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As It Was: Lillian Parson Invents Electrolysis for Extracting Mercury

If Lillian Parson were still manager of the War Eagle Mine in northern Jackson County, as she had been in the 1940s, she’d probably oppose stopping work for a clean-up suggested by the Department of Environmental Quality.  That’s the way she was, too busy to stop working for anything.

She had worked from the time she was 12, selling magazines, in vaudeville, in a laundry, running a cigar stand and establishing a successful lunch counter.  She married young, had three children, and got a high school diploma at night.

She and her second husband, Alan Parson, ran the War Eagle Mine. There she invented a system to extract mercury from cinnabar ore using electrolysis, a far more efficient method than the previous system of heating the ore in retorts.  But mercury prices fell after World War II and the mine closed before employing her system.

Parson then managed a large redwood logging operation, overseeing and sometimes antagonizing male managers from the woods to the mill.

In 1966, she reappeared in the Applegate Valley, showing off her improved mercury recovery system.  At 75, this indomitable woman was in the mining business again.

Sources: Ziegler, Maude. "Process Recovers Mercury from Cinnabar by Electrolysis." Medford Mail Tribune, 3 Apr. 1966. Environmental Cleanup Site Information Database Site Summary Report-Details for Site ID 3900, 'War Eagle Mine, Oregon DEQ, 18 July 2017, www.oregon.gov/deq/Hazards-and-Cleanup/env-cleanup/Pages/ecsi.aspx. Accessed 20 July 2017.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.