Freedom Requires Vigilance, Courage, and Action–Lessons from Pioneer Ladies

Watching the political happenings lately, I was drawn back to some very courageous pioneer ladies who lived in Yoncalla, Oregon.

In 1920, the gentlemen of Yoncalla had a “gentlemen’s agreement” tnat the incumbents would not hold an election for any of the town offices. They would just skip the formality of an election.

The women of the town decided, “No, No.” They took matters into their own hands and produced a an all-female slate for all the city offices. The slate included Jennie Lasswell who was the wife of the mayor. Can you imagine the conversations at the breakfast table and other places in the Lasswell household when the mayor became aware of the election?

It seems that enough folks in the town agreed with the ladies. The entire slate was elected. Mary Goodall Burt became the town’s first female mayor. Mary was a Pacific University graduate and a former teacher. Teachers played a prominent part. Council members were: Jennie Lasswell, also a former teacher; Bernice Wilson, a teacher; Nettie Hanan, a community activist; and Edith Thompson, active in women’s organizations and community work.

I wanted to name them for you because so many pioneer women remain nameless in the history books. I’m hoping someone who reads this  will carry a name or know someone who might know the area or a name. These ladies stepped forward just a year before I was born. And it was a big step. But they knew it was not right not to have an election. They were living in the struggle for equal rights and the difficult movement to gain the vote. This was just not a Yoncalla Affair. These wonderful women were ordinary women living a pioneer life in Eastern Oregon who stepped up to do what was right.

I am grateful that the baby girl born in New Albin, Iowa a year after this successful campaign is able to tell the story. It is one of the wonderful stories of pioneer women of the northwest that I honor in “Pioneer Women of the Northwest.”

When I think of these women, I don’t dare say or think that I cannot make a difference. I am one, but I am one who has had the opportunity to follow incredibly brave, courageous, and strong women. I hope that I have helped to clear some brambles from the path of those following me. It is still a journey that requires courage. But I am determined to do what I can to make it better for my granddaughters and my grandsons. Freedom always has and always will require vigilance, courage, and action.

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