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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sarah A. Evans, Portland Market Inspector 1905-1935

Sarah Evans, clubwoman and activist, decided that the position of market inspector was too important for the women of Portland to lose, even at the salary of $65 per month. The position was vacant when Mayor Harry Lane reorganized the city board of health in August 1905 and appointed Esther C. Pohl, M.D. and two of her medical colleagues, A J Geisy and George F. Wilson. There were six applicants: Sarah A. Evans, Ernest H. Garton, Mrs. R. Allgood, Mrs. A.R. Linning, Mrs. W.J. Tallman and Miss Emma Chapard. At a special meeting on August 11, 1905 the board elected Sarah Evans to be the new Portland Market Inspector with the recommendation of the School of Domestic Science. (The records of the Board of Health are all located at the City of Portland Archives and Records Center under the fabulous care of City Archivist Diana Banning and her staff.)

Evans was a charter member of the Portland Woman’s Club and the Portland Young Women’s Christian Association and one of the founders of the Oregon Federation of Women’s Clubs serving as president from 1905 to 1915. She represented clubwomen interested in “municipal housekeeping” and the domestic science movement that motivated Portland women to begin the market inspection crusade. For a decade she edited the Women’s Clubs section of the Oregon Journal beginning in 1904. And she would be a vital part of Oregon’s 1906 and 1912 suffrage campaigns.

In 1905, when Upton Sinclair was publishing a serialized version of The Jungle, his undercover discoveries of horrible conditions in Chicago meat packing, in the socialist journal the Appeal to Reason, and before the publication of the book in 1906, Evans was getting up early in the morning to inspect markets and report her findings in detail to the press and board of health.

Her reports read like Sinclair and, unfortunately, like Fast Food Nation and other contemporary investigations. But she also noted progress in the campaign. Her report for September 1905 was, in part:

… “The Excelsior Market on East Morrison and Union Avenue refused me admission.  I was compelled to call a policeman.  When I made the examination I found the place filthy . . .
In a market on Morrison Street I found a great quantity of chickens cooped in a small cellar where they were making sausage and had pickled meat standing open. While I was making my examination I saw a rat run over a firkin of meat that stood open on the floor, and gnaw some that stood out of the brine. I gave them twenty-four hours to get the chickens out and the place cleaned up. Upon returning I found that my orders had been carried out.
…. I visited the Commission Merchant and was hold by him ‘that frequently veal came in when the quarters, from various causes would be sour. It was then sent to the markets that the hides might be saved and such parts of the animal as had not yet soured, that there might be as little loss to the shippers as possible.’ He had been doing this for eighteen years, he said, and had never thought of it as being unhealthy. I have his promise that in his house, at least, it will not occur again. . . .
. . . “During the month I have received four written complains and numerous verbal ones, and with one exception, I found them well-founded.”

Her reports to the board of health are filled with descriptions of coal tar dyed shrimp, dyes in catsup and meat additives; she called the Humane Society about treatment of live chickens at one market. In June 1906 she noted progress in refrigerated counters at many markets and a “sentiment for better market conditions seems to prevail.”

The incident of refusal to admit Evans was not an isolated one. In September 1906, after the proprietor of the Western Market “forcibly resisted” Evans’s efforts to take away a sample of meat for analysis, she sought and Mayor Lane gave her the “authority of a special officer” with police powers.

Sarah Evans and Esther Lovejoy were close friends and colleagues. One of my favorite images is of the two of them at the health office in City Hall in 1907 at the incomparable Historical Collections & Archives at Oregon Health & Science University.

Evans retired in 1935 at the age of 80 after thirty years as market inspector. Along the way that original salary of $65 grew and she got expenses covered. At her retirement the Oregonian reported (along with the two images below “Sarah A. Evans First Inspector,” Oregonian June 23, 1935, I:2) that she received a pension of $40 per month from the city. She died in 1940.

Someone out there must know where this picture and more from her "treasured collection" are today -- won't you let us know?

Portland had led the way for other groups, including the Consumers’ League and the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, to adopt pure food and market inspection goals. You’ll be able to read more about it in the Lovejoy biography.

See also

Encyclopedia of Northwest Biography, ed. Winfield Scott Downs (New York: American Historical Company, 1943) s.v. Evans, Sarah Ann (Shannon), 220-23.

Sandra Haarsager, Organized Womanhood: Cultural Politics in the Pacific Northwest, 1840-1920 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 291-300.