On March 29, 1912, the Spokane Advertising Club selects 17-year-old Marguerite Motie (1895-1982) to become Miss Spokane, a newly created position and the city's official hostess. Miss Spokane is intended to personify the city of Spokane, her welcoming smile and outstretched arms inviting visitors to partake in that city's bounty. Motie holds the title officially until 1920, and unofficially until 1939.
The Spokane Advertising Club, a group of Spokane business owners, sponsored the initial Miss Spokane contest. In 1939 the Spokane Chamber of Commerce assumed the contest's sponsorship.
A Symbol for Spokane
An initial contest offering prizes for drawings and designs for the Miss Spokane symbol was officially announced in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on January 17, 1912. On March 7, 1912, Eleanor Gaddis's sketch of a female Indian Maiden figure holding a large jug from which water cascaded was chosen the winner. The Spokane Advertising Club immediately launched a contest to find a human female face to superimpose on Gaddis's drawing.
An article in the Spokane Daily Chronicle detailed the qualities the winning young woman should possess:
"Beauty alone will not win this contest. There should be something in the face of the girl selected for the honor of representing the city that will tell without words something for which Spokane stands or hopes to become. Whether that something is determination, the expression of progressiveness, hope or any other quality, only the pictures submitted will tell" (Miss Spokane, p. 71).
Motie wore a long white dress and woven headband for her contest entry photograph. Her usual pompadour hairstyle had been replaced with long face-framing braids. The contest was decided on the basis of photographs alone, without an interview process. No prize money was offered. All six judges were men.
Of the 138 photographs submitted, only one belonged to a contestant purporting herself to have Indian ancestry: Vera Mann, daughter of a local judge, who claimed a connection to Pocahontas.
Eleanor Marguerite Motie (pronounced Mo-chee), born in Odebolt, Iowa, was the sixth of eight sisters. The Motie family moved to Spokane in 1907. Marguerite's father, Francis, sold real estate, and her mother, Anna, kept house. The vivacious Motie sisters were apparently well-liked in the Spokane community, and the Moties's large home in the Cliff Park neighborhood was a lively gathering place for young people.
Images of Marguerite Motie reveal Gibson Girl good looks: a forthright smile lights up her face in candid shots as she executes her official duties as Miss Spokane, while posed promotional pictures convey a dreamy wistful quality. Although of European ancestry, Motie's Miss Spokane visually suggested a stereotype of Indian-ness by long dark hair styled in braids, a long fringed sheepskin dress marked across the breast with a blazing sun, and a single-feathered headband that read "SPOKANE."
Despite the Spokane Advertising Club's initial plan to simply use Motie's photograph as the face of Gaddis's drawn figure, it quickly became apparent that Motie, highly personable, could easily be used to bring the sketch to life. Thereafter, she served as living embodiment of the Spokane Advertising Club's idea of Spokane-ness, the advertising "ask" for the product that was the city.
The Spokane dressmakers Bodeneck & Jacobs made Motie's official Miss Spokane costume using a pattern drafted by Motie's mother and sisters. The dress closely resembled the garment depicted in Eleanor Gaddis's sketch. Decades later, when this garment had become a museum piece, Motie told the Spokesman-Review that her mother had hand-beaded the large sun symbol.
In the early years of Miss Spokane's incarnation, a group of six female attendants who were also dressed as Indians accompanied Motie to many of her public appearances. None of these young women claimed Indian ancestry.
As Miss Spokane, Motie appeared at fairs, exhibitions, parades, and official gatherings of all sorts. She greeted VIPs, including President Theodore Roosevelt during his September 9, 1912, visit to Spokane after leaving office. She represented Spokane at the Panama-Pacific Universal Exhibition in San Francisco in 1915, where she helped distribute apple pies baked from Washington-grown fruit to a crowd of 25,000.
Dressed in her Miss Spokane costume, Motie's photograph adorned countless promotional brochures, advertisements, maps, letterheads of various Spokane businesses, and even sheet music -- all designed to promote Spokane, the so-called heart of the Inland Empire. Motie's image achieved world-wide fame, and she traveled throughout the United States on her city's behalf.
Motie managed to squeeze college studies into her busy Miss Spokane schedule, attending first the University of Washington and later Northwestern University in Chicago. In 1920 Motie married Walter Shiel, a former classmate at Spokane's South Central High School. The couple moved to Seattle.
Although her marriage ended her official tenure as Miss Spokane, no replacement was chosen and Marguerite returned to Spokane and donned her costume whenever civic leaders requested her presence at important events. As her family grew, Marguerite Motie Sheil's Miss Spokane appearances were eventually accompanied by her three young children.
Miss Spokane II
Miss Spokane's use as an advertising symbol was mostly dormant during the difficult years of the 1930s. In 1939, Catherine Betts became the second Miss Spokane, holding the title officially until 1943. Her tenure in the role officially ceased with her marriage in 1943, but, like Motie, she continued to serve unofficially whenever called to do so until her replacement was chosen.
Betts's tenure encompassed World War II, during which time she combined her Miss Spokane duties with work at Galena Army Air Corps Depot.
From 1947 to 1951, the title was bestowed biannually. Between 1953 and 1976, a new Miss Spokane was selected yearly. The Spokane Chamber of Commerce stopped sponsoring the Miss Spokane contest in 1977.
Co-opting a veneer of Indian symbolism and incorporating it into promotional iconography was common at the time the Miss Spokane character was created. Historian Katherine G. Morrissey states:
"The selection of an Indian woman to promote the city revealed a particular interpretation geared to a national twentieth-century audience; it reflected typical turn-of-the-century portrayals of Indians as representatives of a once wild and now contained past, and it echoed other national personifications of women as icons of civilization and domestication" (Mental Territories: Mapping the Inland Empire, p. 115).
Catherine Betts's white buckskin Miss Spokane costume was made by members of the Spokane and Coeur d'Alene Indian tribes at the behest of Chappie Dunning, a Spokane resident who promoted and supported Indian handcraft work. Dunning apparently forged a connection between the Miss Spokane contest and the Spokane tribe. Subsequent Miss Spokanes wore a dress made ca. 1930 for Mattie Boyd, wife of Spokane tribal chief Sam Boyd.
Marcia Gusman, Miss Spokane 1951, was the last Miss Spokane required to wear braids.
By the time Miss Spokane was retired as the city's symbol in 1977, the use of Indian mascots was beginning to be acknowledged as highly controversial.
Advertising Symbol vs. Beauty Queen
The Spokane advertising Club/Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Miss Spokane was an official city hostess and public relations ambassador, not a beauty queen. A separate Miss Spokane beauty contest in 1926 and 1927 sent representatives to the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Subsequent beauty contests crowned Miss Spokane County and Miss Spokane (eligible to compete in the Miss Washington/Miss America contest). The Miss Spokane Scholarship Contest now (2009) sends its yearly winner to the Miss Washington/Miss America contest. Another contest sends winners to the Miss Washington/Miss USA/Miss Universe contest.
In 1979, Marguerite Motie's home at 614 W. 13th Avenue in Spokane was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2006 was listed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places.