Mirror on the Modern Woman: Selected Images from the Oregon Journal, 1927–1932

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N2965

May 12 – December 1, 2017

  • Family-friendly
  • Free for Members
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  • Handicap Accessible Friendly
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Location:
Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave
Portland, Oregon 97205
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The 1920s heralded the era of the Modern Woman, a more adventurous and independent type open to new possibilities. American women looked to build on their achievements after winning the vote and stepping into new roles to support the war effort and sustain the home front during World War I. Changes in the workforce and more affordable mass-produced consumer goods also gave women more autonomy and economic self-reliance.

The new exhibit Mirror on the Modern Woman depicts some of these Modern Women, young and old, at work and at play. The exhibit features fifteen photographs from the 1920s and ’30s selected from the Oregon Historical Society Research Library’s collection of negatives from the Oregon Journal newspaper. Though few of the women’s stories would have been front-page news, many of these images are infused with confidence and a spirit of adventurousness. The variety of their experiences touches on many topics represented in the collection as a whole and reflects aspects of daily life and special events for women and girls in this era.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N0179

Mrs. D. W. Barnes of Portland celebrated her 90th birthday on June 27, 1928 by taking her first ride in an airplane. Her son E. L. Barnes (possibly the man on the left) accompanied her in a Ryan monoplane flown by pilot Gordon Mounce (possibly the man in the background). More than two dozen family members and friends turned out to watch. Mrs. Barnes was an avid follower of aviation news, the Journal reported in a brief article, and had been planning the flight for quite a while. At the end of it, she “landed breathless and pleased,” the Journal reported.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N0179

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N0230

This photograph shows eighteen-year-old Pearl Billings in a cell at the Clackamas County Jail. In February 1931, she was arrested for her involvement in a holdup of the Robinwood Service Station. The Journal reported that Billings was with William Wheeler, 22, who pulled a gun on the station’s proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. R. W. LaDue. Wheeler told Billings to take the money in the till and then go start the car. As they drove off, Mr. LaDue shot at the car, killing Wheeler. After her arrest, Billings told police Wheeler had kidnapped her. She later pleaded guilty and was paroled to the Salvation Army White Shield Home in Portland.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N0230

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N0302

Thirteen-year-old Jane Brewster, a student at Irvington School in Portland, won the blue ribbon in a health contest at the Oregon State Fair in September 1929. With a score of 999 out of 1,000, she was judged the healthiest girl in Oregon. “An enlarged joint in Jane’s big toe was all that kept her from scoring 1,000,” the Journal reported, but her score “was quite a compliment to her mother, who keeps Jane fit while holding a position in the trust department of the United States National Bank at the same time.”

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N0302

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N0436

By popular vote of the girls in her class, Peggy Carper ruled as Queen of the May at Ulysses S. Grant High School’s spring festival in May 1932. The annual event at the Portland school included music, dancing, food, games, athletic competitions, and the crowning of the queen. It “is looked forward to by the student body and the high school community as one of the high spots of the spring,” the Journal reported.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N0436

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N1093

Stunt pilot Dorothy Hester was probably around age nineteen when she posed next to a plane for this photograph. Hester, from Milwaukie, Oregon, learned to fly at the Rankin School of Flying in Portland. She impressed Tex Rankin, and he taught her aerobatics. In June 1930, at age nineteen, she became the first woman to perform a stunt called an outside loop. Hester wowed audiences both in Oregon and at air shows around the nation, set world records for stunt flying, and opened her own flight school. She left her career in aviation after marrying in 1934.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N1093. c. 1929

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N1193

Mrs. Matilda C. Howard, shown here in her later years, traveled to Oregon in 1850 with her parents, John and Sarah Zumwalt. She turned six years old as they made the trip from Missouri. The family settled on land near Wilsonville, Oregon.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N1193. c. 1929

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N1638

Chiara DeBona Matson, a noted Portland socialite, is seen gently nuzzling a large parrot in this photo. Mrs. Matson was known in the society pages for her travels, luncheons, horsemanship, and dinner parties. She was married to noted Portland physician and surgeon Dr. Ralph C. Matson until his death in 1946. According to newspaper reports, she later remarried and moved to Texas.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N1638. c. 1929

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N1676

Dorothy McCullough Lee of Portland was among the “interesting personages” photographed on January 14, 1929 outside the Oregon State Capitol on the opening day of the state Legislature’s session. The session was Lee’s first in the state House of Representatives. She later served in the state Senate and on the Portland City Commission. In 1948, she was elected mayor of Portland, the first woman to hold the office. The statehouse partially visible in this photograph was destroyed by fire in 1935.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N1676

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N2448

Prizewinning author Kay Cleaver Strahan was born in La Grande, Oregon, and lived in Portland for most of her life. Locations around the state formed the backdrop for Strahan’s mystery novels, which featured female sleuth Lynn MacDonald. Her books include The Desert Moon Mystery (1928), Footprints (1929), Death Traps (1930), The Hobgoblin Murder (1934), and The Desert Lake Mystery (1936).

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N2448. c. 1929

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N2542

Annamae Ullman, a nineteen-year-old student at the Oregon Institute of Technology, caught the Journal’s attention when she passed the exam to earn an amateur radio operator’s license in March 1930. Ullman had arrived in Oregon two years earlier. While driving through the state with her family, she found that she liked it so much that she decided to stay. Having earned her amateur radio license, the Journal reported, Ullman planned to pursue a commercial license and become a radio operator on an ocean liner.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N2542

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N2965

These unidentified dancers were probably performing in a May Day celebration in Portland, Oregon. May Day festivities were common during this era, with celebrations put on by towns, businesses, organizations, and schools.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N2965. c. 1929

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N3052

Mary Benoit, representing Sears Roebuck, took third place in the Miss East Side beauty contest. Held on August 15, 1929, the beauty contest was part of a picnic at Jantzen Beach that was sponsored by the East Side Commercial Club. The winner of the contest was Jerry Chenoweth, representing the Oriental Theatre. The picnic also included a prize drawing, music, and a dance.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N3052

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N3920

These young swimmers, clad in suits with “YWCA” on the front, were most likely enrolled in a swimming class at the Portland Y. The YWCA’s building at SW Taylor and Broadway was also equipped with a gymnasium where a variety of athletic classes were taught.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N3920. c. 1929

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N4386

An unidentified performer with the Al G. Barnes Circus demonstrates her skills on horseback during one of the circus’s stops in Portland. The Barnes circus performed regularly in Portland and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N4386. c. 1929

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N4428

When the Portland YWCA opened registration for spring sports classes in April 1927, Lillian Blackman and Sophia Wehrly posed for a photograph with field hockey equipment. Field hockey “is not very well known generally,” the Journal reported, noting that the YWCA would supply the equipment for the hockey class. “It is a sport which provides vigorous exercise.” Blackman and Wehrly are on the roof of what is likely the YWCA building at SW Taylor and Broadway. Visible in the background is the Jackson Tower, where the Oregon Journal offices were located from 1912 to 1948. The YWCA building was demolished in 1959.

Oregon Journal Photograph Collection, Org. Lot 1368, 371N4428

This exhibit is inspired by ongoing work, funded by a generous grant from the Jackson Foundation, to digitize the research library’s collection of 9,000 nitrate negatives from the Oregon Journal. The Portland newspaper, an afternoon daily published from 1902 to 1982, was one of the largest papers in the state and a competitor to The Oregonian. The stunning original images date from approximately the mid-1920s to the early 1930s and have not previously been made accessible to the public. They provide a vivid look at people, places, and topics that journalists of that era found newsworthy. The vibrant breadth of life preserved in these photographs highlights the value of the state’s newspapers as historical resources: they serve as mirrors that reflect expansive views into Oregon’s past.

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