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Washington State establishes recognition days in honor of Mother Joseph and Marcus Whitman on April 16, 1999.
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On April 16, 1999, Governor Gary Locke signs into law SB 5734, which sets forth April 16 as Mother Joseph Day and September 4 as Marcus Whitman Day. These non-legal holidays honor two of Washington state's most historically notable individuals.
Marcus Whitman was born on September 4, 1802 in Rushville, New York. In October 1836 Whitman, a Presbyterian missionary and a physician, established a mission in Oregon country at Waiilatpu on the Walla Walla River. The mission became an important resting place for wagon trains on the Oregon Trail and there, Marcus Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, cared for orphans whose parents died on the trail. On November 29, 1847, Whitman, his wife, and 12 other white settlers and missionaries were massacred by members of the Cayuse Indian tribe.
Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart, born Esther Pariseau on April 16, 1823, in Saint Elzear, Quebec, Canada, was one of the founders of the Sisters of Providence in the Northwest. On December 8, 1856, Mother Joseph and four other Sisters of Providence from Montreal arrived at Fort Vancouver to begin their mission of caring for the sick, the aged and the poor, educating the young and housing the orphaned. Mother Joseph died of cancer on January 19, 1902. Upon news of her death, Canon Alfred Archambault, of Montreal, wrote, "In her the Western missions lose their foundress, their guide, their support. God alone knows what all those missions owe to Mother Joseph" (The Bell and the River, p. 268).
SB 5734, initially titled "An act relating to Mother Joseph Day," was in many ways the brainchild of a sixth-grade EXCEL class of 27 students from the Evergreen School District in Vancouver, Washington. The students wanted to "make a difference," said their teacher, Irene Holbrook, by bringing public attention to the accomplishments and contributions of Mother Joseph (Providence Archives, Email February 5, 1999). The class came up with three different projects that it could undertake to honor this remarkable Sister of Providence. The first was a new bench at Saint James Cemetery in Vancouver, Washington, where Mother Joseph is buried. The second was a plaque in her memory at Southwest Washington Medical Center, formerly St. Joseph's Hospital (1858-1967), in Vancouver, Washington. The third, and most daunting, was to have April 16 designated as Mother Joseph Day in the state of Washington.
With the help of Senator Al Bauer, the sixth-graders set out to make their mark in Olympia. On March 1, 1999, four students from the class made a 15-minute presentation before the Senate State and Local Government Committee, complete with handouts and a Power Point slideshow, requesting support for the bill, which was being sponsored by Senator Bauer. Following the presentation, the Senators unanimously voted the bill out of committee. Committee Chair, Senator Julia Patterson, said: "That was the greatest public testimony I have heard, in six years in the Legislature. There are people being paid lots of money for this, and you've got them beat" (Columbian, March 2, 1999).
On March 9, 1999, the Mother Joseph Day bill was debated on the Senate floor. Among the Senators who spoke in favor of the bill, Senator Alex Deccio (1922-2011) commented on the good work done by Providence Health System and Senator Margarita Prentice talked about Mother Joseph as a real person, her business savvies and her perseverance in everything she did. The Senate passed the bill 49-0. Following the vote, Sister of Providence Karin Dufault, Chair of the Board for Providence Health System, who was dressed in the traditional Sisters of Providence habit, addressed the Senate from the Rostrum, thanking the members and the children who brought the bill forward.
The bill went before the House of Representatives on April 9, 1999, where, for the first time since its inception, it faced some opposition. Several Republican Representatives appeared uncomfortable changing the statutes to honor a single individual. Their proposed solution was to amend the bill to include another one of Washington's notable figures who, alongside Mother Joseph, represent the state in the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C.: Marcus Whitman. The amendment, sponsored by Representative Jim Dunn, read: "The legislature declares that the sixteenth day of April shall be recognized as Mother Joseph day and the fourth day of September as Marcus Whitman day but neither shall be considered legal holidays for any purpose." The House unanimously passed the bill, as amended, 93-0, with 5 absent.
With the unanticipated amendment, the sixth-graders were truly learning what politics and the legislative process were all about. As Senator Bauer said, "the nature of the game is the art of compromise. That gives them a whole new look at how convoluted some things are up here" (Columbia, April 12, 1999).
The amendment also meant that the bill would probably not be ready for the Governor's signature on or before April 16th, as Mother Joseph Day supporters had hoped, since the new version of the bill still had to be approved by the Senate. However, Senators Bauer and Deccio were able to convince the Senate floor leader to take the Mother Joseph Day and Marcus Whitman Day bill out of order and, on April 12, 1999, the Senate unanimously concurred with the House amendment, 48 to 0.
On the morning of April 16, 1999, the House of Representatives adopted a Resolution to "recognize and honor Mother Joseph on the occasion of the 176th year of her birth" (House Resolution No. 99-4673). Then, at 2:30 that afternoon, in the presence of a large delegation from the Sisters of Providence and Providence Health System, members of the House and the Senate and most importantly the sixth-grade EXCEL class from Evergreen School District, Governor Gary Locke signed the Mother Joseph Day and Marcus Whitman Day bill into law. The Governor handed out commemorative pens and posed for pictures with those who attended the signing. The celebrations continued at Providence Saint Peter Hospital in Olympia, with pizza, pop, sandwiches, cake and a performance of Beggar/Builder, Joan Pinkerton Tucker's one-person play of the life of Mother Joseph.
Encouraged by their success in Olympia, the sixth-graders went on to realize their other two goals for honoring Mother Joseph, which included raising more than $650 for the new bench at her grave site. To mark the end of their exciting year, the class filled a time capsule with memorabilia from their sixth-grade civics class endeavors. The capsule will be opened on the occasion of their class reunion, which they fittingly have planned for April 16, 2005.
Howard Buck, "Young Lobbyists Get Televised Date Before Panel," Columbian, February 26, 1999, p. B-2; Howard Buck, "Students Shepherd Bill's Advance," Ibid., March 2, 1999, p. B-2; Howard Buck, "Sixth-Graders Get a Lesson in Politics," Ibid., April 12, 1999, p. B-2; Howard Buck, "Kids Bask in Mother Joseph's Limelight," Ibid., April 18, 1999, p. B-1; Howard Buck, "A Mother for All Ages: Local Students Spearheaded Drive for Mother Joseph Day," Ibid., April 15, 2000, p.B-3; Providence Archives, Seattle, Washington, (13) Mother Joseph Collection, Box: Mother Joseph Day Process 1999; Sister Mary of the Blessed Sacrament McCrosson, The Bell and the River (Seattle: Heath Printers, 1986 Reprint); Washington State Legislature, Bill Information, 1999-2000 Biennium, SB 5734, (http://www.leg.wa.gov/pub/billinfo/1999-00/senate/5725-5749/); Ibid, House Resolution No. 99-4673, (http://www.leg.wa.gov/pub/billinfo/1999-00/house/4650-4674); HistoryLink.org Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Dr. Marcus Whitman establishes a mission at Waiilatpu on October 16, 1836" (by David Wilma) www.historylink.org.
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Governor Locke signing bill to recognize Mother Joseph and Marcus Whitman, with Joan Pinkerton Tucker in habit, and Evergreen 6th grade class, April 16, 1999
Courtesy Providence Archives (Image No. SP13.K1.28)
Governor Locke, Sisters of Providence, legislators, and Providence Archives staff at Mother Joseph and Marcus Whitman days bill signing, April 16, 1999
Courtesy Providence Archives (Image No. SP13.K1.30)
Bronze statue of Mother Joseph (Felix W. de Weldon, 1980), Capitol Visitor's Center, Capitol Building, Washington, D.C., May 2009
Photo by Glenn Drosendahl
Duplicate of Marcus Whitman statue (Avard Fairbanks, 1953, National Statuary Hall, Washington DC), in Walla Walla, 2006
HistoryLink.org photo by Paula Becker