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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.