Vashon has a long history of groundbreaking women in business and community life, here are a few I’ve come across in my Vashon reasearch.
Born in about 1843, Lucy grew up in a longhouse on inner Quartermaster Harbor. Her people were the sx̌ʷəbabš, which means “Swiftwater People.” As a young girl, she witnessed the signing of the Treaty of Medicine Creek in 1854. The resulting treaty negotiated between the tribes of south Puget Sound and Washington Territorial officials resulted in extinguishing Native claim to all their territory except for small reservations. Lucy’s 1918 interview with anthropologist Thomas T. Waterman and her 1927 testimony about the sx̌ʷəbabš villages to a U.S. Court of Claims gave first-hand evidence of the sx̌ʷəbabš people’s longhouses and life on Vashon-Maury Islands. Lucy died in 1929 and was buried in the Vashon Cemetery. In 2008, the Puyallup Tribe placed a headstone to honor their ancestor.
Dr. Belle Baldwin was among the first wave of women to be awarded medical degrees, Dr. Baldwin graduated from the University of Michigan in1888. Baldwin was Washington Territory’s first female physician, she maintained a practice in Seattle, and lived at Fern Cove from 1912 until 1942. The Belle Baldwin house at Fern Cove now is owned by the Vashon Park Department.
In 1908 the Vashon Island News reported that Mrs. P.L. Gagnon opened the Economy Variety store in the Wilheight building at Vashon. It was reported the store had a complete line of ladies under furnishings, Muslin, underwear, gloves, neckwear, hosiery, handkerchiefs, belts, aprons, covers, scissors and general notions.
The R.L. Polk & Co. 1911-1912, King County Register lists May Sisco as “Independent telephone Co.” Later Sisco had a Dry Goods store (exact dates and location unknown). When C.G. Kimmel moved the Kimmel Store into his new brick building in 1927, ( present day Blooms building) the Vashon Island News-Record reported, “the dry goods department (of the new Kimmel Store), will include the stock of goods from Mrs. G.E. Cisco’s store, which Mr. Kimmel has purchased, and will have Mrs. Sisco as head clerk.”
Captain Gertrude Wiman, was the first woman licensed as a steamship pilot on Puget Sound. She married Captain Chance Wiman in 1889, moved to Vashon in 1894. Gertrude worked with Chance as a purser and learned to pilot because her husband would retreat to the cabin and play cards with the passengers. In 1907 she passed the exam and was awarded her second-class pilots license for Puget Sound from Olympia to Port Townsend. When Chance died in 1928, she stopped working steamers and concentrated on her social life on Vashon, she was a charter member of the Vashon Island Order of the Eastern Star.
In November 1928 Agnes L. Smock took over as the publisher of the Vashon Island News-Record remaining publisher until 1942. Agnes was ahead of her time, she developed a staff who were all women, she was a fearless campaigner for open government, and she championed the Vashon Japanese American community at a time when not all islanders were welcoming. Except for the Business Manager/Printer, C.J. Denny, all the newspaper reporters were women. During the 1920s and 1930s, each area of the Island had its own designated correspondent, and each week much of the newspaper consisted of reports from each community.
Mae Naugle and Cleo Gordon opened Mea’s Sweet shop in the town of Vashon in 1931. They were owners for only a few months when the Vashon Island News-Record reported, “Poor health forced Mrs Naugle to give up the work and Mrs Gordon did not feel that she could carry on the work alone.” They sold the business to Mr. and Mrs A.H. Johnson. In 1940 the Johnson’s sold the business to Betty Jane Tjomsland and Mary Ann Agren, who changed the name to the Betty Ann Cafe.The Vashon Island News-Record reported the girls, “Graduated from Vashon High School last June. They are charming girls and very popular.”
Irene Garvin opened a Variety Store in 1931, the Vashon Island News-Record reported, the store will have a complete line of articles usually found in such stores, ranging from a paper of needles, to silk underwear, from a kettle cleaner to a set of dishes.” Also adding that Miss Garvin had attended business school in Seattle.
Shirley Coutts opened a woman’s apparel store in 1941. The store featured hosiery, millinery, afternoon, street and evening dresses, coats, suits, foundation garments, gloves, bags, and as the Vashon Island News-Record reported, “various other items of feminine finery.”
Marjorie Stanley, was 11 years old in 1902 when her family moved to Vashon. She was in the first graduating class form the Vashon College, later she studied Interior Design at the University of Washington. In 1944 she was instrumental in getting the Vashon Memorial Library built. She was the first librarian when County library system stared. Beloved librarian for 18 years before mandatory retirement, she was known as unofficial Vashon historian. Stanley’s recurring column Searching for Laughter in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber in 1967-68 is an important read in Island history.
In 1949 two women Chris Remme and Marie Mickle opened Vashon Bowl. The bowling alley had six lanes and a snack shop. Seattle newspapers reported that this was the first woman owned and operated bowling alley in the country.
Shortly after the Kimmel store was moved from the main street to west of town Lorraine Kimmel took over store operations.The Seattle Times reported, “The Supermarket traditionally is a divided world of women out front and men behind the scenes. But it doesn’t have to be thus. Mrs. Lorranie Kimmel of Vashon Island has proved it. When Mrs. Kimmel inherited Kimmel’s Shop-Rite on Vashon Island in 1959 and decided to carry on. Lots of people gave her three to six months to go down the tube…Today, after learning the hard way… she has made the store a notably successful community service. So much so, in fact, that she was tapped as a featured speaker at the convention of the National Association of Retail Grocers of the United States at Las Vegas. Which gave her the chance to offer some 1,000 food retailers and suppliers-mostly male-a bit of womanly advice drawn from her experience.” In her speech Kimmel recalled, “As you have heard I inherited the business in 1959, only 4 months after the new store opened. This was a bolt out of the blue as I had no experience except for being a part time checker for 3 years. I had never written a check, knew nothing about percentages, knew nothing about merchandising, promoting or advertising or any other management or operational practices. I was truly a green-horn.”
Growing up on Vashon in the 1960s and 1970s I remember other women central to Vashon businesses and community affairs from Arzel Leighton whose Leighton’s clothing store was woman run and staffed, Grandma Dugan who ran the original country store, grandma Stoltz who gardened and sold produce at the Pike Place Market. Hattie Matsumoto who was the produce person at Kimmel’s Store for many years, along with Dorthy Erickson who worked for Loraine Kimmel at the store. Dee of Dee’s Fabrics, B’s Boutique and of course who could forget Bettie Edwards and the Little House. Feel free to leave a comment about Vashon women you remember.
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