It’s one of those “I shoulda known” things!

Feb 17, 2024 | 0 comments

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Papa and Aunt Dora c. 1896

If you are one of my faithful (or even not-so-faithful) blog readers or a follower of  my “Saints or Sinners?” stories in the Observer you are likely acquainted with my Great Aunt Dora.  I credit her with my interest in storytelling — especially stories about the sinners which were always Aunt Dora’s favorites.  She also is the one who referred to any woman she admired as “a fine double-breasted sort of woman” and, though I’m not just sure what she meant by that,  I’ve always considered her to be that sort of woman, herself.

As I mentioned in my blog a few days ago,  I was contacted by someone working on an exhibit about women in Lake Oswego’s history asking for photographs of Aunt Dora.  Yesterday I received a “thank you” for the ones I sent plus a great deal more information about Aunt Dora than I had ever heard from her or from other family members.  And what’s more, I might have been given a clue as to that pithy saying of hers.

First, what I already knew about her:  Born in 1872,  she was the oldest of  my great-grandparents’ seven children and was 4 years older than my grandfather, Harry.  She grew up in Oysterville, became a teacher, and in 1895 married King Wilson, an attorney from from the East Coast who had received his law degree from  the University of Oregon in 1893. They lived for some years in Portland before moving to Lake Oswego where King became mayor and served until the time of his death in 1918.  They had three children, all of whom I also knew well.  Aunt Dora never married again and I think lived in (or perhaps ran) a boarding house in Portland.  She lived until 1955, visiting family often.  I think it was my mother who told me that she had several rather serious “suitors” during her widowed years and when her daughters Julia and Mary found out about that (when they were in their 30s I think) they never called her “mother” again– only “Dora.”  (I don’t think her son Bob was so self-righteous.)

So… what I learned yesterday:  “Mrs. A. King Wilson, Oswego, Ore.” was listed as a member of the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association in 1912   In 1916, she was elected to the Oswego school board, was reelected in 1917, and served as chair of the board.  The Oswego Times article (22 June 1917) announcing her reelection also noted that the district budget report was exemplary. Her name appears often in Oregon City newspapers.  Until 1929, Oswego did not have a regular newspaper (except for the Oswego Times 1916-1917) so local events were covered in the Oregon City papers.

Dora and King Wilson wwith Robert(“Bob”) and Mary, 1903

And, best of all, my correspondent said this:  “When I get back to the library next week, I will take a picture of Dora’s voter registration card from 1913.  It was the discovery of a set of these cards in the Lake Oswego Public Library’s collection that set me off on this project.  As you may know, Oregon women got the vote in 1912, so these cards are particularly exciting.  One of the cards, for a Mrs. S.H. Crookes, is signed by’Dora E. Wilson, chrman Election Board.’  I will send that image as well.”

So Aunt Dora was a suffragette!  Why am I not surprised.  Right at the time she was casting her first vote, her brother Harry (my beloved grandfather) was serving in the 13th session of the Washington State Legislature as the Senator from Pacific and Wahkiakum Counties.  And, over the years, more than one person has suggested that “a fine double-breasted sort of woman” might have alluded to a man’s double-breasted suit (popular in those days) and to the fact that such a woman had a mind of her own and was not one to be left at home, still widely thought ‘a woman’s place!’    How I wish I’d know all of that long ago.  But. as I think about it, I didn’t really need to.  Aunt Dora was a force to reckon with and even I, yet too young to vote, myself, when she died, knew she was special. What I didn’t know was how much she would influence my life!


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