Two historians offer a brief look at the role women have played in the evolution of Portland, Oregon.
Prince (Culture Wars in British Literature, 2012, etc.) and debut author Schaffer highlight the many notable ways women have shaped Oregon’s largest city in this informative book, part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. The authors’ aim was “to do our part to mend the telling of Portland’s history,” which has traditionally focused on men. In particular, they draw attention to the lives of Native Americans and other women of color. They begin with the “forgotten history” of the city before the arrival of white settlers in the 1840s and continue through the post–World War II era into the present. Separate chapters cover women in the arts from the 1890s onward (such as noted children’s author Beverly Cleary) and women in politics from the 1920s to today. As with other volumes in this series, the emphasis is on historical photographs, newspaper clippings, and other documents, which are accompanied by short captions. The result is a visually interesting but necessarily scattershot history. Still, the authors have wisely chosen to concentrate on certain themes, such as the fight for women’s suffrage or women’s work on the homefront during World War II, which helps to provide an overarching context to the text and images. In some cases, more details would have been helpful in understanding the broader historical events that provided the backdrop to the women’s actions. For example, a number of African American women who fought for civil rights are admirably profiled, but a statement that Oregon’s 1953 law banning discrimination in public accommodations put it “a decade ahead of the nation in passing civil rights laws” downplays the state’s troubling history of racial exclusion. Yet the authors are to be commended for their efforts to document the experiences of a diverse group of Portland women. Many of them seem ripe for a more in-depth exploration, such as Lucy A. Mallory, a suffragist and writer whom Tolstoy once called the “greatest woman in America.”
While its visually focused approach doesn’t dig deep, this book deftly spotlights lesser-known figures from Portland’s past.