Very little is known about Oregon's first female legislator

Marian Towne's reasoning for not wanting to cater to the cliché of kissing babies on the campaign trail was simple enough, according to a 1913 Mail Tribune article.

"Babies can't vote," said Towne, a Phoenix resident and Oregon's first female legislator.

Southern Oregon University student Robin Kigel said that's just one of many tidbits she's turned up about Towne that make her intriguing. Kigel is helping compile research about Towne's life for an online exhibit for the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

"(We'd) discussed building an exhibit around women and Oregon as a celebration of a 100-year anniversary of women's suffrage," Kigel said. "(Towne) was a figure that had a little bit known about her, but they didn't know a lot."

In the few weeks of research Kigel has conducted for practicum credit, she's found that Towne started her political career as the Jackson County clerk while taking night classes as an attorney.

"Part of her job for the county clerk involved reading legislation that was passed in Salem and trying to decide how it was applicable to local government here in Jackson County," Kigel said.

According to some of Towne's quotes, she thought much of the legislation she read was poorly crafted and felt she could do it better.

She ran for representative, choosing to use a door-to-door campaign instead of newspaper advertisements.

"She estimated that she visited three-fourths of the homes in Jackson County, talking to both men and women," Kigel said.

Consequently, historians are left with little insight into Towne's political opinions.

"It was something that she spoke with people about face to face," Kigel said.

There's still a lot to discover, she said. But even from what Kigel's tracked down so far, Towne already has grown into a historical figure of considerable interest.

"A lot of times, from a modern perspective, we view women's history as being very monolithic, this notion of women being equal and being able to do anything that a man can do," Kigel said. "Miss Towne viewed her value as a legislator not as an equal, but rather as bringing a different perspective that comes from being a woman. I thought that was very interesting."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at

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