Nellie Robertson A Lifetime of Writing

By Teri Baker

From the time she was little, Nellie Robertson has been enchanted with the way words could bring color and drama to life. Her father wrote wonderfully descriptive letters and read them to her, instilling in her a desire to write that has never diminished.

At age 12 she went door-to-door “getting the news,” rushed back to her grandmother’s house to write the stories, then produced a “newspaper” that kept the neighbors informed and entertained. In high school she wrote short stories and worked part time at the library. Author of Monroe: The First 50 Years, Nellie maintains, “I’ve always written. I probably always will.”
Another skill, conducting meetings, eventually brought her into the life of Bill Robertson. They met through a citizens band radio organization while Nellie, a certified teacher of parliamentary law, was working on the group’s bylaws. The Robertsons, who have been married 30 years, moved to Monroe in 1972, and a year later, Nellie began her career at The Monroe Monitor. She started out composing ads, but within two weeks was writing a recipe column. “I hate recipes,” she confides, adding that while she admires the culinary skills of others, she finds cooking “quite boring,” and was “much happier describing it than doing it.”

Her duties soon included writing the “social page.” A feature about a pilot earned her a bonus and was so well remembered that for years Nellie was known as “the girl who went flying.” When Bill took a job in Petersburg, Alaska, in 1976, Nellie went to work for The Petersburg Pilot as feature writer, typesetter and circulation manager rolled into one. “It was an incredible experience,” she says. “The messy, physical work of producing a newspaper was offset by the joy of writing.”

The couple moved to Dillingham, Alaska, where Nellie managed the dock for the city and was office manager for a couple who owned five diverse businesses: a hotel, hardware and lumber store, restaurant, marina and fur buying operation. She also taught parliamentary law for the University of Alaska. On a lark, she agreed to run for mayor against two men, both lifelong residents of Dillingham. She says she didn’t really care if she won until the radio station had a debate, and her opponents called her a politician.

“I was outraged,” she recalls. “I told them the only reason I was running was because I knew how to conduct the meetings.” Voters, tired of the haphazard way city meetings were held, responded by electing her outright in the primary. Dillingham lost its new mayor eight months later when Bill’s health forced him to resign as head of maintenance for the school district, and the couple returned to Monroe, where they still owned a home.

In 1982 Nellie found herself back at The Monitor, where she remained until she retired ten years later with five writing awards to her credit. She wrote a lot about local history, started a health page and wrote a column called “Nellie’s Knick Knacks.” She says, “I always included people. That’s what I think newspapers are all about.”

While her fiction is based on historical events, Nellie’s book about Monroe, Monroe: The First 50 Years, is a factual, chronological account of that city’s beginnings. Filled with information and insights into everyday life on farms, in mills and logging camps, along the river, etc. Attitudes about business, civic responsibility, education, social life and morality are recorded, as are accounts of community celebrations, church news, “current” fashions, entertainment and sports.

“I wrote the book because it had never been done, and I felt it needed to be,” Nellie says. “It soon became apparent that I couldn’t do the entire history, so I decided to do the first fifty years. The Monroe Historical Society kindly let me keep their film and reader here at the house, or it would have taken me forever to get this written. As it was, it took four years.”

Nellie says she enjoyed the research, but “had the most fun including vignettes that make it human.” She writes of Sam the Hugger, so named for breaking into homes to hug the lady of the house before dashing out again, and Louisa Smallman, a pioneer who successfully fought off claim jumpers, but jumped up on a table whenever she saw a mouse.

These days, Nellie concentrates on writing fiction four hours a day. Careful to maintain a balance in her life, she plays computer games while she eats lunch, cross-stitches designs on sweatshirts and spends as much time as she can.

For Nellie, the accolades that meant most came from her husband and children. A warm smile spreads over her face as she tells of a speech her daughter gave before a service organization. The message that age should not make a difference was focused on “the best mom in the world, Nellie E. Robertson, who published a book shortly before her seventieth birthday.”

Nellie’s writer’s mind is always seeing possibilities, always figuring out the best way to string words together. It is part of who she is – and part of the world her father showed her when she was just a little girl.

Nellie Robertson now lives in Olympia Washington and is still writing. She has since completed Monroe: The Next Thirty Years, Kathryn’s Courage, Wellington Wisdom and its sequel, Beyond Wellington. Even though she decided that “Discoveries” wouldn’t sell that well she had it printed rather than published, selling out twice. Her newest book is titled “Hannah.” For more about her see the Monroe Historical Society page.

Source: Interview with Nellie E. Robertson, 1997 and 2006.
© 1997 – 2006 Theresa A. (Teri) Baker, All Rights Reserved

The Frohning Women ~ Generations of Farm Wives

By Nellie E. Robertson

Photo Courtesy of the Frohning Family circa 1890s.

The Frohning Farm has been farmed since the 1860s and still is. From left to right the people in the photo are unidentified man, Robert Enos Smallman, Adelaide Smallman (in white dress), unidentified man (in background) and Louisa Smallman (Robert’s wife – white hair, seated).

Betty’s story
Betty Frohning, 77, and her daughter-in-law Sandy, 42, are prime examples of the women who have always been the backbone of rural Snohomish County. Both married into the family dairy farm. Th

e Frohning family, which was among the early settlers in the Tualco Valley (near Monroe) as far back as the 1860’s, still occupies part of the original Robert Smallman homestead. Sandy Frohning’s lineage goes back to the Foyes, another historical Tualco Valley family.

Betty had never seen a cow close up before moving from Los Angeles to Duvall with her spouse and two sons. Her husband worked on a dairy farm, but they lived too far away for her to be involved. When she married her second husband, Elmer Frohning, in 1952, she became espoused to dairying. “We had to hurry home from the wedding to milk the cows,” she said. “Elmer told me to get down and see how to milk a cow. I squatted down and thought, if the cow fell on me, I’d be mush.”

Although the dairy used milking machines, Elmer wanted Betty to get the feel of milking a cow. Sandy explained, “There’s something about the feeling between you and the cow when you actually hold her teats in your hands. It’s more real by hand.”

Betty’s responsibilities early on reflected what most farm wives did, including caring for the calves. She fed them twice a day, cleaned their bedding out daily and put in new sawdust. Sandy added, “Women make the best calf feeders, statistically speaking.”

The mysteries of the milking machines for more than 30 H

olsteins occupied Betty at first, and she fed the cows after they had been milked, being careful not to startle the placid creatures. She also cleaned the cows’ stalls. The farm used the open free stall system wherein cows chose their own places rather than being herded into selected stalls. It helped organize the cows easier and cut down on the use of sawdust.

In the old days, Betty hand-scraped manure and loaded it into a wheelbarrow, and then a farm hand wheeled it down the ramp and dumped it. When the Frohnings got a blade for the tractor to do the job, Betty drove it to clean out the barn. “I hurt my leg a couple of years ago and told them I wouldn’t drive the tractor any more until they put a running board on it,” she said. That hasn’t happened.

Besides outdoor farm work, Betty cooked, cooked and then cook

ed some more. With the couple’s offspring and extended family, she had a lot of mouths to feed. Betty recalled, “I made oven meals and came in to check them between chores.” They ate the big meal at noon, followed by a lighter supper in the evening.

Soon after they were married, Elmer told her he had another job for her. He introduced her to a stack of jeans, higher than her head, that needed mending. At night she plied her needle and did the housework. Her day lasted from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m.

She grew vegetables in her garden. “As a city girl, when we wanted vegetables, we went down to the store and bought them,” she said, “I had never grown anything.” She canned her produce and also made vinegar and syrup. When they had a wood stove, she made cottage cheese, but liked the kind sold in stores better. Betty baked many batches of her famous cookies at Christmastime to fill little gift parcels for everyone. One year Elmer and son Tim kept filching cookies here and there until there were none to fill the boxes, and so Betty worked all day and all night to replace the purloined cookies. “They had to do my chores that time,” she chuckled. Widowed in 1998, she still cooks for everyone morning, noon and night. “My door is always open and I cook for anyone who’s here.”

In the early days, she washed the cows’ udders with a sponge dipped in an antiseptic fluid then washed them again after milking. These days, the cleaning is done with treated towels, and although she doesn’t clean the udders, she does wash the cloths used. She also serves as bookkeeper for the Frohning Dairy Farm south of Monroe.
Sandy’s story
Sandy married Tim Frohning in 1983. They traveled by tractor from the Monroe Community Chapel, the site of their wedding, to the Wagner Grange Hall for the reception. A photo of that ride appeared in the local weekly paper, the Monroe Monitor.
The year she married, Sandy earned a teaching degree, but consciously decided she wanted to be a farm wife. “I’d always been outside with my dad, and I loved the animals,” she explained. Tim and Sandy have four sons, all but one home-schooled by Sandy.

While Sandy assumed the care of the calves and worked alongside her husband, Betty took care of the little boys. “Calf feeding starts with birth and lasts to the time they give birth themselves,” Sandy said. “Tim feeds the cows.” They have 150 milk cows and 150 head of other livestock in various stages of development. They now hire milkers instead of doing the job themselves. Vitamilk picks up 8,000 pounds of milk daily.

Sandy has become an expert dairy farmer and can easily discuss breeding cows by artificial insemination, gestation periods and so forth. Reams of paper work and computer matching every two months determine the right bull as mate for the cow to correct any faults she might have and to improve her longevity. The cows have it easy, she said, adding, “Their job is to eat, rest and get fat for the calf they carry.” After the calf is weaned, the cow keeps producing milk for the dairy.

Her children are carrying on the family tradition. Second son, Danny, was eight years old, when he bought his first Jersey cow. He fell in love with Bambi, and thought a young Jersey looked just like Disney’s famous character. He now has 16 Jerseys of his own. In the summer of 2002 as a teenager, instead of other pursuits, he chose to go to AI school to learn the trade. Oldest son Matt, 18, enjoys the equipment on the farm and keeps it in good repair. Timmy Lee, 11, is the head manure scraper, and youngest son, Doug, 8, is a hand scraper.

Sandy has never regretted her decision to be a farm wife. “It’s the best of two worlds,” she said. “You work alongside your husband, and if you have a disagreement, you settle it right away because you’re together instead of brooding about it. Farming is good for marriages and raising children. It’s the best responsibility builder for kids.”

Word has spread, and often town kids come out to the farm, get into the chores and find the road to responsibility and self worth. Some call it a halfway house for the young people. Both Betty and Sandy have been active in 4-H, Betty for 37 years, and Sandy for 11. “It’s a fundamental builder,” Betty said. “It teaches constructive responsibility.” Sandy added, “They learn public speaking and have the opportunity to travel.”

Tuesdays are long-lunch days when Sandy cooks enough for 15 grown men, which usually means preparing six pounds of hamburger. Everyone is welcome, kids and adults alike. Sandy said that the feed salesman who dropped by periodically was the one who started the tradition. Sandy likes it. “It’s a time eat, listen and laugh,” she said. That’s one of the joys of being a farm wife.
Sources: Monroe Monitor articles & interviews with Betty Frohning and Sandy Frohning circa 2003.

© 2003 Nellie E. Robertson All Rights Reserved

Nina Blackman Bakeman

Snohomish Teacher and Civic Leader (1862-1941)
Story #62
By Frances Wood
The letter read, “We offer you the position of primary teacher in the [Snohomish] grammar school commencing February 1886 . . . [the pay] will be $45 or $50 a month and a chance for a raise.
These few words radically altered the life of 23-year-old Nina Blackman. They prompted her to leave her family, her fiancé and a teaching position in California, and move 1,000 miles north to a small mill town in Washington Territory. A letter from Nina’s brother Arthur, who had moved to Snohomish two months earlier, encouraged her further. “I like this place first rate . . . there are a good many stumps but that doesn’t matter. They ought to call this place Blackman City there are so many of them here.”
Nina Blackman was born in 1862 in Bangor, Maine, to George and Frances (Eddy) Blackman. She was descended from a long line of Maine Yankees, the earliest of whom arrived in America in 1624, only four years after the Mayflower pilgrims. Nina’s interest in teaching sprouted at an early age. She later wrote, “Ever since a small child, I had always declared an intention of being a teacher.”
When Nina was nine, the family moved to Saginaw, Michigan. Five years later, they relocated again, this time across the country to Oakland, California, where Nina’s father accepted a position with the National Cash Register Company. Nina graduated from Oakland High School in 1883.

She studied at a normal school, faced the county teachers’ examination board and, although nervous as a scared rabbit, passed with a certificate to teach primary school. She was hired to teach in a one-room schoolhouse in Arroyo Valle District, in Livermore Valley. She wrote, “I found the pupils and the parents pleasant and agreeable but with all my heart would [ache to] go back to my home in Oakland.” One assumes that much of that ache was for her brother and parents, but there was also in the picture a gentleman, to whom she had become engaged. Nina resigned her teaching position but instead of returning to Oakland, she curiously accepted the teaching position in Snohomish.
A month later the blast of the steamer’s whistle gathered the town to the wharf for Nina’s arrival. Among the assembled townsfolk was Charles H. Bakeman, likely intrigued about the town’s newest resident. Charles had moved to Snohomish three years earlier from Peshtigo, Wisconsin, and began to grow his woodworking business. He built the first buggy in the region and also ran a mercantile outlet for his furniture.
As Charles watched Nina disembark, he uttered the most quoted words in the Blackman/Bakeman family history, “I’m going to marry her and buy her a sky-blue dress to match her eyes.”
In an unfinished novel based on Nina’s early life in Snohomish, her daughter Frances Bakeman Hodge described how she imagined the scene as Nina stepped off the steamer.
“[Nina} . . . seemed fragile in figure and pastel in color. Her cream-colored hair under the soft pearly gray bonnet was like the finely spun curls of a young child. Her features and skin were soft and childlike too, but the expression in her blue eyes was not that of an immature girl. She returned the curious scrutiny of the people on the dock with the calm glance of a poised woman.”
The school consisted of two, side-by-side, small white buildings, one room each. Nina taught 44 pupils from ages five to fifteen. Struggling with all the problems of undisciplined students she wrote, “As they came straggling in before school began and started to play tag in the room, I was convinced I had my hands full. One or two strikes of the ponderous bell which stood on my desk and a word from me served to quiet them.”
Following her first term, the Snohomish County Superintendent selected Nina to present her teaching methods before the Territorial Institute held at Seattle. Nervous and humbled, she stood before a crowd of teachers “many of them old and experienced in the work, to present my simple ways of teaching.”
Nina finished that term and taught for one more year. Somewhere along the way she broke her engagement and fell in love with Charles. On June 20, 1887, Nina and Charles were quietly wed. Charles had been bucked off a horse and seriously injured. There was no one to tend the bedridden bachelor and, given the social mores of the time, Nina could not visit him unchaperoned. Marriage made it possible for her to nurse him back to health.

The Bakeman family in 1896 (L to R) Charles (age 35), Guy (age 4), Inez (age 6), Nina (age 35) The couple blended her genteel New England heritage and his rough-around-the-edges German demeanor. Charles liked to play cards; she did not. He liked to dance; she never danced. He was tall and lanky; she petite, probably just under five feet tall. Their first five years were buoyed by prosperity in Charles’ furniture business. Box springs became the rage and he produced enough for the whole town. In December of 1889, Nina gave birth to her first child, Inez Mildred. Two years later a son, Guy Victor arrived.
Nina stepped forward to serve in civic positions. She was a charter member and vice-president of the Women’s Civic Club (later called the Cosmopolitan Club) dedicated to literature, child welfare, civic progress and social culture. She was elected president of the Snohomish Parent Teacher association and a trustee of the first Snohomish library.
Suddenly, their life took a dramatic turn for the worse. On a September night in 1893, fire raged through Charles’ store and burned the entire inventory valued at $17,000 dollars. The couple had to give up their home and squeeze into a small rental cottage at 317 Avenue B.
Several years earlier Charles had grub staked a miner who started the O & B Mine in the Cascade foothills near Monte Cristo. (O and B stood for Osborne and Bakeman.) Charles’ only recourse was to take to the hills, and work the mine, hoping to eke out enough gold or silver to support his family.Nina stayed in Snohomish, tending her home and two small children. The mine yielded no riches, but Charles managed to rebuild the furniture business. Someone asked him to build a casket, which led Charles to become the town’s undertaker. Hard times eased with the turn of the century and Nina and Charles began the second half of their family. Frances Louise arrived in 1900 and Charles Theodore in 1903.

Nina Blackman Bakeman, age 64 (about 1925)
Nina Blackman Bakeman, age 64 (about 1925)

They purchased the rental cottage and over the years it evolved to a spacious nine-room home. Nina’s daughter Frances later described the house: “The house on Avenue B was furnished with many New England antiques, but the extra lot on Avenue A was used for a garden, orchard, chicken yard and stable, a mini-farm, like the big farms where the Bakemans lived in Wisconsin.”
Nina and Charles remained in that house for the rest of their lives. Nina died there at age 79. Charles survived for another 14 years living with their daughter Frances and her family. Years later when Frances was straightening the things in the attic, she uncovered a sky-blue brocaded silk dress, carefully saved among her mother’s possessions. Charles had carried through with the second promise he’d made so many years before.

© 2009 Frances Wood, All Rights Reserved

Alice White Reardon

Newspaper Publisher 1867 – 1951

By Nellie Robertson

Ink ran in the veins of Alice White Reardon nearly from the time of her birth in 1867 until her death in 1951. Born in Ft. Dodge, Iowa of pioneer stock, she was the second daughter in a family of five children. When she was two years old, her father established the first newspaper in Soda Bar, Iowa. Her newspaper heritage followed her throughout her life.

In 1890 Alice married John J. Reardon. The couple had six sons, one of whom died in infancy, and one daughter. In 1893 Reardon entered into partnership with Alice’s brother in the newspaper business. When John left the partnership, the family came to Washington in 1911 and to Monroe in 1913. Reardon bought the Monroe Independent and settled down to report on life in the small town. It became Monroe’s official newspaper. Ten years later the Reardons bought the Monroe Monitor and merged the two publications.

Alice helped in the newspaper office and still managed to take good care of her family.
When tragedy struck, not once, but twice, in a matter of weeks, Alice responded with courage. Her husband died on March 20, 1928, and on May 18th of the same year, John and Alice’s oldest son, Joseph, who had served in France in World War I and had been associated with his father in the Monroe Monitor, died in an automobile accident.

Alice White Reardon, circa 1945? Born in 1867 at Fort Dodge, Iowa, the second of five children, she died in 1951. Photographer: Bruno Art Studio, 416 SW Alder, Portland, Oregon. #506504 Photograph Courtesy of the Monroe Historical Society, Monroe, WA
Alice White Reardon, circa 1945?
Born in 1867 at Fort Dodge, Iowa, the second of five children, she died in 1951.
Photographer: Bruno Art Studio, 416 SW Alder, Portland, Oregon. #506504
Photograph Courtesy of the Monroe Historical Society, Monroe, WA

Alice bought her daughter-in-law’s interest in the Monitor, and her son Keiron, who would later serve in the state legislature, joined her as editor. Newspapers often spawn confrontational episodes, but Alice did not allow herself to become embroiled. She handled the business part of the publication with equanimity. She published the newspaper until she sold it in 1943.

Descendants and friends characterize her as a kind person, always busy. Great-niece Catherine Hammond said, “I never saw her mad or cranky.” She made crazy quilts out of velvet and embroidered with silk thread. Her family treasures those quilts. She also crocheted and knitted.

Alice was a well known and beloved member of the community. Of the things she is best remembered for, donuts top the list. When the goodies appeared at the Congregational Church bazaars, they disappeared before they hit the shelves. She generously shared her confection – but not her recipe. Not even her descendants learned how to make her donuts. A gifted storyteller, Alice did, however, share her life experiences with her family and friends such as former Monroe mayor Grace Kirwan, who sums up Alice Reardon in five words: “She was a wonderful lady.”

Sources: Monroe Monitor, Interviews with Grace Kirwan and Catherine Hammond;
WLP Story Number 17 ~
© 2002 Nellie E. Robertson

Amelia Austin

Tualco Valley Pioneer 1879 – 1908

By Nellie Robertson
WLP Story Number 13

Amelia Wellman Austin fought the battles of life undaunted by the significant challenges she faced. From the time of her birth in Joliet, Ill. in 1849 until her 1908 death in Monroe, the intrepid Amelia refused to concede defeat. Her life encompassed the roles of pioneer wife, mother, nurse, churchwoman, widow and community activist.
Her odyssey from Illinois to Tualco Valley south of Monroe began while Amelia was still an infant. Her father had crossed the American plains by ox team to discover California riches, returned to get his family and with several others headed again for the Pacific Coast, this time choosing a route through the Isthmus of Panama. The men slogged their way through the steamy jungle while the women and children rode on the backs of native bearers.

Amelia met Grannis Austin in California, married him in 1865, and bore three children in the Golden State. Grannis yearned to move on. The family booked passage on the Prince Albert, an old blockade runner, and on June 10, 1873 at last reached Snohomish County. The Austins took a pre-emption claim on the land still occupied by their descendants.
The first white woman to travel the trail from Snohomish to Tualco Valley made the journey just five months before she gave birth to the first white child born in the valley. She bore four more children in Washington Territory. In her precise handwriting, she listed her children in the family Bible. The first, Benjamin Grannis Austin, she wrote, was born in “Calafornia” in 1866. Of her nine children, only three sons and one daughter grew to maturity. Amelia met challenges of motherhood, including the death of her firstborn at the age of four, with the stoicism of a pioneer woman. Three more died in childhood, and her last child died when he was six months old.
Her children, who were happy to have Indian youngsters as playmates in the sparsely-settled valley, inherited Amelia’s bold nature. Once, when the elder Austins were on a day-long trip to Snohomish, two of their sons took advantage of parental absence to slake their hunger for brown sugar, which was sold in large wooden boxes. Amelia had carefully stowed the box under her bed specifically to keep it from her rambunctious sons. Undeterred, the boys wrestled the box out from its hiding place and gorged on the confection to the point that by the time their parents returned, both boys were thoroughly sick. Although a few swats were probably applied to the boys’ backsides at some point, Amelia lovingly applied her nursing skills to restore them to health.
Amelia nursed anyone who needed her. Not only did she care for those who came to her for help, but time and time again, traveled far and wide on foot or horseback or by team and wagon to tend her fellow pioneers. Tending the sick meant measuring medicinal doses, child care, laundry and wood chopping. Her granddaughter, Doris Reiner, said, “Being a Good Samaritan in those days was much harder than staying home and doing your own thing in your own surroundings.”

Used to traveling over difficult terrain, audacious Amelia added another “first” to her list. She was the first woman to take a pleasure trip to Sultan, an occurrence unheard of in 1891. She and a friend visiting from Colorado rode mules for their miles-long journey.

A highly respected woman in the Monroe community, Amelia found outlets for her boundless energy in the Ladies of the Maccabees and the Rebekah Lodge. Her moral strength led her to start a Sunday school in the Austin livery stable, and after two years of hard work, the first Monroe church stood on the present site of the Monroe United Methodist Church, known then as the Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church. Not only did Amelia provide a place for the church, but also for the post office that had been moved from the neighboring Smallman place to the Austin homestead. A boat delivered the mail to the Snoqualmie River landing, and then a rider carried it on horseback for the final few miles.
Grannis Austin’s obituary in 1906 said that his wife had helped him turn a wilderness into a ranch valued at $20,000. Amelia spent little time in her widow’s weeds feeling sorry for herself. In mid-summer that same year, she erected a two-story building on Monroe’s So. Lewis Street that still stands. With its lodge room upstairs and a couple of business spaces downstairs, it became a popular site for community meetings. When schools overflowed with students, classes met there, and at one time the Austin building housed a skating rink.

Her business acumen was legendary among men and women alike. Her estate had doubled in value since her husband’s death. Amelia Austin lost her battle with breast cancer in 1908. She left behind a moral fiber that remains enshrined in the church she helped start. Her community spirit blazed a path women are still following today.

Sources. Monroe Monitor newsclippings & Austin family documents and Austin family interviews

© 2002 Nellie Robertson All Rights Reserved

Vernal Gay Love

She Fought for Prohibition, 1890 – 1964

By Sandra Schumacher
WLP Story Number 8

Baptized as an infant in 1890 in the pure waters of Vernal Falls at Yosemite, California, Vernal Gay dedicated herself to the pursuit of a better life for all human beings. Perhaps due to her Methodist upbringing, she believed that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union provided the light that could illuminate the way for people struggling with vices that ruin lives.

After the turn of the century, as a young teen, she moved to the Puget Sound area with her family, settling in Des Moines. She eventually became engaged to Grover Love, and even though she was concerned he would be sent overseas, married him in 1918. At the end of World War I, the couple settled in Snohomish, where Grover became principal of both Snohomish and Monroe High Schools. After a few years, the Love family moved to Everett, and Vernal’s husband began a thirty-five year career as principal of Garfield High School.

Meanwhile, Vernal had begun a lifelong devotion to two things – her family, of course, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She admired the WCTU for being among the first to work for child welfare, the eight-hour workday, legislation for the security of the home and equal suffrage.

She was especially pleased WCTU efforts led to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which brought prohibition in 1919, and most displeased when it was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. A true WCTU activist, Vernal joined others in educating the female electorate on the importance of voting. She served as a judge at the 1936 state WCTU convention which voted to continue pushing for prohibition rather than moderation in drinking. She was treasurer from 1937-1945 and elected vice president in 1946. That year, still convinced that alcohol was the root of most of society’s problems Vernal wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Everett Herald reiterating that “there never was a time in the world’s history when clear brains were more desperately needed than today in the solving of monumental problems. Surely alcohol, a narcotic drug, cannot help.”

Although the sale of alcohol was not abolished, Vernal’s dedication to the progress of social good touched many lives in many ways. Perhaps her future had been set under the pure waters of the Falls for which she was named. The strong convictions she developed as a young woman continued to course through her until her death in Long Beach, California in 1964.

Sources: Shirley Love Liska; 1942 minutes of the WCTU, State of Washington Chapters, held at the University of Washington Library.

© 2006 Sandra Schumacher;   All Rights Reserved

Mary Burgess

Braiding Multiple Talents into a Full Life

By Louise Lindgren
~ Braiding Multiple Talents into a Full Life
It’s a wonder the Burgess’ dump truck doesn’t have braided rug seats. After all, one of the drivers of that truck has made rug braiding a specialty.
Mary Burgess is admittedly a “country girl,” and has acquired all the skills normally ascribed to those of that upbringing, plus a few more. She can bake, garden, sew and braid rugs. She can pound nails swift and straight, ride a horse, act as a packer to a hunter or helper to a surveyor. Her paintbrush might hold house paint one day and oil paints for a canvas the next. And, she can drive heavy machinery if road work must be done.
What sets her apart is her willingness to learn just about anything and become not only proficient, but a perfectionist in each pursuit. She doesn’t just braid rugs – she teaches the art. She doesn’t simply cook – she researches exceptional magazines and books to find the most nutritionally sound methods of preparing foods. As for heavy machinery, years of helping her husband maintain roads for their Mt. Index community has given her more experience handling intimidating large machines than most men will ever have.
Why would a petite, seemingly “normal” woman who keeps an immaculate house be interested in mastering so many skills? Perhaps it goes back to her childhood; perhaps it’s just personality. Who knows how adventurous minds are bred or why they develop?
The background is clear – pure country. Born in Star, a now-defunct spot on the map in the Bohemia Mountains of southern Oregon, Burgess learned early on about sagebrush farming, including how to milk a cow at age six. Several moves were made during early childhood – from valleys to mountain territory, Oregon to Northern California. Finally, the family made the long trip north to homestead 80 acres in the Kittitas Valley of eastern Washington. The nearest town was Ellensburg, definitely just a town, not a city, when she was a girl. There they dug the canals and ditches which would bring irrigation to that sagebrush country and forever change the face of the land along the Columbia River.
Lessons ingrained upon young Mary’s consciousness included frugality and water conservation. “We used to re-use the water several times,” she recalls. “Leftover wash water was used to mop floors, and water left over from that was poured on the plants. We didn’t waste a drop! Those were Depression years [of the 1930s],” Mary remembers. “Still, I think we had as much fun as the kids of today – maybe even more, because we were forced to use our imaginations.” She learned to sew when flour sacks were the ever-present fabric for dish towels, curtains, aprons, and dresses for small children.
Mary learned by acute observation. There were all the normal farm chores to do, fences to mend, animals to care for, buildings to maintain. Always one who enjoyed being out “doing things” with her father rather than pursuing the gentler arts of the home, she became adept at such skills as pounding nails. This stood her in good stead at the Salinas County Fair when, years later as a young woman, she entered a nail pounding contest. On her initial attempt, she tied for first place. A glance at the technique of her competition immediately taught her how to win. The second time around, instead of “placing” the nail with just a tap on the first swing, she says, “I hit it hard, ‘Pow!’ and won myself five dollars!”
Married at age 16, she began raising a family of three boys. During the Second World War she worked at a motor company in Indiana that was making airplane parts. She discounts herself as a “Rosie the Riveter” because, she says, “We didn’t rivet. We drilled three holes in each part, then reamed them smooth, over and over again. The hard part was that they kept rotating shifts, and though I had to work graveyard, I couldn’t sleep during the day.” There was always the challenge of providing adequate childcare for three small boys.
Finally, with her marriage ended, Mary settled in Washington, becoming a cook, first on a ranch, then in restaurants. “At the ranch they left me on my own from the first, and it was pretty bewildering, but I got the hang of it,” she recalls. “The workday was a lot longer [than cooking for restaurants], but the time between meals was your own. I would help on the farm or do craft work until it was time to start food preparation again.” Restaurant work won out because the money was better and the schedule more regular.
Many years passed, and Mary endured her full share of personal tragedies before she met and married Neil Burgess, a trained surveyor. Tempered steel is strongest, and Neil appreciated that strength in her as their lives evolved at the base of Mt. Index. For the first time, she had a home on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. The soggy climate and moisture-laden cold that creeps into one’s bones in the mountains did not dampen her enthusiasm for trying something new. The newlyweds bought three lots on the South Fork of the Skykomish River and proceeded to build a home from rough-sawn lumber they cut and milled themselves on the site. At the time there were only two families living full-time in the area; others came for weekend stays in their mountain cabins.
Access was by unpaved road that required constant maintenance. Gradually, the Burgesses became maintainers of the road, acquiring equipment as needed. If a job needed doing, Mary Burgess wanted to help. Thus she learned her first hard lessons in handling heavy equipment. One time while dumping a load of wet gravel, the back truck-gate refused to open. She had already learned that to spread gravel evenly, the truck must be in forward motion as the gate opens. As she moved out, raising the bed and expecting a flow of gravel from the back, the gate stuck, trapping thousands of pounds of gravel at the rear and tipping the whole truck on its hind end.

“It sure looked like a long way down to the road from my perch up in that cab,” she remembers with a laugh. “I had to climb out and sort of slide down the side to the back wheel before I could jump down. Then we shoveled and shoveled to lighten the load, but eventually Neil had to pull that truck down with a chain hooked on to the grader.”

Lessons are learned quickly when fear becomes a factor. There was a time when the airbrakes failed as she drove the truck down a steep hill. She says, “Somehow I managed to stay in control and just kept shifting into lower gears until I could coast out onto Alder Flats.” Mary observes that when you lose your brakes, the vehicle seems to lurch forward even though the speed remains the same. In a truck of several tons that is a frightening feeling.

As the area became more settled, Neil Burgess was much in demand as a surveyor. Since that is definitely a two-person job and part-time help hard to come by, Mary offered to work with him. For years she watched the art of surveying change from the chain and transit method to modern laser equipment, and tramped many a section line to go ahead with the target while her husband made his calculations. It is not an easy job on rough terrain in dense underbrush, which has to be cleared to provide a “line of sight.” When she started there were no women that she knew of doing that sort of work. Now she says, “You see more and more of them. I guess I started a trend.”
The Burgesses were always amused when starting their surveys at a documented monument in a town. Invariably, someone would ask, “Are you surveying this town again?” In fact they were not surveying the town at all. One has to start at a documented marker in order to legally arrive at the survey area, which may be quite a way from that marked point. Mary says, “People don’t realize that they can’t just tell you where they think their property corner is. They expect you to go from that to find the other corners, but it’s totally illegal.”
The Burgesses were always amused when starting their surveys at a documented monument in a town. Invariably, someone would ask, “Are you surveying this town again?” In fact they were not surveying the town at all. One has to start at a documented marker in order to legally arrive at the survey area, which may be quite a way from that marked point. Mary says, “People don’t realize that they can’t just tell you where they think their property corner is. They expect you to go from that to find the other corners, but it’s totally illegal.”

In her rare spare time, Mary reads ancient and western history extensively and paints with oils and acrylics. While the dream home had to be put on hold to deal with her husband’s increasing health problems, she pursued medical knowledge to help solve some of those problems and get them “back on track.” With the passing of her husband in 2006, she has moved to the east coast where she continues to share her special skills with family and new friends. In the end, many are benefiting from her relentless pursuit of knowledge and perfection.

“Photo courtesy of the Burgess family album” 1988.
Sources: Edited from an article first published in The Third Age Newspaper, February, 1993; interview with Mary Burgess, December, 1992
© 1992 Louise Lindgren All Rights Reserved. WLP Story # 11

Clara Morris Young

Her Granddaughter Remembers …1886 – 1983

By Roberta Jonnet

clara Morris YoungClara Morris Young lived what some may say was a common life. But what brought my grandmother west to Washington State and Snohomish County must have been an uncommon sense of adventure. She came to work, socialize and dance, and stayed to marry and raise a family. She adored being called “Mom” and “Grandma” and cooking and keeping house for a husband and two sons.

Clara Edith Morris was born February 7, 1886 outside the town of Mitchell, Indiana. She was the second of five children born to Robert J. Morris and Sarah Belle Terrell. Her older sister, Margaret, had married Frederick McCormick, and they were living in Snohomish County when Clara decided to join them
Arriving in Everett in 1907, Clara Morris was part of an influx of mid-Westerners to Snohomish County. The Polk City directory of 1907 states “Fifteen years ago the site…on which today stands this thriving manufacturing and commercial center, was an almost impenetrable virgin forest.” The directory reveals that the city was equipped with “electric street railways, first-class waterworks…two telephone systems, gas works, electric lights…two well equipped hospitals, a theatre that would be a credit to any eastern city…thirty-three miles of graded and improved streets…Nineteen buildings make up the public school property…the total number of school children is 4,700.”

Clara arrived at a time when the city was expanding rapidly. Lawrence O’Donnell writes in his book, Everett: Past & Present, that the city population grew from 8,000 in 1900 to 24,814 in 1910. New arrivals came from all over the United States and from overseas. The 1907 Polk directory lists Clara Morris as a “domestic” at 2614 Wetmore Avenue. She would have been twenty-one years old. In 1909 she was living in a boarding house at 2132 Oakes, which meant she had to walk a mile to work as an “ironer” for Independent Laundry at 28th and Cedar because streetcars did not serve that area. In 1910 she got a job as a maid at the Merchant Hotel at 1501 ½ Hewitt Avenue.
Her days were spent earning a living as a single, self-supporting woman, but her life was not all work and no play, as her family discovered when Clara’s keepsakes were found some 75 years later. Among her personal papers are invitations to numerous dances held in Everett from 1909-1911. Some invitations are addressed to her residence, some to her place of employment. One invitation reads “Gentleman One Dollar” and “Ladies’ Complimentary.” It was for the Opening Dancing Party for Rennie’s Dancing Academy, featuring Stormfels’ Orchestra at the Masonic Hall for Wednesday Evening, September 8, 1909. G.W. Stormfels was a violin- maker who owned a music store and boasted a five -piece band. “Dancing,” the invitation continues, “begins promptly at 9 p.m.” Clara had a late night.

In 1910 Clara was invited to attend a “Special Pre-Lenten Dancing party”. Ladies complimentary and “ten minutes devoted to the introduction and instruction on the latest dance ‘The Royal.’ Another invitation to a dancing party at the Eagles Hall in Snohomish advises a “special car leaves Wall and Colby at 8 p.m.” for the Saturday night dance. A note at the bottom directs, “Come prepared to make fun and enjoy fun.” Who could resist?

Clara’s life changed forever when she met and married Frederick R. Young of Sultan. Frederick was the son of Daniel and Sophia Kropf Young, who brought their family to Sultan in 1892, a year before the railroad reached the town. Clara’s sister and her husband introduced the couple. Clara and Frederick were married in the McCormick’s living room July 10, 1912. Fred said he was particularly struck by Clara’s “stylish” manner of dress when he met her.

There is a studio photograph of Clara seated on a stool, wearing a gauzy, shirtwaist blouse with embroidery on the bodice; a slim, straight skirt and a hat. Lifestyle records report 1908 was the year slim dresses without petticoats became popular. Also, no fashionable woman left her house without a hat in the first decade of the 1900s. Clara was evidently a fashion slave.
Frederick and Clara lived at corner of 4th and Fir in Sultan and raised their family. A daughter, Irma, born in 1916, died at the age of four months. Maurice was born in 1919 and Forrest in 1921. Clara always claimed that her sons were well mannered and easy to raise. A cousin of the two boys, however, told another story. He witnessed Clara standing by the front gate, tears running down her face, telling the boys she was leaving home because they “would not mind.”

Clara had the company of her sister-in-law, Sophia Young Jenft, as well as her husband’s sisters-in-law, Hilda Wolters Young, married to William Young; and Olive Humphries Young, married to Daniel Young, Jr., in raising their families in Sultan. Olive Young and Sophia Jenft were widowed early in life and left to raise their sons alone. The four women and their families visited each other’s homes, held dinners, celebrated birthdays and holidays, and mourned their losses together.
One of Clara’s activities later in life was participation in the Congregational Ladies Aid Society in Sultan. Family members recall that the group met for many years after the church had ceased holding services and closed it doors. The women gathered in one another’s homes to socialize and to complete a quilt for each member of the society in turn.

Clara’s activities were curtailed when she fell at the age of 60, breaking a hip. Arthritis set in, making walking difficult and keeping her on crutches until her death at age 97. Being a “shut-in,” so to speak, did not hamper her social life, for Clara had her phone and kept the party line busy. It was typical to come into her home and find her chatting away to a neighbor, friend or family member at all hours of the day and night. The Sultan “Home Chats” may have been a regular column for The Valley News, but the ladies of the town kept the real news alive via telephone.

Clara’s many gifts included cooking. She made a chicken that just smelling it frying in the pan made one’s mouth water. Her potato salad, made with plenty of mayonnaise, onion and sliced eggs, was a family favorite, and was often a special request for birthday dinners. Clara, who made and rolled out her own pie dough until she was 95 years old, would sit on a metal stool with a padded seat covered in blue plastic. Her sons had built and put in her kitchen cabinets, making the countertops lower so she could sit to work. I recall helping her cook by collecting the ingredients for her. The kitchen cabinets, which held the spices, flour and sugar, went up to the ceiling by the back door and gave off a rich aroma when the doors were opened. Clara always wore a bib apron in the kitchen, and a spare apron hung in the corner behind the stove.

Fred and Clara always attended the annual Pioneer’s Picnic, later called the Old School Mates’ picnic. These were annual gatherings in Sultan in August for anyone who had lived in town or attended school there. People from across the country would return to Sultan, bringing their hampers and picnic baskets of food to share at the high school. Tables were set up on the lawn, and the day was spent visiting and eating. Clara packed a mean hamper of food: cold meat sandwiches, potato salad, and apple pie.
My grandmother had a way of making life enjoyable for everyone, no matter what their ages. My cousin, Pam, and I would play “dress up” at Grandma’s house. We reveled in the hats, coats and dresses we found in her closet. We would put on an outfit, complete with hat of course, and then parade into the living room to show her, much to her delight. Some years later, when I was shopping for a wedding hat, I went to Chaffee’s on Colby in Everett. Grandma always asked to be taken to Chaffee’s when she wanted a new hat.

I remember that Clara did not have stomachaches or headaches, and took few if any, medications during her life. She ate sliced onion sandwiches with mayonnaise and used lard in her frying pan. She would ask about the health of her daughter-law’s father, who was ten years younger than Clara, referring to him as “the old man.” She shunned anything associated with being an “old lady.” She did not care for the shawl her son brought her from the Holy Land, and she would not be caught dead in lavender or purple because as far as she was concerned, these were “old ladies’” colors.

Clara lost Fred in 1963. He died the day after President Kennedy was assassinated. She outlived her siblings and nearly all her friends and neighbors, a fact that troubled her in her last years. Clara missed her contemporaries, the people with whom she shared her life and times. However, her independent spirit, which brought her west as a young woman, served her to her last days. She lived alone from 1963 until a home care worker moved in to assist her a year before Clara’s death. Her sons honored her wish to live in her home and kept in close contact with phone calls and daily visits. She cooked Sunday dinners up until her last year of life because it was her joy to cook for family.

Clara’s was an ordinary life lived well to the end. Her mind was clear and she knew everyone down to the great-grandchildren by name. Her legacy was living well every day.

Sources: American Decades, 1900-1910; Polk City Directories, 1907, 1909, 1910; O’Donnell, Lawrence. Everett Past and Present; a Centennial [Evertt, WA Cascade Savings Bank] 1993.
Personal Experience, Interviews with Clara Morris Young’s family; Clara Morris Young family records.
© 2005 Roberta Jonnet, All Rights Reserved; WLP Story # 10

Mabel Monsey

Chronicles of a Farm Wife, 1891-1903

Originally published in the Third Age News: June 2001;  updated in 2006 by the Womens Legacy Project (WLP Story Number 9) and again in 2018 on  Please see that link for the most recent version.

Photo credit: Lake Stevens Museum Information and photo gathered from the Mabel Monsey album held by the Lake Stevens Historical Society Museum, Lake Stevens, Washington

The Monsey family came west from Ohio in about 1888, first settling in Snohomish and then, in 1890, taking a forty acre preemption claim near Hartford, a railroad junction northeast of Lake Stevens. They brought four girls with them, ranging in age from nine years to eighteen months. In an article describing their arrival, which Mabel wrote for a publication back east, she told of their trek from the train station at Hartford to their new property: “ …we walked the mile and three-quarters down the railroad track, then one-quarter of a mile to our new home, over a good road. … on either side of the road, was dense forest, and to see the sun one must look straight up.”

READ Further

©2001-2018  Louise Lindgren  All Rights Reserved