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As It Was: Kathryn Clarke Becomes Oregon’s First Female State Senator

The first woman to become a senator in the Oregon Legislature was Kathryn Clarke in 1915.  She had more than a little help from her cousin, Gov. Oswald West.

West appointed Clarke to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of State Sen. George Neuner Jr. When West’s authority to appoint someone was questioned, a special election was called to decide the seat.  Clarke ran and won, only three years after Oregon had granted women the right to vote.

Clarke became a strong voice for the women’s national suffrage movement, working for passage of a federal amendment.

During the First World War while visiting Los Angeles on Dec. 11, 1916, she was quoted as saying, “A congress of women ... will do more to restore peace in Europe than a dozen such congresses of men ... “

A newspaper at the time applauded her, saying she demonstrated “a determined effort in this direction by the women's organizations of the United States."

Clarke served one term of office before moving to Pasadena, Calif., to work in a large department store.  She died in 1940.




Sources: Jensen, Kimberly. "Kathryn Clarke (1873-1940)." Oregon Encyclopedia, Oregon State University and Oregon Historical Society, 29 Sept. 2017, https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/kathryn_clarke_1873_1940_/#.WokO2q6nHX4. Accessed 24 Feb. 2018;  Guyer, R J., and Gardner Chappell. Douglas County Chronicles: History from the Land of One Hundred Valleys. American Chronicals ed., The History Press, 2013, pp. 77-78.

Emily Blakely has published poetry and prose, and frequently displayed framed works at the Umpqua Valley Arts Center as well as restaurants and libraries in the area. Researching local history has become one of her favorite pastimes.