Articles in The Oregonian and OregonLive.com this week remind us of the 1916 coup in Umatilla, Oregon, when Laura Stockton Starcher, the wife of the town’s mayor, beat her husband at the ballot box with a write-in vote. Four other women won the council seats that year; they and other women ran the town until 1920. Darleen Bailey Beard memorialized the revolution, which happened four years after Oregon women got the right to vote, in her children’s book, Operation Clean Sweep. A play based on the book will be performed this June 22 in Umatilla, population 6,906, on the Columbia River near Pendleton.
Ten years before the Umatilla overthrow, the anti-suffrage “petticoat card” made its debut during Oregon’s 1906 campaign. Woman suffrage failed that year, despite support from the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which had held its annual convention in Portland at the same time as the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition. Two of those cards are nestled in a scrapbook belonging to Abigail Scott Duniway, Oregon’s most famous suffragist. A facsimile happily resides in the lace pocket of a petticoat I wore to the launch of Blue Thread.
Blue Thread is a “what if” story. I pretended that Miriam, my sixteen-year-old imaginary friend from 1912, discovers that her father printed that 1906 card. Here’s what she says when she confronts him:
’I am my own woman Papa. A businesswoman one day, despite you.’ With my free hand I raised my skirt a few inches above my ankles. ‘Take a good look at that petticoat, Papa. Petticoat government, is that what you are so dead set against? Women who might challenge your opinions or question your judgment?’ I hiked my skirt higher.
Miriam wasn’t real, but Umatilla mayor Laura Stockton Starcher was. So were Umatilla councilwomen Gladys Spinning, Florence Brownell, Anna Means, and Stella Pauluu, treasurer Lola Merrick, and elected recorder Bertha Cherry. Nice job, gals!