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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Carolyn Shelton: Oregon's Acting Governor and Woman Suffrage Supporter

Carolyn Shelton, Oregon's Acting Governor in 1909, left the state for Washington, D.C. to continue her employment with George Chamberlain after he became U.S. Senator from Oregon that same year.

This means that Shelton was not living in Oregon during the last two campaigns for woman suffrage in 1910 and 1912. But we do have evidence that she was a suffrage supporter. In May, 1913, the National Magazine, published in Washington D.C., reported that she had participated in a march on the national capitol building to present a petition favoring woman suffrage to the U.S. Congress on April 8, 1913.

"Affairs at Washington," National Magazine 38 (May 1913) 192-93. 

The National Magazine noted her participation, and added "Although the state of Oregon but recently adopted 'votes for women,' yet one of the gentler sex has already acted as its chief executive." We also learn that at the time of Woodrow Wilson's inauguration on March 3, 1913 (when suffragists mounted an extensive parade in the city and hundreds of spectators engaged in violence against them) women visiting her office "addressed her formally as 'Governor,' insisting that as she once held the office she should properly be addressed by that title." Perhaps referring to the 1909 editorial in the Eugene Register reprinted in the Oregonian, the reporter insisted that "no one made the fatal error of referring to her as 'governess.'"

Here's how the New York Times reported the suffrage march in which Shelton participated:

"Impressive March of Suffrage 531," New York Times, April 8, 1913, 7.
Shelton's work away from Oregon did not prevent her from interest in and support for women's activities there after gaining the right to vote. More on this in the next post.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Carolyn Shelton in 1909: "Oregon Holds the World's Record for Changing Rulers"

"Has Three Governors in Three Days," Daily Capital Journal, March 1, 1909, 1.
On the weekend of February 28 through Monday morning, March 1, Carolyn Shelton served as acting governor of the state, bridging the terms of George E. Chamberlain and Frank W. Benson, Oregon's secretary of state who succeeded Chamberlain when Chamberlain won election to the U.S. Senate. The Salem Daily Capital Journal proclaimed that as a result of three governors in three days "Oregon Holds the World's Record for Changing Rulers."

"F. W. Benson Became Oregon's Governor This Morning," Daily Capital Journal, March 1, 1909, 1.

In the accompanying article the Journal noted that Shelton was "'governess' of the great and only state who ever had that kind of ruler." Oregon was "coming into the front" with political firsts including the initiative and referendum, direct primary and election of Senators, "topping the strenuous situation off with having three governors in 50 hours."

Was Carolyn Shelton a supporter of woman suffrage? What happened after her weekend as Oregon's acting governor? More in the next post!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More on Carolyn Shelton, Oregon's Acting Governor in 1909: A "Double Part" Filling a Political Office and Serving as "Social Patroness" in Salem

Here's more about Oregon and the nation's first female "acting governor" Carolyn Shelton in 1909, continuing the previous post. Press reactions to Shelton's upcoming weekend as acting governor of Oregon at the end of February/beginning of March 1909 were mixed.
"Political Drift in Oregon," Oregonian, February 20, 1909, 10.
The Oregonian reprinted an editorial from the Eugene Register on February 20, 1909 that used another meaning of the term "governess" to criticize the Chamberlain administration. "Until Chamberlain is sworn in as United States Senator, a woman, Mrs. Shelton, will be Oregon's Governess. With addition of a wet nurse, Oregon's juvenile political condition ought to be in a fair way for receptive knowledge of what constitutes commonplace government."

A week later, Salem's Daily Capital Journal, Shelton's hometown newspaper, carried a "Sketch of Mrs. Shelton" in the Society section.

"Sketch of Mrs. Shelton," Daily Capital Journal, February 27, 1909, 6.
The sketch provided some background on Shelton, born Carolyn Skiff in 1876 in Union County, Oregon. After an early marriage and widowhood, Shelton went to work as a stenographer in the law offices of George Chamberlain in 1895, making her about nineteen when she started. The sketch reviewed her career with Chamberlain, drawing on information previously reported in the Oregonian.

Then the Capital Journal reporter added more, with a fascinating gendered discussion of Shelton's role in the governor's office and her relationship with the Chamberlains. "Mrs. Shelton has been a very popular society leader in the state capital," the reporter noted, "being premier chaperone on nearly every occasion of public importance of a social character." Chamberlain's family lived in Portland, "and Mrs. Chamberlain is one of the most domestic women in the world, absolutely declining to take any social prominence whatever, and preferring domesticity of the family circle, which demands her entire time, and attention as the mother of a large family. She is a woman of that noble character who gives her highest love, and affection to her children, and has lived an unostentatious life of devotion to the home in preference to the prominence she might have enjoyed at the side of her husband, who has been governor for six years. As a social patroness Mrs. Shelton has filled her position in a very becoming manner, playing the double part of filling an important political office and appearing in the capacity of a society woman."

Sallie Newman Welch Chamberlain married George in 1879 and bore seven children. Bill Robbins's Oregon Encyclopedia entry on George Chamberlain features a picture of Sallie and her daughter Fannie in 1910 from the Oregon Historical Society Research Library Collection (use the right arrow in the media box to scroll to the second image in the entry).

The sketch manages to praise both women and to create space for Shelton's "double part" without criticism. So far there appears to be no additional information or source material on how Sallie Chamberlain or Carolyn Shelton or George Chamberlain felt about these relationships and division of duties. I hold out hope for a box full in someone's attic and would be delighted to hear from anyone with more information on this interesting situation.

More in the next post.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Researching Carolyn B Shelton, Oregon's Acting Governor in 1909: "a woman can conduct the affairs of a Governor's office as well as a man can."

A number of sources (Portland State's Center for Women, Politics and Policy's page of Oregon women's "firsts" and most thoroughly Finn J.D. John on his "Offbeat Oregon" site) credit Oregon with having the first female governor in the nation in 1909, three years before women in the state achieved the right to vote.

Carolyn B. Shelton served as "acting governor" for one weekend in her capacity as secretary to outgoing Governor George Chamberlain. Chamberlain had been elected to the US Senate from Oregon, and needed to travel to Washington, D.C., the weekend of Friday, February 26 to be sworn in on time on Monday, March 1. Because Oregon has no lieutenant governor traditional practice was for the governor's private secretary to act as "acting governor" when the governor was absent. But this 1909 situation created notice because it was the first time that the secretary was a woman. And as Finn J.D. John points out, Shelton went to Washington, D.C. to serve as secretary to Chamberlain as senator, and then married him in 1926.

I decided to try to trace more of this history and to see how the press represented Shelton as a woman, a worker, and a temporary office holder and what happened in her life thereafter. Thanks to the fabulous Oregon Digital Newspaper program and other great sources, I'll be sharing the very interesting results across the next several posts.

"Mrs Shelton Will Act as Governor," Oregonian, February 12, 1909, 1.
The first coverage came on February 12, 1909 in the Oregonian. As you can see, this Republican paper reported favorably on this Democratic governor's actions and on Shelton herself. The Oregonian reported that Shelton, the senator's stenographer, would become private secretary "when the present private secretary becomes Circuit Judge in Multnomah Court." Noting the practice of having the private secretary "conduct the work of the office in the Governor's name," the report confirmed that "the precedent will be followed even though a woman holds the position of private secretary." Shelton, the paper noted, had been stenographer for Chamberlain for many years "and is very competent in a position of that kind. The Governor will have no hesitancy is leaving her in charge of the office during his trip to the National Capital."

The next day the Oregonian featured a picture and an interview with Shelton and with Governor Chamberlain.

Oregonian, February 13, 1909, 7.

"Knows Her Duties," Oregonian, February 13, 1909, 7.

Shelton announced that her policy would be "to treat everyone with the same courtesy that has been accorded visitors to the executive office in the past" and promised to "perform all the duties that usually fall to the Governor" and that she did not "intend to issue any pardons." She used the interview to affirm that this was an opportunity to demonstrate gender equality. "I shall try to show that a woman can conduct the affairs of a Governor's office as well as a man can."

Chamberlain noted that he had worked with Shelton for some time, first when she served as stenographer for his law firm Chamberlain & Thomas beginning in 1895 and then as she transferred to the governor's office as stenographer in 1902. Chamberlain praised her abilities and the range of her skills. "In the law office she was as useful as a young lawyer would have been in preparing papers and looking after office business," he noted. "Since coming to Salem she has not only performed a large part of the stenographic work, but has ably assisted the private secretary in his work." And she was shrewd and diplomatic. "She has been not only a faithful woman in her work, but has been tactful in her intercourse with persons who have business in the executive office."

More on the unfolding story in the next post.