Phoebe Wilson Couzins was, to say the least, a trailblazer for women. She was one of the first female lawyers in the United States, the first female U.S. marshal, and, not surprising, an outspoken supporter of the suffragist movement. But temperance, not so much …
Phoebe was born on September 8, 1842 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father John E. D. Couzins was an architect, builder, and a natural leader. Traits he passed to his daughter. During the Civil War, John served as the city’s chief of police and sought to keep Missouri in the Union. Adaline, Phoebe’s mother, was a member of the Ladies’ Union Aid Society in St. Louis and volunteered as a battlefield nurse.
After the war, Phoebe, inspired by her parents, joined the St. Louis Woman Suffrage Association. The inability of a woman to vote incensed her, considering all the things a woman could do. She made a name for herself in the organization and, encouraged by a family friend, applied and was admitted to Washington University Law School in St. Louis.
In 1871, Phoebe became the first female law graduate from GWU! She practiced law for two months but the suffragette movement called her name. She began traveling across the country to give speeches in favor of women’s rights.
In 1884, Phoebe’s father was appointed U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Missouri and he swore her in as one of his deputies. When he died three years later, she served as the interim U.S. marshal, appointed by President Grover Cleveland. She was the first woman to serve in the position.
Not interested in being a lawman, though, she eventually moved to Washington, DC. She made a modest living as a writer, but maintained her involvement with the women’s rights movement. New blood entered into the suffragette arena, though, and Phoebe’s contributions, as well her Old Iron Pants attitude, tended to alienate the more politically-savvy ladies. Not to mention, Phoebe liked her high balls, and many of the suffragettes were passionate about the evils of alcohol. Hence, these last years were stormy ones for Phoebe. She hung in there, fighting the good fight, while, ironically, working as a lobbyist for a brewery.
Phoebe died in St. Louis in 1913 and was buried wearing her US marshal’s badge. Here’s to you, Phoebe!
By Heather Blanton
By Heather Blanton
Recently, many cities and towns across America held municipal elections. The turn-out is abysmally low for these. If you did not vote for your mayor or town council, Abigail Scott Duniway might just have a few choice words for you.
Abigail was the second daughter in a family of nine children. In 1852 she and her parents emigrated to Oregon from Illinois. In 1853, after teaching school for a bit, she married Benjamin Duniway. The couple would have six children.
Benjamin was a decent farmer but not much of a businessman. They sold their first farm in Clackamas County, OR and moved to a new one in Lafayette. During this time, Benjamin co-signed on a note for a friend, putting his farm up for collateral. Abigail, to say the least, was not on board with this plan. The friend defaulted and the Duniways lost their farm. In the throes of eviction, financial chaos, and finding a new place to live, Benjamin was severely disabled in a wagon accident, and upkeep of the family fell to Abigail.
She ran a boarding school and taught for a spell, and eventually opened her own business. In her attempts to keep a roof over her family’s head, Abigail was frustrated on occasion by the necessity to involve Benjamin in even simple legal decisions. Being the man in the house, his signature was often required on documents.
For five years Abigail ran a millinery. She heard countless stories there of other women disenfranchised by the legal system, powerless to fight for their rights, especially in regards to personal property. Just based on her own experiences, it’s easy to see why she thought the system was stupid. Hence, she became loudly and eloquently vocal about the injustices. Recognizing her passion, Benjamin encouraged Abigail to open a newspaper focused on women’s rights and suffrage. The Duniways knew that without the right to vote, nothing would ever change for the women of Oregon.
Interestingly, Abigail’s brother Harvey was the editor for The Oregonian and the siblings butted heads, or columns, vehemently over voting rights for women. Harvey was against them and his opposition was instrumental in seeing the motions defeated time and again.
But the women of Oregon persisted. In 1912 the state finally passed a women’s suffrage amendment. The governor himself asked Abigail to write the Equal Suffrage Proclamation sharing the news.
She was 78 years young.
By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2012 Heather Blanton
Through the lens of history, you can scan a lifetime in the blink of an eye. This learning from a distance, though, not only insulates us from the anguish of dreams left in ashes, it prevents us from appreciating the hard-fought victories.
So put yourself in the shoes of a Sager sister.
I stand in awe of Catherine Sager, a pioneer of the toughest stock. Born in Ohio, she was the eldest daughter of Naomi and Henry Sager. In 1844, after having moved his family three times, Henry set his eye on the Oregon Territory. Her mother Naomi, pregnant, and already a raising a brood of six, went grudgingly. Catherine was nine when the family departed from St. Joseph, Mo.
Along the trail in May, her mother gave birth to Little Naomi. As if that wasn’t enough of a hardship, in July the wagon overturned crossing a shallow stream, severely injuring Naomi (apparently Little Naomi was fine). Still, the family pushed on. Then, only a few hours from a good rest at Fort Laramie, Catherine jumped from the wagon. The hem of her dress caught on an ax handle, throwing her under the huge, lumbering wheel of a fully-loaded Conestoga. Her leg was broken in at least seven different places. Little more than a month later, her father contracted a fever and died.
The trail west nearly wiped out the whole family.
And Death wasn’t through hunting the Sager family. Naomi succumbed to the fever as well and died in Oregon—so close to the goal. She had requested that the wagon master take care of her children and he kept his promise, or at least he tried. By October, the train had made it to the Whitman Mission in Oregon. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman happily adopted all the Sager children. The couple ran a school, farm, trading post, and doctor’s office. The settlement, however, was smack dab in the middle of Nez Perce and Cayuse territory. Due to the treachery of a white man, the Cayuse were manipulated into attacking the settlement in 1847. Catherine again lost loving parents, along with her two older brothers, in the massacre. The surviving women and children were held for ransom by the Indians. In the month-long siege, her six-year-old sister Louisa contracted measles and died.
Four Sager girls survived. Catherine, Elizabeth, Matilda, and Naomi, the baby girl born on the trail. After the massacre, they were separated and shipped off to foster homes. One more untimely death, however, awaited the sisters. A stray bullet struck down Little Naomi at the age of 26.
Finally, Death took a holiday from its unnatural greed for the Sager family. And like Job, had much of “wealth” restored to them. Catherine, Elizabeth and Matilda married good men, had large families, settled into blissfully normal lives, and lived to be senior citizens. Catherine shared the Sager story, and her grief, in a memoir she penned in 1860. Having lost siblings myself, I am amazed at the resiliency of these women. The fortitude to keep going when everything had been stripped from them is beyond admirable. I feel their pain and will always be grateful for their sacrifices.
Respect the lace.
Last week, I wrote about Nellie Cashman, a young woman who traveled the West, sought out her own opportunities, left most people better off for having known her, and yet she never married.
I sometimes wonder about the pioneer women of this country who had absentee husbands. Men, who between heroic deeds and territorial path-finding, came home long enough to get their wives pregnant. Not an ideal situation, perhaps, but ultimately, the way of the world, even today. Some men are called to politics, war, exploring. It is left to the woman, right or wrong, to keep the home fires burning. These women are the unsung heroines of the early days of America.
Polly Pierre Lane is one such example. From an early age, the fact that Polly’s life would be hard was undeniable. And, yet, God always had his hand on her. At the age of 12, she escaped an Indian attack that wiped out her whole family. She literally leaped out a back window, raced to the river, and dove into a canoe. Dazed and confused, she drifted down the Ohio until the boat bumped into a small landing. This landing was owned by a Christian family who immediately took Polly into their home and raised her as their own.
The wilderness was not a place where a woman learned to read or write, but frontier life was the school of hard knocks. Polly could cook, sew, run a farm, and tend to babies. At the age of fifteen, she married the son of her foster family. Her husband was dead by the time she turned seventeen. The wilderness also doesn’t leave much time for grieving. Polly soon fell in love with a neighbor, a man with a wandering streak, and a desire to enter politics.
Joseph Lane was elected to the Indiana State Legislature at the age of twenty. Political business kept him away for weeks at a time. Still, their family grew and Polly dutifully managed her home well, even when Joseph left to fight in the war with Mexico. He was gone three years. During his time as a soldier he was promoted to brigadier general, but never received any pay.
When he returned to Indiana, broke and war-weary, Polly was waiting for him. Their home was in order, their children were doing well. Joseph, however, didn’t stay long enough to settle in. A few months into his new home life, he received an appointment as the Territorial Governor of Oregon. He was gone again within a matter of weeks. Polly trudged on, rearing their children, keeping the home up, and their bills paid.
Eventually, Joseph sent for his family. Polly was honored in Oregon with a gala ball that took her breath away. She was also surprised to learn that not only had her husband assigned his pay to her, she was legally part owner of three hundred acres of Oregon land!
Joseph went on to serve as a congressman, a general in Indian skirmishes, even the vice –presidential running mate of John C. Breckinridge, the man who ran against Lincoln. He spent a lot of time away from home, but when he finally settled down, his ranch in Oregon was the envy of the valley. One could argue, that, in her own womanly way, Polly did as much to build America as the Congressman.
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