Artist, Musician, Mother and Wife
By Annabelle Birkestol
The arrival in Stanwood of Mary Gertrude Stockbridge Allen over one hundred years ago marked the beginning of a new era in the cultural life of old Stanwood. She was an accomplished artist, as well as musician, and her achievements were notable.
She was born October 7, 1869 in Mendota, Illinois. Her parents were David Henry and Ann Elizabeth Murry Stockbridge. She was a descendant of John Alder and Elder Brewster who came over on the “Mayflower”. She was also descendant of Sir John Stockbridge of England.
When she was just a young child she displayed a natural aptitude for painting and gift for art. By the time she was ten years old she was working in color. She attended elementary school in Springfield, Illinois and graduated from the Morrisonville High School, also in Illinois. In later years she enrolled in various college and university courses, mainly by extension.
On December 23, 1890 she was married to Dr. Orville Reid Allen. Dr. Allen was born in Decatur, Macon County, Illinois October 11, 1965. His father, Samuel C. Allen was a native of Virginia. His mother, Jane E. (Gore) Allen was born in Ohio. The father was a well-educated and successful farmer. He figured prominently in Macon County affairs and served in a number of public offices. He and his brother in partnership with Abraham Lincoln operated a country store for a period of two years. In 1858 when Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas over the issue of slavery, it was his good friend Samuel Allen who accompanied Lincoln during these debates. Samuel Allen’s son Orville was born only a few months after Lincoln was assassinated. One of Dr. Allen’s prized possessions was a death mask of President Lincoln.
Following his graduation from Decatur High School, Orville Reid Allen studied medicine at Rush Medical College of Chicago, graduating in 1887. He first practiced medicine in southwestern Missouri for one year. In 1888 he returned to his hometown of Decatur where he remained for the next ten years. He married Mary Stockbridge in 1890. Their only son, Everett S. Allen was born in Decatur July 4, 1893. In 1898 Dr. Allen and Mary and their 5-year-old son moved to Stanwood where he established his medical practice. His first office was located on Market Street.
In 1904 the Allens built a new home which was considered one of the finest in Stanwood. It was described as a “three-story residence containing twelve rooms and six closets. It was piped for city water and serviced with steam heat and electricity from the hospital. Entrance to the residence was from the front piazza into a hall that led to a spacious living room with a large old-fashioned fireplace. Music room, library, dining room, pantry, kitchen and laundry were on the two upper floors, much of which was done in Washington fir and Alaska cedar. A hand-carved mantle was a special feature of the house.”
In January 1905 Dr. Allen opened Stanwood’s first hospital. It was located at the corner of Broadway and Augusta Streets and was described a “a modern two-story facility, complete with surgery, six private rooms, a large ward, two baths, X-ray equipment and hot air cabinet for treatment of rheumatism and inflamed joints. Also included were nurse’s quarters, doctor’s office, two sitting rooms, spacious dining room and kitchen, heating plant and its own electric light plant.” Dr. Allen also built a hospital in Burlington, although I haven’t been able to determine exactly when that occurred.
Mary Allen’s relatives played an important role in the development of early-day Stanwood. In 1887 her brother William R. Stockbridge, who came to Stanwood from Puyallup, purchased all the holdings of the original town proprietor, Henry Oliver. In the following year, 1888, a town site of twenty acres was laid out. This was surveyed by Peter Leque and filed on September 28, 1889 as a plot belonging to William R. and his wife, Augusta M. Stockbridge. The shortest street in Stanwood–Augusta Street–was named in honor of Mrs. Stockbridge. She was also noted for her patchwork quilts. One of her quilts is displayed in the D.O. Pearson House Museum. In later years, William R. Stockbridge served as president of the Bank of Commerce in Everett.
Stanwood was incorporated as a fourth class town on September 29, 1903. Dr. Allen was one of the five people chosen to serve on the first town council. He was also known as one of the early canoe doctors. Automobiles were introduced to Stanwood in May, 1907 and Dr. Allen was one of the first people to own one.
Meanwhile, Mary Allen’s paintings were bringing her fame among Northwest artists and her legacy remains to this day. The first time Mrs. Allen exhibited any of her work occurred in March 1906 when she entered one of her paintings titled “Street Arabs” at the third annual exhibit of fine are sponsored by the Women’s Century Club of Seattle. According to an article that was published in the Stanwood Tidings “this painting showed a style absolutely individual in technique, coloring and choice of subject and was the subject of many complimentary criticisms by all who visited the exhibit.”
Some time after that, Mary Allen was commissioned to paint the altar piece for the First Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon. She also painted portraits of two Japanese heroes–one was a General, the other was a Major–who had served in the war between Russia and Japan shortly after the turn of the century.
Tragedy struck the Allen family on July 11, 1910 when their son Everett lost his life in a drowning accident while learning to swim in the Stillaguamish River. Dr. Allen and Dr. McEacheran and two nurses worked for three long hours trying to revive him, but they were unsuccessful. Just one week before, on July 4th, Everett had celebrated his seventeenth birthday. He had attended the Hill Military Academy in Portland where he held the rank of second corporal of his company. He had been home only about two weeks when the tragedy occurred. A story that circulated at the time was that a few days before he lost his life, Everett was lying on the ground one day and looking up at the sky he casually remarked to his mother, “I wish I could lie on a bed of roses”. At his funeral, his coffin was literally smothered with fresh roses. In the years following the loss of Everett, the Allens raised and educated a total of six children.
Mary Allen painted and generously donated the altar piece in time for the dedication of Freeborn Lutheran Church in September 1911. She did not sign the painting because it’s a copy of the painting, “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” by Hofmann, a 19th century German artist. I have been told that she also painted the altar piece for the Lutheran Church at Port Madison on Bainbridge Island.
One of Mrs. Allen’s best-known works is the idealized portrait of Marcissa Prentiss Whitman hanging in Prentiss Hall at Whitman College in Walla Walla. This work was painted on a commission from the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Dr. Allen retained his medical practice in Stanwood until August 1911 when the O.R. Allen Hospital was purchased by Dr. L. H. Jacobsen of Seattle and Dr. Donald McEacheran of Stanwood. Dr. and Mrs. Allen moved to Lake Stevens where he continued to practice medicine. In 1937 the Snohomish County Medical Association honored him at a formal dinner in Everett for having completed fifty years of serving as a medical doctor. The Allens observed their fiftieth wedding anniversary December 23, 1940. They lived for a time in Laguna Beach, California and also in Everett.
Essex, Alice. The Stanwood Story, vols. I and II, 1971, 1975 Stanwood/Camano NEWS, Stanwood, WA
Whitfield, William. The History of Snohomish County Washington, vols. I and II, Pioneer Historical Publishing, Chicago, 1926
Pollard, Lancaster, A History of the State of Washington, Vol IV, Binfords & Mort, Portland, Oregon 1937
Trip, Dode & Sherburne F. Cook, Jr. Washington State Art and Artists, 1850 – 1950, Olympica Washington Sherburne Antiques and Fine Art, 1992
Sharylen, Maria, Artists of the Pacific Northwest / A Biographical Dictionary, 1600’s – 1970, McFarland, Jefferson N. C., 1993
Dawdy, Doris Ostrander. Artists of the American West, vol I & II. Chicago, Sage Books  – 1985
Fielding, Mantle. Mantle Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers, Poughkeepsie, N. Y. Apollo, 1986
Who’s Who in the State of Washington, 1939-40
Newsclippings from Stanwood Tidings, Everett Herald and Seattle Post Intelligencer
© 1999 Annabelle Birkestol All Rights Reserved; WLP Story Number 7 ~