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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Carolyn Shelton's Obituary: Some Thoughts on the Absence of information About Her Role as Oregon's Acting Governor

I've been writing about Carolyn Shelton, Oregon's acting governor for several days in 1909 and private secretary to former Oregon governor and U.S. senator George Chamberlain, whom she married in 1926. Chamberlain died in 1928.

Shelton died eight years later in Salem, Oregon on February 3, 1936. Her (Salem) Oregon Statesman obituary gives some additional details about her later life. But it does not note her historic role as acting governor of the state in 1909.

"Widow of Former State Chief Dies," Oregon Statesman, February 4, 1926, 1, 5.
We learn that Shelton returned to her home in Union, Oregon, apparently in 1933 from Washington, D.C. after George's death in 1928 and that she came to Salem in 1934.

We also learn that she was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The obituary spells her first name "Caralyn" and the image of her headstone on the Arlington National Cemetery website also uses "Caralyn."
George E. Chamberlain and Caralyn Shelton Chamberlain grave marker, Grave #3502, Arlington National Cemetery
The history of women is full of erasures like the silence about Carolyn (Caralyn) Shelton Chamberlain's role as Oregon's acting governor in 1909. It is also significant that the newspaper accounts here in this thread use several variants to spell her first name. Thanks to archivists and those who digitize newspapers we have more on Shelton's life and can restore her to her place in Oregon women's history with some additional detail.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Carolyn Shelton Marries Former Oregon Senator George Chamberlain in 1926

I've been posting information on Carolyn Shelton, Oregon's "acting governor" in 1909 and private secretary to Oregon senator and former governor George Earle Chamberlain.

When private secretary to Governor Chamberlain, Shelton took on the role of hosting many official state events. Sallie Newman Welch Chamberlain, George Chamberlain's wife, preferred to remain in Portland caring for the couple's children.

Shelton went to Washington, D.C. in 1909 after her three-day job as Oregon's acting governor to continue working with Chamberlain. District of Columbia death records on list Sallie Chamberlain's death at age 69 on May 26, 1925. Carolyn Shelton married George Chamberlain over a year later on July 12, 1926.

Press coverage in the Oregonian and Washington Post of the wedding of Shelton to her boss and former U.S. senator from Oregon provides interesting details. But only the Oregonian mentioned her role as Oregon's first female "acting governor."

The Oregonian provided much more coverage of Shelton than of her new husband in a front page story the day after the wedding.
"George Chamberlain Weds Mrs. Shelton," Oregonian, July 13, 1926, 1.

The Oregonian recounted Shelton's career and noted that she had "served as governor a few days" when Chamberlain had left to begin his job representing Oregon in the senate in 1909. The editors noted her accomplishments in Washington, D.C., including "responsible positions with leading senate committees under the direction of the senator." Shelton had "many friends in Portland." Chamberlain's son Charles, a physician in Portland, didn't yet have word of the marriage when reporters contacted him but "was not surprised as the event had been expected."

Coverage of the wedding in the Washington Post gives more detail about the event, but emphasized information about George Chamberlain's career. The Post gave no hint that Shelton had served as acting governor of Oregon.
"Chamberlain, Former Oregon Senator, Weds," Washington Post, July 13, 1926, 5.
We learn that Chamberlain obtained a marriage license "without any one being aware of his identity" and that the couple was married quietly with a honeymoon planned for Virginia Beach.

Some final information about Shelton coming in the next post.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Carolyn Shelton Notes Oregon Women's Political Accomplishments in 1914 and Gives Business Women a Motto: Be Willing to Work

In January 1914, Carolyn Shelton, former "acting governor" of Oregon in 1909 and woman suffrage supporter, granted an interview that was reprinted in the Magazine section of the Oregonian and syndicated elsewhere in the states. Here's a small image of the entire feature and larger sections posted below:

"Woman Who Was 'Acting Governor' of Oregon, Oregonian, January 11, 1914, Sec. 6, p. 2.

As with other reports, the interview contained information about Shelton's accomplishments and skills but also reflected fears about women in positions of political power. The interviewer noted that Shelton gained experience with commercial and then criminal law as George Chamberlain moved from private practice to the post of District Attorney of Multnomah County and served as "acting governor" of Oregon as his private secretary. As she continued in that post in Washington D.C. with Senator Chamberlain, her accomplishments were those of which "any man of middle age might be proud." Yet the interviewer also cautioned that if readers were worried that the former "acting governor" might be a woman who wore "square toed-boots," with "short hair" and "spectacles" they had nothing to fear. They could picture her "seated behind a tea table at a fashionable afternoon function."

Shelton provided a detailed answer to the question of women's political activism in Oregon. She discussed the "feminist movements" in the state "which have taken . . . more than the shape of 'votes for women,'" -- in other words, voting was a foundation for other political action by women.

"I was very glad that the women of Oregon were enfranchised," she noted, "because they worked long, seriously, and conscientiously for it." She noted the long career of suffrage activist Abigail Scott Duniway as an example of the long struggle. Shelton believed that Oregon women would use the vote wisely, in part because they had a strong record of accomplishment even before attaining the vote. She included Oregon's 1903 child labor law, and a maximum hour law for some women workers passed in 1905.

Shelton's suggested motto for women about to enter the business world? "A capacity for, and a willingness for work."