Marie Louise Anderson Wenberg

– Political Activist, Teacher and Postmaster & Park Namesake
Marie Louise Anderson (SAHS 2001_132_07)

Born in Minnesota October 4th 1884, this photograph of a determined and serious little girl is the first in which she never smiled. In 1906 she graduated from Pacific Lutheran Academy in Parkland, Washington. She studied to be a teacher and taught at Parkland Parochial School. Following that she also taught in Tacoma, Port Madison, and Quincy and Arlington public schools until about 1910. In May 1911 Marie Louise Anderson and Oscar Wenberg married at the Parkland Lutheran Church and two years later in 1913 Marie and Oscar Wenberg bought a farm near Florence Washington.

That same year Marie became Matron of Josephine Old People’s Home*; Oscar was Superintendant for three years. In an account by Bertha Logan who was a one of the caregivers there “Mr. Wenberg was chaplain and tended the coal burning furnace and various task, while Mrs. Wenberg kept the books and took care of business and social jobs”…the home had a barn and cows on the 10 acres with a garden large enough to grow produce for the 18-19 residents.
In the 1920 Census Oscar is listed as a wheat farmer, he and Marie have two children, Marie and Johan. She was active in many organizations during these years including Stanwood’s Monday Study Club and the Stillaguamish Grange. She joined the Snohomish County Federated Womens Club as a founding member. She was also a member of the Snohomish County Legislative Federation and the Womens Christian Temperance Union. She and Oscar both became political activists.

Photo from the East Stanwood Press Nov. 1, 1922

In 1922 (the same year East Stanwood incorporated) she appears in a newspaper promotion advertising her candidacy as the Farmer – Labor nominee for the Washington State Legislature from the 49th District. Her slogan was “Dare to do right” and “Wring Out the profits and operate for service.” The Farmer Labor party was a small third party primarily representing workers and labor rights at a time when companies didn’t provide sick leave or worker’s compensation. It won about 19 percent of the vote that year. In 1936 there were strikes and walkouts threatened at the mills and canneries. The local companies did not recognize the union but in most cases they already paid higher than union wages in so union activism in Stanwood was short-lived (see Echoes Winter 2019). She lost to Alonzo Willhite and R. D. Deselle (both Republicans) at a time when the top two vote became the two representatives of the district.
Marie never ran for office again but worked for her husband and continued to advocate for her causes. As a member of the Womens Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) she opposed amending the “dry law” to permit manufacture or sale of wine or beer, though it was upheld.
Marie and Oscar lived on a small farm near “Norman” in the Stillaguamish Valley through 1930. Oscar was farming and Marie continued teaching.

In 1929 Gunderson replaced his original Star Furniture storefront with a new building to house a new East Stanwood Post Office.  That building still stands with his name on it pictured above.**

In 1935 at the age of 50, Marie became postmistress in East Stanwood taking over from C. J. Gunderson who had established the East Stanwood Post Office in 1913. The post office building in East Stanwood was originally located in the building that later became a barber shop on the south side of the street. Later Gunderson, an influential businessman in East Stanwood moved it to his hardware / furniture / store (the Star Furniture Company building). Her husband Oscar had a partnership in the Gunderson’s hardware store at the time. Gunderson was also the local undertaker.
While working as Postmaster, in 1936 Mrs. Louise Wenberg was made President of the Snohomish County Rural Recreation Committee (Stanwood Story v. 2 p.90) In this role she began a campaign to purchase 20 acres on the east side of Lake Goodwin from C. D. Hillman for $1500 to be established as a park. 1939 Oscar elected to Washington State House of Representatives – served through 1952. His political platform included support for labor, pensions, the Grange program and the public utility. He also was influential in the effort towards funding the construction of the Stanwood Camano Mark Clark bridge and the new Camano Island State Park.

In November of 1939 Marie Wenberg, as President of the Snohomish County Rural Park Association dedicated the small County park at Lake Goodwin. Funds for the park came from the W.P.A. in the amount of $8,160 and the balance from the County. Though Rep. Wenberg’s standing as a legislator inevitably helped this cause an editorial in the Arlington Times Aug. 30, 1956 stated “It was Mrs. Wenberg who kept up a persistent campaign that came precariously close to failure until finally the plot became county property and was ad available to the State.” The Twin City News (Nov 9, 1939) reported that “the park will be known hereafter as Wenberg park, honoring Mrs. Louise Wenberg, through whose untiring efforts the work was carried on.”

Wenberg Park shelter – The Wenbergs (far left and second from right) and county officials who established Wenberg County Park named for Marie Wenberg. (photo from Wenberg files at the SAHS); Courtesy Stanwood Area Historical Society 2001_132_10

Various individuals and organizations also donated time and equipment for grading and graveling the road and building ball fields and picnic areas. The County park became a State Park in 1947 but went back to being a Snohomish County park in 2009.

After 10 years at the end of the ware in 1945 Marie Wenberg resigned as East Stanwood Postmaster at the age of 61. In 1952 her husband Oscar Wenberg died of a stroke where they lived with their daughter. Marie lived twenty more years and died Nov 15, 1972 at age of 84.

For more photographs and a slightly modified version of this story – see the Stanwood Area Echoes #64

“Farmer Labor Candidate for lower House” East Stanwood Press, Stanwood News, Arlington Times and Everett Herald. “Will incorporate Recreation body” Arlington Times Apr. 2, 1936 “Credit where is due” Editorial August 30, 1956 Arlington Times; Wenberg Luce Family Records Stanwood Area Historical Society; “Mrs. Wenberg Active in Civic Affairs” [paid advertisement] Arlington Times, Nov. 2, 1922 “The Emergence of the Farmer-Labor Party in Washington Politics, 1919-20” Hamilton Cravens The Pacific Northwest Quarterly Vol. 57, No. 4 (Oct., 1966), pp. 148-157 (10 pages). Interview with Louise Wenberg Luce (daughter – in – law) 2008

[*later Josephine Sunset Home now Josephine Caring Community]

**The East Stanwood Post Office was located in this new Gunderson Building until 1960 when the new Post Office building was built (now the Stanwood Camano News offices).  About that same time the towns and post offices consolidated and the post office operated there until 1976 when the new current Post office building was completed.

Stanwood and East Stanwood post offices were separate until they were consolidated under Lars Sagen in 1961 soon after the two towns consolidated.
In 1965 Sagen retired and Ray Brandstrom became Postmaster. At that time postmasters were appointed by the President through a patronage system of appointing postmasters and rural letter carriers. In 1969 that was finally changed by President Richard Nixon. The Postmaster General then appointed all postmasters from within the competitive Civil Service.
In 1976 the new (current) Post Office building was completed.

Copyright  Karen Prasse & Stanwood Area Historical Society; WLP Story #84



Lillian Sylten Spear

Lillian Spear 1941

~ Public Power Advocate
By Margaret Riddle

Her Early Years

Lillian E. Anderson Sylten Spear was an important player in Snohomish County’s public power movement. An educator and persuasive speaker, she once told the press that she loved tackling issues that helped to better democratize her community. Public power sparked her interest, a cause supported by the Washington State Grange. Lillian began working for the Grange in 1936 and never looked back.

Lillian was born in Portland, Oregon on July 26, 1897 to Norwegian immigrant parents Oline Mahlen and Alexander Anderson and was next to the youngest of thirteen children. In the early 1900s the Andersons moved to Everett where Lillian attended city schools. She earned a teaching certificate from Ellensurg Normal and worked as Principal of Silver Lake Elementary, which is now part of the Everett School District. Already married by this time, Lillian was able to serve as a school administrator but would have been discouraged from teaching as a married woman. Wed in 1920 to Arne Sylten, a lumber inspector, the couple had three daughters, Olene, Daphne and Joann. This marriage eventually ended in divorce. Lillian remarried in 1944, this time to Harrison George Spear, a marriage that lasted five years.

Public Power for Snohomish County

Passage of the Washington State Grange Power Bill on November 4, 1930 spurred action to create public power districts in those areas that had not already done so. With the 1932 election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and public power advocate Homer T. Bone as Washington State Representative, the state seemed ready for public utility ownership. Both Grant and Spokane counties created public utility districts that year.

Snohomish County’s struggle took longer. Puget Sound Power & Light had organized a farm electrification department in 1924 and, despite high and unfair rates, they dominated Snohomish County.   The Grange aggressively opposed Puget Power’s hold and placed a measure on the 1932 ballot to create a Snohomish County public power district. But ten Snohomish County mayors and the Everett Herald, worked to defeat the initiative. Herald editorials warned that the law would give PUD commissioners power to condemn and confiscate property, thus reducing tax revenue. An organization called the Snohomish County Tax Reduction Association implied that this measure was an effort to seek public payroll jobs. Underlying their opposition was a fear of socialism or, as some perceived it, communism. The measure was defeated by a two-to-one margin.

The Tri-Way Grange in Silver Lake

The federal government’s creation of the Grand Coulee Dam in Eastern Washington and the Bonneville Dam near Portland gave momentum to organize for public power since public utility districts were given priority to receive electricity generated from the two facilities. With this incentive, Snohomish County PUD was formed by county vote in 1936. But the struggle to acquire Puget Power’s Snohomish County properties—so that the district could begin selling electricity—continued for over a decade.

Becoming Involved

Lillian adult life began as a mother and an educator. In addition to serving as the Silver Lake Elementary principal, she was also president of the Snohomish County Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Her organizational skills quickly led her to a position on the PTA’s state board. Lillian also worked actively in the Democratic Party but it was the Grange and their support of public power that interested her most. In a newspaper article Lillian stated that she had to learn about public power. At the start she still cooked on a wood range and didn’t even have a refrigerator. But Sylten soon was a knowledgeable spokesperson. In 1936 she ran for Public Utility Commissioner and, although she did not win, her name became known. She quit her job as school principal to actively work for public power. From 1940 to 1946 Lillian served as District Auditor for the Snohomish County PUD.

She became an influential public speaker and in 1941 told a reporter:

“We had two bad years when our county was pointed to as a bad example. We had inefficient commissioners. The only way we could educate people about the power projects was to go out and talk to them and answer their questions. That was my work.” (Spear, Seattle Post Intelligencer)

Everett Herald editor and publisher Gertrude Best was an outspoken opponent of public power. Without Herald support, the Grange relied on speaking campaigns. Lillian spoke to clubs and organizations, particularly taking the message to Snohomish County women. She also helped organize distribution of literature and when it came to fundraising, she often simply passed the hat. In telling her story later to historian Richard Berner, Lillian recalled her battles with Gertrude Best, saying that the only time she received front-page coverage in the Everett Herald was when she was ticketed for speeding. The headline had read: “Mrs. Sylten Arrested”.

More Organizing
In 1939 Snohomish County PUD joined six other Washington State public utility districts to buy Puget Power. Lillian Sylten became secretary of the negotiating group named the Puget Sound Utility Commissioners’ Association (PSUCA). The group soon realized that Puget Power was not bargaining in good faith and were attempting to stop the buyout. A Washington Public Ownership League (WPOL) was formed and Sylten became its secretary.

Negotiations stalled then were renewed many times in efforts to establish a fair price. Snohomish County PUD joined other PUDs in filing a condemnation procedure against Puget Power. Boxes of Lillian S. Spear material in the University of Washington’s Special Collections attest to her involvement in Initiative 12, sponsored by the WPOL. Passed by the legislature, the initiative allowed for joint suits by PUDs. Lillian also supported Referendum 25 which put the measure to public vote in 1943. But by this time factionalism was developing among the ranks of public power advocates. Some disliked the WPOL for their socialist bias. Sylten—a Democrat, not a Socialist—served as the president of the Women’s Committee for Referendum 25. She wrote articles in favor of the measure in Public Power News, a journal issued by the WPOL. Referendum 25 was narrowly defeated. Now with no joint suit possibilities, the PSUCA once again became active.

Squabbles continued to divide public power advocates and Lillian (now Spear) became disenchanted with the movement and resigned in 1947, two years before publicly owned power truly came to Snohomish County on September 1, 1949.

Lillian Sylten Spear moved to Santa Rosa, California in 1953 where she continued her activism working to rid the state of pollution. In her final years, she struggled with bone marrow cancer and died in California in 1963 at 66 years of age. A plain headstone marks her grave in Everett’s Evergreen Cemetery.


Wendy Brush, “Lillian Sylten Spear, Outspoken Advocate of Public Power”, University of Washington Women Studies Class 283, December 12, 1984, Lillian S. Spear files, Everett Public Library;
“Biographical Note”, Guide to the Lillian S. Spear Papers 1931-1963, University of Washington Manuscript Collection No. 0381; Boxes 2, 5 and 7,
Lillian S. Spear Papers, 1931-1963, University of Washington Manuscript Collection No. 0381;
“Woman Is a Power In P. U. D. Movement”, Seattle Post Intelligencer, February 26, 1941.

© 2008 Margaret Riddle, All Rights Reserved; WLP Story # 55

Mary Joyce (Sherwood) Little

By Betty Lou Gaeng

Marie Little may not have been born a native of the city we now know as Lynnwood, Washington, but her marriage to Alderwood Manor native Warren Robert Little inspired her to become active in the community and one of its strongest advocates in remembering and proclaiming Lynnwood’s heritage.  With her marriage into a pioneer family, Marie was given the perfect opportunity to learn the history of her new home—a home she treasured throughout her lifetime. Upon Lynnwood’s incorporation in 1959 and its annexing of neighboring communities over the next few years, Lynnwood became a city composed of many diverse neighborhoods.  The roots of Alderwood Manor, the largest of Lynnwood’s annexations, especially became a passion for Marie Little.  She joined forces with Lynnwood; became one of the original members of Lynnwood’s Historical Commission in 1998; served as its chairperson and was a member for 10 years.  Together Marie and the city formed a partnership to reclaim Lynnwood’s roots.
Marie Joyce Sherwood was born October 18, 1932 in Everett, Washington—making her an official Snohomish County native.  She was the youngest of two children and spent her childhood years in Everett, then they moved to Seattle with her mother.  In Seattle, Marie graduated from Garfield High School.  In 1951, Marie married Warren Robert Little.  The couple lived in Seattle for a very short time while Warren built a home for them in Alderwood Manor on Cedar Way (44th Avenue West), one block from his own childhood home.  This became their lifetime home; where they raised their two children: daughter Ellen and son Brett. In an interview published in the Enterprise in 1994, Marie stated that she became interested in writing as a child, but found it was not an occupation recommended by school counselors for “making a living.”  Marie did not let that negative observation keep her from the career she had always wanted—writing was in her blood.
In the 1960s, she took a writing class and began her freelance writing career.  She had articles published in Woman’s Day, Modern Bride and the Seattle Times. She also did some writing for trade journals.  Because she became a freelance writer Marie joined and remained a long-time member of the Seattle Free Lances, a Professional & Social Networking for Published & Aspiring Writers of the Northwest.
During the early 1970s, as a resident of the Alderwood/Lynnwood area, Marie Little wrote a column for the local news publication the Enterprise, entitled: “Orbiting AlderLynn.”  This column ran for two years and won for Marie a first-place award in the 1971 Washington Press Women competition.  According to an article by Bill Sheets in a 1994 edition of the Enterprise, “the column was part gossip, part local events, and part wry observation—inspired by a bad experience buying a bathing suit and sustained by Little’s knowledge of the area and people, gained from having lived in North Lynnwood since 1952.”
Marie worked as a secretary for a short time, and then quit when she decided she didn’t like to type what other people had written.  When her children were grown, Marie went back to school and graduated from the University of Washington in 1978 at the age of 46 with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
Beginning in February of 1991, Marie initiated, produced and hosted a program on community radio station KSER, 90.7 FM, which was called “If Houses Could Speak.”  This production was broadcast at 7:45 a.m. on the last Wednesday of each month.  The program, which was taped, featured Marie Little as she took listeners on a tour of historical structures of Snohomish County while interviewing the owners of the buildings.  This program aired for several years, and won an award of merit from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.   In addition to her early column in the Enterprise mentioned above, her columns and articles appeared in later Enterprise issues, as well as in the Snohomish County Business Journal, the Third Age newspaper, the Seattle Times, and the Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project.
Because of her interest in preserving the history and the buildings of her adopted hometown, Marie became a charter member of the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association (AMHA) in 1991. In his 1994 Enterprise article, Bill Sheets quoted Marie’s comment regarding the beginning of the association and her personal involvement. Marie said: “I became really concerned about the way buildings were disappearing and I was afraid the history of the area would be lost.”  During her lifetime commitment to AMHA, Marie also became the editor of the association’s newsletter during its early years, and served on its board.
In 2006, Marie co-authored with Kevin Stadler and the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association, an Images of America book “Alderwood Manor”.  This has becoming a very popular book with members of the association, as well as visitors to AMHA.
Also in 2006, Marie received the Washington Museum Association Award for Individual Excellence.  No doubt Marie Little would agree that among her best works in preservation was her strong leadership in working with the City of Lynnwood and Alderwood Manor Heritage Association to establish the city’s Heritage Park on Poplar Way. At this little park tucked away from the busy commercial side of Lynnwood, the heritage of Lynnwood is preserved.  Opened with dedication ceremonies in 2004, it has become an unexpected crown jewel of parks in Lynnwood.  As you enter the park, Marie Little is immortalized by the street sign proclaiming “Marie Little Drive.” Inside Heritage Cottage, home to Alderwood Manor Heritage Association, one room is set aside as the “Marie Little Library.”
Marie Little spearheaded the rescue and relocation of the 1917 Alderwood Manor Demonstration Farm’s Superintendent’s Cottage which became home for the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association’s Resource Center located in Heritage Park.  For this work, the League of Snohomish County Historical Organizations (LOSCHO), on January 20, 2007 presented the prestigious Malstrom Award to Alderwood Manor Heritage Association, acknowledging outstanding contributions to the field of Snohomish County history.
Having been diagnosed with cancer several months earlier, in 2009 Marie’s health was failing. In December of that year, the City of Lynnwood recognized Marie’s special achievements in the preservation of the community’s history by issuing a proclamation naming Marie the official city historian.  She was then presented with the “key” to the city—a first-and-one-time-only award for her good works on behalf of the city.
Marie Joyce Little slipped away to her final rest on February 15, 2010 at the age of 77.  She was survived by Warren, her husband of 58 years.  Warren Robert Little followed Marie in death on January 17, 2014.  Marie and Warren are survived by their two children and their spouses, as well as seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
In an article published in the Enterprise following Marie’s death, Mina Williams the paper’s editor interviewed Marie’s daughter Ellen, who had this to say about her mother’s literary ability.  “As a teenager I didn’t always appreciate her columns, particularly the one about my first two-piece bathing suit.  But her writings were humorous.  It was like you were talking to her.”
Those who knew Marie Little are sure to remember her as a tiny woman—one who loved her family and her hometown, and never failed to show that love in a big way.

Obituaries for Marie J. Little (2010) and Warren R. Little (2014).
“Longtime resident keeps a history of AlderLynn” — Bill Sheets; Enterprise (Aug. 24, 1994).
“Lynnwood historian writer passes” – Mina Williams Enterprise (Feb. 24, 2010)
And the diverse writings of Marie J. Little during her time as editor and writer for the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association’s News Clippings column.
© Betty Gaeng 2014   All Rights Reserved; WLP Story # 76

Anna Agnes Maley

Anna Agnes Maley 1872-1918

Anna Agnes Maley, an author, journalist, and lecturer of national reputation, arrived in Everett in September 1911 to become the third editor of the most successful of these papers, The Commonwealth, Washington state’s official Socialist newspaper.   For the rest of the story, please see an updated version in

Earlier version published as Women’s Legacy Story # 40

Missouri Hanna

Missouri Hanna

“Mother of Journalism in Washington State”

By Charles P. LeWarne

Pioneer newspaper publisher Missouri T. B. Hanna (Mrs. M. T. B. Hanna) was born in Galveston, Texas, on February 17, 1857, but grew up in Arkansas. She married J. C. Hanna and they moved with three children to Spokane Falls, Washington Territory, in 1882, but her husband died in an Idaho boating accident five years later. In 1904 she settled in Edmonds and shortly purchased the weekly Edmonds Review which she published for five years, acknowledged as the first woman newspaper publisher in Washington.  For an updated and more fully documented version of this story, please see historylink article.

Myrtle Ferrell ~

Children’s Advocate and Community Leader

By Margaret Riddle

Myrtle Jane Brannon Ferrell arrived in Everett as a young bride in 1931, one of the darkest years of the Great Depression. Banks were failing, unemployment was high and government relief programs had yet to be initiated. Communities depended on dedicated volunteers to give aid and Myrtle—recently married to Everett physician Lewis J. Ferrell—decided to help. Myrtle volunteered with the Red Cross. Thus began 44 years of community service that included work with the Snohomish County Visiting Nurses’ Association, attending a White House conference on children and youth, teaching Sunday School at Trinity Episcopal Church and significant work with the Everett chapter of the American Association of University Women. Myrtle also served on the Everett School Board for more than twenty years. In 1953 the Everett Business and Professional Women’s Organization honored her as “Woman of the Year in Achievement.”

Born in 1899 and raised in Chicago, Myrtle was the second of nine children born to Charles and Bertha Brannon. By the 1920 census, the Brannons were living in Valley, King County, Washington. That same year census counters found Myrtle also boarding in Lewis County, perhaps as she began her studies at Central Washington State College. Myrtle completed her bachelor’s degree at University of Washington with a major in Sociology. She taught school for a few years after graduation, then enrolled at the University of Chicago where she earned a master’s degree in medical and psychiatric social work. Here she met and married Lewis J. Ferrell. Perhaps family ties brought Myrtle back to the Northwest and Lewis began his medical practice, a Women’s and Children’s Clinic, in Everett’s Medical Dental Building.
Had Myrtle wanted to teach in Everett, she couldn’t have. Married women were not allowed to be teachers until after WWII. While there were certainly exceptions to this rule, Myrtle instead used her skills in volunteer efforts and, after her sons were grown, became her husband’s business manager and partner, a position typical of other husband/wife professionals at the time.

Myrtle worked continually for children’s causes and was chosen to attend a White House conference on children and youth as well as being appointed by the State Superintendant of Public Instruction to a special committee on disadvantaged and gifted children. But nowhere was her love for children more evident than toward the Ferrells own two sons, Philip and Barry. Myrtle balanced her time between family and volunteer work. Phil recollects times when his parents entertained he and his brother by staging “Mom and Dad Shows”, Myrtle and Lewis playing the parts of personalities like Alberto Roselini and Ingrid Bergman. Lewis created stories for the boys, one particular series was with Ezra, a mouse with an electric tail. Phil and Barry remember their home life as joyful and creative. When Barry was a Cub Scout, Myrtle served as den mother for five years. When the boys met at the Ferrell’s home, she would frequently bake them fresh bread.

AAUW members Swander, Reeves, Cook, and Ferrell plan tea at the Ferrell home in 1954. Myrtle is pictured on right.


But the AAUW was a steady and continuing part of Myrtle’s life. She had been the chapter’s founder in 1940, served as its president for three years and remained active in the group until her death in 1975.

Here Myrtle joined other women in working for important issues of the day. Myrtle put it this way: “AAUW is the greatest organization I know. It gives you an opportunity to keep up on local, state and national and international affairs.”
The Ferrell’s often opened their Rucker Hill home for AAUW meetings and teas. Myrtle’s leadership ability led her to the position of State Division President and Vice President of the North Pacific Regional AAUW in 1949, the year Seattle hostessed the National AAUW Convention. Over the years Myrtle held many offices with AAUW, attended the group’s International Federation Conference and in 1967 was appointed to a topic implementation committee for “Politics of Public Education”, representing the Everett chapter at a national level. This position took her to Washington D.C. in January of 1967.

In 1942 Myrtle established an AAUW fellowship fund for promising young women. The national AAUW had begun the program to aid young women in their scholarly pursuits. Local chapters raised funds for scholarships and administered the giving in their own communities. Myrtle became one of the group’s most active fundraisers.
In the 1950s Myrtle Ferrell made an unsuccessful try for a house seat in the Washington State legislature but local politics turned out to be her place. In 1950 she ran for the Everett School District Board and easily won. She remained on the board until shortly before her death, serving four terms as board president. Through the ‘50s and ‘60s new schools were built and enrollment expanded. There was no strong local teacher’s union then and board members were sought for advice.

But by the early 1970s the economy was in recession, unemployment was high and school enrollment was declining, especially in the north and central neighborhoods. In a cost-cutting move, Washington Elementary was closed. In both 1971 and 1972 the district lost its spring special levy elections. The board was faced with crisis decisions and the newly-formed teacher’s union, Everett Federation of Teachers #772, struggled with the board over issues including a pending layoff of 200 teachers.

Now in advancing years and declining health, Myrtle decided not to run for re-election in 1973. But she was persuaded to run—most likely a disservice to her—and was defeated by Robert Daoust, a candidate with teacher union support.

Remembering Myrtle Ferrell

Lewis died unexpectedly in January of 1975. The couple had been close partners for 44 years. An ailing Myrtle soon was moved to Bethany Home where she died of a stroke in August that same year, three months before her 76th birthday. When asked what he remembers most about his mother, Barry mentions that she was a woman of strong Christian faith. Myrtle clearly did not preach to others but instead believed in living her life as a good example. Her death was a great loss to the family.
AAUW friends also grieved and a committee was formed to decide on a fitting memorial to honor their founding mother. Proposals were made to have a park named after the Ferrells or the swim center at Forest Park or a school named for Myrtle. All suggestions were rejected. Artist Carol Hasford was commissioned to create a sculpture which officially was placed in front of the Everett Public Library in 1977. A few years later the sculpture was vandalized beyond repair and not replaced.

At the time of this writing, the only public tribute that remains is a photo of Myrtle that hangs in the children’s room at the library. As the written word often outlasts other memorials, it is hoped this piece and other writings contributed by her friends and journalists over the years—assembled and carefully ordered in the excellent scrapbooks of Everett’s AAUW—will continue to tell of Myrtle Ferrell’s legacy.

Georgette Cook, “Humanitarian”, Letter to the Editor, Everett Daily Herald, August 20, 1975; “Mrs. Lewis Ferrell Named ’53 Woman of Achievement,” Ibid., April 14, 1953; AAUW scrapbooks, particularly a notebook assembled by Kandace Aksness of events and news stories relating to Myrtle Ferrell; phone conversation with friends Jean Spencer, Gwen Anstis and Lee Ruck, December 28 and 30, 2008; email conversation with David Cameron who consulted Labor Journal notes regarding the 1970s teacher’s union activities; phone conversations with Philip and Barry Ferrell, January 29 and 30, 2009
© 2008 Margaret Riddle, All Rights Reserved

Snohomish County Women and the 1910 Suffrage Campaign

By Margaret Riddle and Louise Lindgren

Votes for Women, Vol 1, no. 11, December 1910

On November 8, 1910, Washington State’s male voters passed the women’s suffrage referendum by a majority of almost two to one, making Washington the fifth state in the nation to enfranchise women. But in that year Washington women were really winning back their vote. When Washington was a Territory, women could vote, but only from 1883 to 1889.

Women had backed reform closing down saloons and brothels. Through taxes and licensing these businesses were the mainstay of funding for many towns and cities. Thus suffrage was considered “bad for business.” Under pressure, the State Supreme Court cited a technicality making equal suffrage illegal. That, along with a strong saloon lobby, brought Washington into statehood in 1889 without women’s suffrage. For this reason, 1910 Washington suffragettes distanced themselves from the liquor issue, even though many strongly supported prohibition.

Winning the vote for women in Snohomish County

Snohomish County women were prominent in the 1910 campaign. A major player was Mrs. M. T. B. Hanna (1856-1926) of Edmonds. Missouri Hanna edited and published Votes for Women, the official organ of the Washington Equal Suffrage Association. The publication ran from 1909 to 1910 combining news from suffrage clubs throughout the state, editorials, cartoons and political commentary. When the vote was won, the paper continued through 1912 as The New Citizen, focusing on women’s issues.

Missouri Hanna was not new to journalism in 1910, having founded the Edmonds Review in 1904, the year she moved to Edmonds. She had been widowed and turned to journalism in order to support herself and two daughters. Her passionate and articulate support of women’s causes led her to publish Votes for Women. In Hanna’s words:

“It is argued that, given the ballot, women will cease to care for the home, leave the meals uncooked, the children uncared for, the buttons strewn while she rushes off to vote. As it only takes about two minutes to perform the function of voting none of the above calamities are likely to happen. We venture to guess that the enfranchised woman can cook and serve a delicious dinner, sew on the buttons, and kiss away the children’s tears with the same degree of success and womanliness that she can stand and hang to a strap in the crowded street car while her brother man sits comfortably, reads his paper contentedly and puffs tobacco smoke in her face, serenely oblivious of her presence.”

Hanna’s publication gives glimpses of other Snohomish County suffragettes. Some were prominent teachers such as Mary McNamara, president of both the Snohomish County and Edmonds Equal Suffrage Clubs and Rainie A. Small, a teacher in the Snohomish County schools for fourteen years. Small was also county superintendent of schools in 1900, principal of Florence and Edmonds High Schools and a pioneer worker for the Grange.

The Everett Suffrage Club

Everett was a strong center for labor and labor supported the suffrage cause. Voting support was needed to provide decent working conditions, safety regulations and the eight-hour day demanded by workers. It was also in the interest of working men to avoid competing with women who were usually hired at a lower rate of pay. If women could vote there might be a chance for labor’s long-sought “equal pay for equal work.”
In the September issue of Votes for Women, Hanna wrote that the Everett Suffrage Club had been one of the most successful in the state at gaining press coverage. The club was featured regularly in the Everett Daily Herald, the Everett Morning Tribune and the Labor Journal, thus reaching thousands of readers. Operating from a third-floor room in the new Commerce Block in Everett, suffrage club members strung a large, conspicuous yellow banner across Hewitt Avenue before election day with the legend “Vote for Amendment, Article VI: It Means Votes For Women”. Since the official ballot did not include the words “Woman Suffrage”, suffragettes felt they needed to educate voters on how to mark their ballots.

Dr. Ida Noyes McIntyre, M.D. (1859-1932) was the Everett club’s Vice President. She had come to Everett in 1901 to practice medicine and set up a clinic. A dedicated suffragette, Ida had helped win the vote for women in Colorado. She opened her clinic for meetings of the Everett Suffrage Club.

A colorful event captured front-page attention in both of Everett’s daily newspapers. On July 5, 1910, Ella M. Russell, president of the Everett Suffrage Club, rose to her feet before sixty-five hundred people in a Billy Sunday crusade in Everett to answer an attack on women’s suffrage. The attack came from Mrs. Rae Muirhead, a Bible speaker with the Sunday campaign. Mrs. Muirhead opposed women’s suffrage and in her testimony that evening said that a woman’s role was to teach her sons to vote properly. She also claimed to have received harassing letters from the Everett Suffrage Club. Ella Russell asked to be heard and when denied, stepped up on a bench in front of the hall and began to speak. Mrs. Muirhead, Ella explained, was a woman of influence. The suffrage club had written only in hopes of gaining her support. Reporting this event in Votes for Women, Missouri Hanna wrote: “This event became the rallying point of an enthusiasm for suffrage which has put Everett in the forefront of the campaign. Mrs. Russell is resourceful, she has rallied about her many able women and many novel schemes have been devised to further the cause of suffrage in Snohomish and adjoining counties.”

Mrs. Muirhead was not alone in her thinking. Many prominent women were against women’s suffrage citing passages from the Bible which placed women under the authority of men and predicting the downfall of the family and loss of women’s special “privileges and position” in society. The Everett Suffrage Club spoke to these women in the Labor Journal of November 4, 1910: “IF YOU WERE A GIRL WORKER: “No woman in silks and satins, whose only care is how she may keep her social light burning brighter than her rival’s has any right to stand in the way of the rights of the woman who toils.” And regarding widows with children who often lost not only the breadwinner but their inheritance when death intruded, the writer continued: “No woman, whose home interests are well cared for, has any right to stand in the way of the rights of the woman who has carried her mate to the grave.” This plea was before social “safety nets” such as Social Security!

The Vote is Won

The 1910 suffrage campaign was well organized. This time Washington women won the vote and kept it. Speaking at a victory party, Dr. Ida McIntyre expressed her delight with the win but also stated that she felt running for office would still be years away. Ten years later, August 26, 1920, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote nationwide.

National American Woman Suffrage Association, and Washington Equal Suffrage Association. Votes for Women. Seattle, Wash: M.T.B. Hanna, 1909. [various issues] Accessed via UW Libraries Digital Collections Pamphlets and Textual Documents Collection, Washington Equal Suffrage Association “Votes for Women”

Everett Trades Council, Everett Central Labor Council (Wash.), and American Federation of Labor. The Labor Journal. Everett, Wash: Everett Trade Council, 1909. [all issues]

Louise Lindgren, “To Vote or Not Vote: That Was the Question,” The Third Age News and Information for Contemporary Seniors August 1995. [Senior Services of Snohomish County. Mukilteo, WA., 1990s]

The Everett Daily Herald. Everett, Wash: [s.n.], 1897.

For an updated version of this account see

Enid Thrall Nordlund ~ Naturalist, Historian, Mountaineer

By Louise Lindgren

Enid Thrall Nordlund, born in 1906, was steeped in the mystery of growing things from an early age. In later years, the yard of her 1898 home was filled with old-fashioned perennials and delicate forest plants. Red and white trilliums grew side by side with little-known mosses and ferns. Birds flocked to the feeders with their varied menus as her cat, trained to watch but not pounce, sat idly by. Watching too, was this lady who spent much of her lifetime nurturing nature’s offspring.

Anna Thrall in her garden.

As a child Enid observed as her mother carefully tended the perennials which brightened their modest home on Everett’s “Riverside.” The family had inherited eight lots with an orchard on the high end and swampland lower. Slowly, the property was transformed with gardens.
In 1920 her mother, Anna Thrall, opened the first commercial nursery in the area, specializing in perennials and rockery plants. Enid became her mother’s employee at age 14 and spent after school hours transplanting and learning. Often she was observed studying the huge, unabridged dictionary at the library with a long list of plant names in Latin on the table beside that tome. She attempted to decipher pronunciation and find out why the plants had been given such strange names by long-dead botanists.

In addition to normal nursery duties, Enid and her sister Dorotha would spend hours each fall gathering holly for Christmas wreaths. Over 300 holly trees of various types were planted around the perimeter of the property. Enid could make a wreath in six minutes flat. She said, “Our sign said ‘Holly Wreaths – 25 cents – Delivered,’ Can you imagine that? Delivered!” The sisters continued the sideline of making wreaths for 55 years.

Sundays were days of rest and family outings. A love of exploring and hiking far hills was instilled early. One hard lesson was learned in May of 1918 when Enid and Dorotha went on their first serious hike up to Lake Serene on Mt. Index. She reflects, “You know, that’s too early to go up there on your first real hike. There was snow, and we had to hike clear up from the Stevens Pass highway. We crossed a swinging bridge and went two and a half miles just to get to the start of the trail. We didn’t have slacks in those days, just dresses. Of course, we were soaking wet. It’s a wonder that experience didn’t turn us off to hiking.” Clearly it didn’t.
Enid and her friends continued to explore mountain areas, including one that was to become very special to her – Monte Cristo. In 1924, the Royal Hotel in the old mining town was the “place to go.” Even the ride in was an adventure, aboard the gasoline excursion car along the old Everett and Monte Cristo railway tracks.
When the railway bed washed out, groups of friends made the pilgrimage on foot. She developed a habit of taking along flower seed and planting all along the way from Granite Falls to Monte Cristo. Trays of leftover sedum plants were carefully inserted in the crevasses of the natural “rockery” walls of Robe canyon, at that time a treacherous stretch of abandoned train tracks (now converted into the Robe Canyon hiking trail).
In 1934 she married Ed Nordlund, inviting him to share in her love of the mountains and planting flowers in the wilderness. Their first home was in Kenmore, where she started her own rockery planting service as well as continuing to help in her parents’ Everett nursery several times a week. However, they continued their mountain excursions, always taking plants and seeds along, and with the seed of an idea germinating in their minds – to build at Monte Cristo. In 1948 they purchased three lots on Dumas Street, where buildings were left as deteriorating ruins.

Nordland Cabin, 1959

The Royal Hotel was no more, but the old Boston American Mine cookhouse, converted to a resort, continued to attract visitors. By 1951 the Nordlunds, who had moved back to Everett, built a small cabin at Monte Cristo entirely from salvaged lumber and windows from snow-crushed buildings. Enid soon became the old mining town’s volunteer naturalist, leading trail tours and giving illustrated lectures for resort patrons.
The cabin was decorated with artifacts dug from collapsed structures of the old town site. Colorful, broken bottle necks hung from strings like garlands framing the windows. The Nordlunds collected, sold, and used antiques all of their lives. The kitchen in their Everett home sported a fine old woodstove with warming ovens, a fancier cousin to the one they used at their cabin.
Visitors to Monte Cristo in succeeding years began to notice the flowers Enid planted. Near the townsite, paths were bordered by daffodils in early June (later than normal because of heavy snow). Swiss blue-bells and the non-native, but more colorful Russell’s lupine lined pathways. In more inaccessible areas, she planted edelweiss and trolius imported from Switzerland.
Often visitors, in those days before environmental sensitivity, would dig up the flowers and take them back to the city, prompting her to plant farther and farther from established trails. “It has been said that city people come to the mountains to pick it, dig it or, if it moves, shoot it,” she observed.

Wildlife was a common sight and a joy. A marten would sit on the woodpile, looking in the cabin window, waiting to be fed a piece of banana or other treat. Mountain goats were visible more than a thousand feet above their home, and the chipmunks and birds would always be fed with a sprinkling of seed atop an old pot-bellied stove beside the fir tree. Enid recorded all in her journals – the animals, native flowers, mosses, ferns, trees, mushrooms, even the insects. (An entry, “deerflies,” has an exclamation point after it – they bite viciously!)

The loss of a favorite deer hit hard. They had named her “Mercedes,” and though thoroughly wild, she was accustomed to spending time in the area with her fawns on the way to the high country. Her visits continued for 12 years until the game department decided to allow the shooting of does. One summer she simply vanished, causing the Nordlunds to view every hunter in the area with suspicion.

This woman of the mountains absorbed her losses over time. Her husband died slowly of Alzheimers disease. Her sister Dorotha, who lived with her in later years, preceded her in death as well. Still, in spite of failing eyesight, she continued to help those who wished to learn. She sold the cabin at Monte Cristo to close friends who maintain it as she left it, in her honor. Her vast collection of historic photos was shared with both the Everett and University of Washington libraries. The Snohomish County Museum in Everett was the recipient of many artifacts from her collection.

Painting of favorite deer by Enid Nordlund [date unknown]
Enid died at the age of 97 in October 2003. Still, for those who drive the Mountain Loop Highway or hike to Monte Cristo, there remain a few flowers that have adapted and survived, tucked away in crevices to puzzle and delight those who discover Enid Nordlund’s legacy.

Source: Interview with Enid Nordlund by Louise Lindgren, December 5, 1991.
© 2006 Louise Lindgren All Rights Reserved

Helen Parkhurst Sievers

Helen Parkhurst couldn’t wait to enter this world. Under normal conditions, she would have been born in Everett at the family home. The doctor had assured Helen’s mother that there was “lots of time” before delivery and that she could certainly accompany her husband to Walla Walla on his semi-annual business trip for the Oregon Casket Company. The very day the couple arrived in Walla Walla, Helen insisted upon making her debut at the home of a family friend.

Photo: Courtesy First Baptist Church, Everett

William Kendall Parkhurst and Mae Randall Parkhurst took the unexpected arrival of their third child in stride. Years before, Helen’s father left his family’s estate in Templeton, Massachusetts to heed the call to the Klondike in search of gold. He later left Canada’s Yukon Territory and moved to Everett where he met and married Miss Mae Randall, daughter of the local Baptist minister. Helen has said that her father’s Bostonian family always blamed that “western woman” for his decision not to return to the fold.

Helen was barely four year’s old when her father died in 1916 during a record snowstorm. Because conditions were so bad that the mortician was unable to get to the family’s Wetmore Avenue home, William Parkhurst lay in state in the family parlor for several days. Although Helen lost her father, she was not without a loving male influence. Her maternal grandfather, Reverend William Randall, who lived next door, was pastor of First Baptist Church and took Helen to services with him every Sunday. Helen remembers being allowed to sleep in the front pew as he preached with a thunderous voice, and said, “I thought he was God.” Rev. Randall also made sure that his grandchildren had extra-special Christmases. He purchased toys for them, and on Christmas Eve would gather round the tree with the family as they lit the candles and sang. Helen said, “He gave us very happy memories of Christmas that my mother could otherwise not have afforded.”

Mae already had a job as cashier at Snohomish County Courthouse and continued her work there to support herself and her three children. Like most mothers of the day, Mae made Helen’s school clothes and baked all the bread needed for the family. She also worked hard at home to make sure that there was no interruption in love and learning. Education was important to her. She kept a dictionary on the dining room table where all meals were served, and the children took turns selecting one word per day. At breakfast, Helen and her siblings discussed the word and its definition. They were all expected to be able to use the word in its proper context and correct spelling by dinnertime. Helen enjoyed the ritual, saying, “Mother made learning fun.”

She also demonstrated to her children the value of being informed. When the 1918 flu epidemic came to America, Mae, terrified that she might fall prey to the flu and leave her children orphaned, read everything that she could on the subject. When she learned that fresh air was highly recommended, she erected a large tent in the back yard and explained that it was their new “fresh air residence.” The family moved beds into the tent, and used buffalo robes to keep warm in the winter. “None of us was lost to the flu epidemic,” Helen said,” and we’ll never know if it was due to our fresh air lifestyle.” All three children were given their buffalo robes as they grew up and left home.
Helen enjoyed her childhood years. She and her friends delighted in playing “kick the can,” which she explained was an inexpensive version of hockey. Birthday parties were simple affairs without many gifts, but always included her grandmother’s wonderful coconut cake. Helen was taught how to punch the hole in the fresh coconut in order to drain it of its milk, then to grate the fresh coconut to apply over the icing. The family moved about a bit, and Helen attended Jefferson and Longfellow grade schools. In junior high school she lived in Pinehurst and played softball and took dance lessons from Betty Spooner, who Helen remembers as a great teacher. A move to a lakeside home in Lake Stevens brought opportunities to swim and picnic, but those carefree days came to an abrupt end when a loan was due and the lender foreclosed, taking the house and all its contents. The family was left with nothing.

Again, Helen had an opportunity to see bravery and practicality in action. Mae started over by opening The Variety Store in Snohomish. By the time Helen graduated from Everett High School, Mae was back working as a cashier in the courthouse. It was now time for Helen to decide what to do with her life. She had spent the summer after junior year back in Petersham, Massachusetts working at the West Road Inn where her aunt was manager. “I wore my smocked uniform from the inn to my high school graduation.” Helen recalled. “It was beautiful.”
During her senior year, Helen had also worked at the Bon Marche, the Everett Co-op and the Big Four Inn, an exciting place frequented by Hollywood. Not wanting hotel work as a career, Helen went to beauty school, where, after earning her certification, she became a teacher. Life was not all work though. Mae had recently remarried the Everett Fire Chief, Charlie Swanson, who taught Helen how to fish for steelhead. She adored her stepfather and the feelings were mutual. In later years, he would introduce her to her first husband, and then to her second, who became the love of her life.

But, marriage was the farthest thing from her mind at this point. She was auditing classes at the University of Washington, riding Harley Davidson motorcycles with one of her male friends and climbing Mt. Pilchuck whenever she and friends had the chance. Then she met a young Croatian fisherman, Tony Marinkovitch, who had moved to Everett from Astoria, and was part of the large Slavic fishing community. Tony was the brother of Mrs. Paul Martinis. Tony was Catholic and Helen was Baptist, but that did not matter to the young couple. Rev. Randall, who approved of the friendship, died by the time they married, but his old friend, Father Van der Walle, married them. “We bought a house at Fifteenth and Grand, but soon moved to Astoria,” Helen said, “I had loved living near the Martinis family in Everett (Tony was the brother of Mrs. Paul Martinis), as they were so much fun.”
The marriage did not last long after the move. Helen and her son, Kirk, settled in North Everett, and Helen went to work as a “Rosie the Riveter” at Boeing. She recalled with a laugh, “The only problem with this job was that my sister Mary was the Inspector!” Helen also taught at the Beauty School to earn extra income. A working, single mother, she did not have a lot of free time, but did reluctantly agree one evening to have dinner with her stepfather at the Elks Club.

That night she became reacquainted with Vern Sievers, someone she had met before he served overseas in World War II. Now divorced, Vern was quite taken by Helen’s flaming red hair that had earned her the nickname, “Red.” They courted for a while, and when Vern proposed, Helen put him off, saying that they needed more time to know each other. “By the time I was ready, he made me wait!” Helen laughed. “I really had to wear him down!”
They married in November 1946, and she thought that they would have a quiet honeymoon trip to Seattle. But Vern had other ideas. He invited many friends from his old fraternity along, which, she says, was just the start of a lifetime full of surprises. Although his good friend, Henry “Scoop” Jackson had encouraged him to run for Congress, until his death in 1990, Vern served as Snohomish County Treasurer.

“My life has been a merry ride,” Helen said. “I had the best mother in the world, a woman way ahead of her time who had a career and stepped out ahead of the crowd when women were quiet and removed. She always had an honorable job, and I admired her for it. She was a leader. My stepfather was the most loving and caring man that one could ask for. My son, Kirk, and I have had a wonderful mother/son relationship, but we are also friends.”
She was active in the community and took great pride in Everett. She was a volunteer and believed that giving back to the community was one of the greatest ways to help others. Helen was a member of Chapter Q of PEO, YMCA, DAR, Mayflower Descendants Society, Friendship Club, Antique Club, and the Garden Club. She was not only active in the community but her yard was her pride and joy. It was a great source of tranquility and pride.

Although peppered with tragedy, personal loss and struggle, Helen had the fondest of memories and a most wonderful outlook on life. Her life may have been a merry ride, but somehow she put herself into the driver’s seat and never let go.

Source: Helen Parkhurst Sievers, Letters

© 2004 Sandra Schumacher All Rights Reserved

Esther Ross

She Stopped the Bicentennial Wagon Train And Made Sure Her People Were Recognized

By Ann Duecy Norman

Esther Ross, Chairperson of the Stillaguamish Indian Tribe on the occasion of the Federal Recognition. © 1976 Jim Leo, Everett Herald; Photo provided courtesy of the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians.

“…people are not accustomed to thinking of Native women as feminists, leaders, and contributors to social change. Their songs are unsung” ~LaDonna Harris, President and Founder, Americans for Indian Opportunity

As a young child, Esther Ross often listened to family stories. Her father, Christian Johnson, liked to talk about his noble Norwegian ancestors, but her favorites were tales told by her mother, Angelina, about Esther’s great grand-father, Chief Chaddeus, and how Angelina’s people, the Stillaguamish, had been driven from their lands.

Esther was born in 1904 in Oakland, California, and spent her childhood there. She was intelligent and lively and had lots of friends. It was not until she was in high school that her classmates learned of her Indian heritage. Then, suddenly, to her surprise, she was taunted about her ancestry and, worse yet, people she thought were her friends shunned her. She turned to her native family for support and, to her dismay, learned the government had declared that the Stillaguamish people were no longer an official tribe.

After completing high school in California, she continued her education, supporting herself with jobs ranging from secretary to newspaper reporter. In 1926, she was contacted by relatives in Washington State who asked her to come to Washington to help organize the Stillaguamish in order to file claims against the federal government. Esther packed up her belongings and her new baby, and she and her husband headed north.

When she arrived in Arlington, she immediately began reading pertinent documents and interviewing tribal elders. She learned that for millennia, her people, like those of many Puget Sound tribes, had lived in small bands that came together seasonally or for mutual assistance in times of trouble. Their villages had been scattered along the many branches of a river that wends its way through what is now northern Snohomish County. Their primary mode of travel was canoe; their major source of protein was salmon; and the focal point of their culture was their river homeland, as reflected by the tribe’s anglicized name, “Stillaguamish” which translates as “people of the river”. [For more discussion of the complex Lushootseed language , see below]

In the mid 1800’s, to make land available for white settlers, the United States government had ordained that all Indians be removed from their lands, taken to reservations and turned into farmers. In 1855, having negotiated agreements with the various tribes of northern Puget Sound, the major concession being that the Indians be allowed to continue to fish in their “usual and accustomed grounds,” the governor of Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens, called together tribal representatives, among them the Stillaguamish. Their representative signed what came to be known as the Point Elliott treaty, a document written in a language he and his people did not understand and with implications that were not made clear to them.

According to oral tradition, the Stillaguamish had believed that as a result of their cooperation and assistance to white settlers, they would be given their own reservation. When they learned they had to leave their valley and go to the Tulalip reservation, most of them quietly disappeared into the forest. Perhaps, because of their small numbers, tribal members were not actively pursued by federal authorities. Some found work as loggers or fishermen. Some, like Esther’s grandmother and mother, married non-natives. Others cleared land for white farmers in places that had, for innumerable generations, been Stillaguamish ancestral homes.

Esther also learned that the federal government did not officially recognize landless tribes, and for that reason, the Stillaguamish and their descendants were unable to obtain the benefits promised by the Point Elliott treaty. In July 1926, she convened a tribal meeting at the Arlington City Hall. Officers were elected, and a representative of the Northwestern Federation of American Indians provided information about filing claims against the government. In less than a month, with Esther’s help, the tribe’s sixty-six officially enrolled members had filed claims, both for land losses and for failure to pay the treaty’s specified annual appropriation for the preceding twenty-five years.

For nearly fifty years, Esther volunteered her time with other Tribal members. They held meetings, kept minutes, conducted research; she read and interpreted legal communications for tribal members and communicated with government officials. During all those years, she heard a lot of promises which were never honored.

During this long discouraging process for the Tribe, she became so tenacious that elected officials were known to duck out of sight when they heard she was in the building, and she was renowned for embarrassing government officials with her keen knack for making her point. Despite her continued efforts, by 1975, the tribe and its members had yet to be recognized or recompensed.

That summer, an unusual opportunity presented itself. The Bicentennial wagon train was making a trip across the continent, and according to the Everett Herald, was scheduled to pass through Island Crossing located “just an arrow’s flight away from the combination office and souvenir store” that served as Stillaguamish headquarters.

Esther Ross with Chief John Silva and members of the Stillaguamish Tribe, June 29, 1963
Photograph provided by the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians.

Esther Ross with Chief John Silva and members of the Stillaguamish Tribe, June 29, 1963 Photograph provided by the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians.

When Esther got the news, she announced that the tribe would attack the convoy unless the Department of the Interior immediately granted them official recognition. She pointed out that her people had been petitioning the United States government for their rights for nearly 50 years. They had native membership and a formal tribal structure, and their representatives had signed the Point Elliot treaty. All they lacked was land, and that was hardly their fault. She was, she announced, seventy years old, and she was done waiting.
The train’s wagon master dithered. He recognized good theater when he saw it. On the one hand her threat had drummed up extensive media coverage, and he didn’t want to jeopardize an opportunity to spotlight the Bicentennial wagon train on national television. On the other hand, the Bicentennial Commission had orchestrated meetings with officials all along the route. If the tribe followed through on their threats and the train was delayed, it would generate a cascade of scheduling problems.

Government officials had more serious worries. The international press coverage was embarrassing. Worse yet, they weren’t sure whether the threatened “attack” was merely rhetoric or something more troublesome. At the beginning of the decade, the Kootenai tribe had closed down US Highway 2 for several days. Native groups blockaded Wounded Knee in South Dakota for 71 days, and they had taken over Alcatraz and Fort Lawton. The previous year, Judge George Boldt had ruled that treaty Indians in Washington State had the right to half of the local salmon harvest, a ruling that continued to generate angry protests from non-native fishermen. Might fishermen take this opportunity to organize another demonstration? Would Indian activists from other tribes become involved? Might things get out of hand, property be damaged, people get hurt?

Would Esther really stop the wagon train? And if she did, what would she do? They couldn’t be sure. They decided not to take a chance. On the day the wagon train was scheduled to arrive, a special assistant to the Secretary of the Department of the Interior was flown in to meet with Esther. “Why have you come?” she is reported to have snapped. “I did not send for you.”

He responded that the Department of the Interior was preparing a document granting the tribe official recognition, and that it would be ready in thirty days. Esther was unimpressed. He brought no documents with him, and she had heard such promises before. The show would go on.

Newspaper accounts say that when the wagon train arrived at Island Crossing, there were approximately 200 people, many of them Indians, standing in the road. As the wagon train passed in front of the little building, Esther’s son emerged. He walked in front of the TV cameras to the first wagon, grabbed the lead horse’s reins and informed the wagon master they weren’t moving until the Stillaguamish tribe received official government recognition. For several long moments, no one moved and nothing happened. Then, just as things got tense, Esther appeared. She wore native dress, walked slowly to the center of the road, and stood quietly until everyone was looking at her. Then she spoke.

For a tiny person, she had a big voice. She said that her ancestors had welcomed white men to this valley a century ago, and she was welcoming them now. She talked about the Bicentennial train and how it symbolized the strength and determination of the American people, but that for Indians it stood for a trail of tears, broken promises, ignored treaties, the loss of pride and dreams and the destruction of a way of life. “We stop this Bicentennial wagon train”, she said, “to bring to the attention of the nation that we have no other alternative, short of violence, to bring their plight to light and produce action.”

Then she did something surprising. She walked over to the wagon master, placed a good luck medallion around his neck, wished him a safe journey, and handed him a letter which she requested he deliver to the Secretary of the Interior. He promptly responded that the Stillaguamish tribe had the goodwill of the Bicentennial Commission, promised to deliver their message, got on his horse, and he and the wagons skedaddled down the road.

When 30 days, and then a year, had passed and the anticipated documents had still not arrived, Esther sent the Secretary of the Department of the Interior a frozen salmon. Attached was a cordial note saying she hoped he and his family would enjoy eating the delicious fish and reminding him that the Stillaguamish tribe had not forgotten his promises. It was said that the Secretary ignored the salmon, but that eventually the smell became so bad his staff had to dispose of it.

Maybe it was the salmon, maybe it was Bicentennial guilt, or maybe after 50 years, Esther had just worn them out, but finally in October 1976, the federal government granted recognition to the Stillaguamish. And in December of that year, at a dinner celebrating their victory, members of the now official American Indian tribe named her Chairman of the Stillaguamish.

Postscript: Esther Ross’ persistence helped obtain sovereign rights for one of the smallest tribes of Indians in America and brought it back from “near extinction”. Her efforts improved the quality of life for her people, and provided a precedent for other tribes.

How did she make it happen? Those who knew and worked with her say she did not hesitate to create her own rules, but at the same time she was not unjust or threatening. She had a great gift for creating dramatic moments. Perhaps her most effective weapon was her tenacity. In addition, she was born into a powerful family among the Coast Salish, a culture in which “rank and determination far outweigh gender in the course of life. Today, as in the past, both women and men routinely hold public responsibilities as equals.”

She did not choose an easy battle, and she and her family endured many hardships and stormy periods as a result of her all-consuming dedication. Like many others involved in the lawsuit, her intent was to affirm her Indian heritage and strengthen her native community. However, from the first, it was clear that some had other motives. Esther won many devoted supporters, but in the end, she also created some enemies.

When Esther died in 1988, David Getches, the attorney who worked closely with her on negotiations with the Department of the Interior and in the Boldt case, said in a letter to her son Frank, “When I think of Esther’s determination and strategy, I am not sure that the legal wrangling really made the difference in the successes finally earned by Esther and the tribe. From the poor people’s march on Washington, to stopping the Bicentennial wagon train, to the parades and news stories, to the prayers and friendships she fostered, it now seems clear to me that whatever happened right was because of Esther and not the lawyers and politicians and bureaucrats.”


Ruby, Robert and Brown, John (2001). Esther Ross Stillaguamish Champion. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

Deloria, Vine (1977). Indians of the Pacific Northwest. Garden City, New York: Doubleday

Haeberlin, Hermann and Gunther, Erna (1930), The Indians of Puget Sound. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Bates, Dawn (1994) Lushootseed dictionary / Dawn Bates, Thom Hess, Vi Hilbert ; Seattle : University of Washington Press.

Cameron, David (2005) “The Native Americans,” Chapter 2 of Snohomish County / An Illustrated History, Index, WA: Kelcema Books
Thanks also to the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians for their review and fact checking

© 2006 Ann Duecy Norman, All Rights Reserved