combine.” The men of the Klamath Development Company are called the “Bolsheviks.”

    Voters elect William S. Worden as Klamath County Judge in November.

    1913 In April 1913 Judge Worden and the two county commissioners sign a resolution in an effort to obtain Carnegie funds for a public library.

    Two of the requirements to obtain a Carnegie grant are that the library will be free to the public and that the local community will provide annual tax support.

    Construction of the new courthouse in the hot springs area begins in July.

    The county is notified that Carnegie library funds will be granted, and Judge Worden insists that the new library be located very close to the new courthouse.

    Although leaders of Klamath Falls and the Woman’s Library Club complain that the new library site is too far from the main part of town, by late December Klamath County receives the first installment of money from the Carnegie Fund.

    1914 By March, contractors and builders are busy working on the new Klamath County Carnegie Library, and by August, the library is nearly finished.

    The county hires a librarian, Anne Brockenbrough, to get books on the shelves and everything ready for opening to the public.

    Anne is quoted in a newspaper article, “We will serve not only the city circulation, but will establish deposit stations through the county . . . . This service is not only to be extended to the county people, but to Klamath Falls people as well … In addition to the library itself, it is planned to establish a deposit station in the main portion of the city … making the library books available to all.”

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