Book Review:
Seven Frontier Women and the Founding of Spokane Falls

  • Posted 9/26/2012
  • Essay 10213

By Barbara F. Cochran
Edited by Suzanne and Tony Bamonte
Hardcover, 304 pages
Photographs, index, notes, and sources
Tornado Creek Publications
ISBN 978-0-9821529-2-8

Dense with names and dates, this history of Spokane Falls describes its growth between 1870 and 1899. The city, destined to be the largest between Minneapolis and Seattle, became known as Spokane in 1890. During these years there were tragedies and triumphs, and the author focuses on seven women who endured the experiences. In those early years women were identified only by their relationship to men but this book clearly delineates them as personalities and highlights their contributions to the development of the city.

Susan Glover (1842-1921) arrived in the frontier town in 1873 with her husband James, an enterprising and hard-working man who traveled extensively and eventually became mayor of the city. In those early years she and other wives did scrub board laundry, made quilts, baked bread, and sewed clothes to make life comfortable for their families. As her husband became more and more wealthy, Glover contributed a great deal to the social life of the community but she had no children and experienced great loneliness, which contributed to her depression. Sadly, following a divorce she ended her days in a mental institution.

Anna Browne (1856-1936) on the other hand was a mother and beloved by her husband when she arrived in the frontier city in 1878. A natural homemaker, she oversaw her flourishing garden and the staff in her new mansion, which housed innumerable visitors and her uninhibited children.

Jennie Cannon (1840-1893) was known for her ministrations to the sick and generous contributions to charitable organizations.

Clara Gray (1854-1942), a well-educated woman, lived longer than any of the other frontier wives. She was at the forefront of all local social activities after dancing the first waltz in the city.

Alice Houghton (1848-1920) became one of the city's leading real estate agents and the only woman in the field. She also had a beautiful singing voice which could be heard in every musical activity in the community.

Dr. Mary Latham (1844-1917) arrived in Spokane Falls in 1887 and was its first female physician. She was also a writer, a linguist, and a founder of the city's public library

Carrie Strahorn (1854-1925) spent six years exploring the unsettled west with her husband. She made her home in various Northwest towns, and between 1890 and 1898 she spent a portion of each year in Spokane. She was a promoter of various charitable and educational pursuits and in 1911 published Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, in which she recounted her early travel adventures.

Several of the interesting passages in the book paint a picture of Victorian life and styles. Some of these women were married to the entrepreneurs of the frontier town who later became wealthy and built mansions for their families. The Cannon home featured a 10-foot-wide hall that divided the first floor into four rooms with 14-foot ceilings, plate glass windows reaching almost to the floor, and a dining room with frescoed walls done in oil. The Grays' sixteen-room mansion had a frescoed room by a German artist and four fireplaces lined with imported marble that had mantels of cherry, white oak, or mahogany.

Social life glittered in these homes. There were elegant dances that lasted until dawn:

"The house sparkled with beautiful flowers and festoons of evergreens and bunting. Outside, fir and cedar garlands trimmed the wide verandas while overhead 200 Chinese lanterns radiated soft, multicolored light. The band played for dancing ... and the guests witnessed a magnificent display of fireworks."

Dinners had lavish menus -- the one the Brownes featured on New Year's Day, 1890, included in its nine courses raw oysters, almond meats, turkey, chicken salad, and mince pie, and ended with finger bowls in which rose geranium leaves floated.

Two chapters are devoted to events before and after the fire of 1889. One describes the development of the town when the railroad arrived and sparked renewed immigration. There were political intrigues, newspaper rivalries, and the building of Gonzaga University and Sacred Heart Hospital. Then there was the fire of 1889, which destroyed 800 businesses and 300 private residences. Another chapter discusses the rapid rebuilding after the financial Panic of 1893 and how Spokane became a city of 36,000 by 1900.

Barbara Cochran developed an abiding interest in Spokane's history after moving to the city in 1947. Her research for this book was extensive, as revealed in the notes and sources provided. She completed the manuscript shortly before her death in 1987. It was posthumously published after languishing for more than two decades. Suzanne and Tony Bamonte deserve credit for their careful editing and preserving the author's style.

The numerous photographs accompanying the text, gleaned from the Eastern Washington Historical Society and the Spokane Public Library, are worth the price of the book.

By Mary T. Henry, September 26, 2012

Submitted: 9/26/2012

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