Mae Randall Parkhurst Swanson

Hard-working Businesswoman 1879-1952
WLP Story No. 6 ~ By Sandra Schumacher
Mae Randall Parkhurst’s role as breadwinner was thrust upon her by the death of her husband in 1915. She was already working, but as a young widow with three small children to support, Mae knew life would not be easy. Determination, perseverance and love would be required to keep her family together, but these Mae had in abundance.

She had come to Everett at age 26 around 1905 with her parents, William and Rose Ellen Randall, and Mae’s sister, Lydia Randall, from Cedar Falls, Iowa, where William, previously a farmer, had studied for the ministry. Rev. Randall was to become the pastor of the First Baptist Church on Lombard. Mae attended business college, then promptly went to work as a court reporter.
Mae recalled that it was a challenging job because it was difficult for her to understand the testimonies of people with Scandinavian accents, a sound new to her ears. She had a good head on her shoulders, and before long was working for the county treasurer at a time when most transactions were done in cash.

Still close to her parents, Mae took a trip to Portland, Oregon with her father. There she met Paul Parkhurst, who had left a comfortable life in Templeton, Massachusetts to mine gold in the Klondike with several friends. The adventure was not successful, but they did not return to the East Coast, choosing instead to remain out west. Paul and Mae married in Everett around 1907. She continued to work for the county and was promoted to County Cashier. It was a good job and convenient since the couple lived a few doors away from the courthouse.
Throughout the marriage, Paul had never been well, due to an illness he contracted in the Klondike. His death left Mae with three children under the age of seven. Mae’s daughter Helen Parkhurst Sievers remembers her mother as a very resourceful, generous and hard working woman. Helen remembers, “She stepped out in the world at a time when most women were in the background.”

Mae recognized that she needed more income in order to raise her children, so she opened Vanity Bazaar, a variety store on Hoyt Avenue in Everett. Later she would open opening The Variety Store in Snohomish. She counted Pilchuck Julia as one of her many customers, and, because of Julia’s recurring leg problem, often had to drive Julia home. By 1925 Mae decided that she would ply her business skills in the Delicatessen business and opened Parkhurst Deli in Everett with her sister Lydia.
Her retail business may have continued for years were it not for a late rent payment on her Lake Stevens home that resulted in the loss of her home and all of her household belongings. She and the children were forced to start over with the help of Mae’s father. May applied for a position in the cashier’s office in Everett again, and was gladly rehired due to her fine work record over the years.
In 1928 she remarried Everett’s beloved Fire Chief, Charlie Swanson, a long time family friend. During her retirement years, Mae enjoyed fishing and boating with her husband, and divided her time between Everett and Baby Island Heights. Emphysema took its toll on Mae, who said that she “probably contracted it by talking too much!”

In December 1952, the city of Everett lost one of its earliest female business owners, as well as a respected employee. Never the victim, she rose from adversity and built both a strong family and a successful career.

Source: Helen Parkhurst Sievers

©2006 Sandra Schumacher, All Rights Reserved

To learn more about Mae Randall Parkhurst, see the story of her daughter, Helen Parkhurst Sievers, on this web site.