Brian Mittge Commentary: Celebrating the Great Women of Our Shared Local History


I was pleased to see the Lewis County Historical Museum open a new exhibit on some of the noteworthy women in our community, both past and present.

The honorees include people who made national history (like “Pistol-Packin’ Patti” Morton of Napavine), people whose life stories seem beyond belief (like Gladys Taylor of Mossyrock, who was marooned on a South Pacific island paradise after stowing away on an oceangoing ship and being captured as a prisoner of war), women who shaped the towns we know today (like Mary Jane Washington of Centralia and Eliza Barrett of Chehalis) and women of the present day who do great work to make our communities better (like Chehalis Community Renaissance leader Annalee Nelson Tobey and longtime civic leader Edna Fund).

I urge you to visit the exhibit. You’ll learn a lot and I’ll be walk away inspired by these impressive, diverse stories.

This weekend would be a great time to stop by the museum to see the new displays while first enjoying some blueberry pancakes in the courtyard at the entrance Saturday from 8-11 a.m. It’s one of my favorite annual fundraisers and is a great way to kick off a day in Chehalis as part of Chehalisfest.

Step inside the depot museum and you’ll learn a lot of fascinating detail about these remarkable local women:

• Eliza Barrett, independent-minded early developer of Chehalis;

• Jean Bluhm, teacher, historian and author;

• Mary Borst, Centralia pioneer of resilience and class;

• Margaret Corbet, a founding mother of Centralia College;

• Judy Dupuis, librarian and storyteller;

• Emily von Flotow, Adna artist and painter of public spaces;

• Edna Fund, public servant and community enthusiast;

• Matilda Jackson, a pioneering woman of Washington territory;

• Patti Morton, America’s first female diplomatic security special agent;

• Holly Ryan, downtown Centralia entrepreneur;

• Margaret Shields, local historian extraordinaire;

• Dr. Alicia Spalding, naturopathic healer, founder of Nature Nurture Farmacy;

• Rebecca Staebler, Centralia City Councilor and creative businesswoman

• Stellajo Staebler, who helped preserve the Seminary Hill Natural Area

• Gladys Taylor, Mossyrock adventurer, world traveler and South Pacific island castaway

• Annalee Nelson Tobey, community revitalizer; 

• Brittany Voie, pusher of causes, rock and roller, all-around person of activity and vigor;

• Mary Jane Washington; co-founder of Centralia


More will be added soon, the museum said in announcing the exhibit.

I’ve been thinking about this list and I have some suggestions on some more possibilities. In fact, I have so many that it’ll be a two-week column series.

I’ll start with women from history and conclude next week with women who are still alive and making a difference. Big thanks to a couple of women who are pretty impressive in their own right, Kerry Serl and Priscilla Tiller, for sending me a few suggestions for this list.

Here we go, in no particular order:

1. Mary Kiona, elder of the Cowlitz Tribe;

2. Katharine Kemp, who with Margaret Corbet helped save and expand Centralia College in its earliest days;

3. Blanche West, Chehalis educational patron with her husband W.F. West;

4, Dr. Cornelia Van Prooyen, the first female doctor in Lewis County;

5. Mayme Shaddock, beloved Napavine storekeeper and park namesake;

6. Rose Bowman, local and state elected official, businesswoman;

7. Florence Kennicott, Lewis County superintendent of schools, co-namesake of Kennicott Hill;

8. Vivian Roewe-Adolphsen, city council member and mayor of Chehalis

9. Donna Karvia, county clerk, voice of peace and leadership;

10. Cecelia Earhart, Toledo schoolteacher and aeronautical leader (also first cousin to famed pilot Amelia)

11. Marian McCaw-Garrison, business leader and arts benefactor;

12. Mary McCrank, famed restaurateur;

13. Mary Rogers, namesake of Mary's Corner;

14. Bonita Meyers; longtime Lewis County News columnist;

15. Martha Hardy, author of “Tattoosh” about her summer as a fire spotter above Packwood in 1943;

16. Gladys Howlett, nurse, co-founder and first administrator of the Morton Hospital;

17. Dr. Kate Gregg, first woman to be awarded a doctorate from the University of Washington, AAUW scholarship namesake;

18. Dorothy Dysart, founding member of AAUW Lewis County, Presbyterian Church deacon;

19. Sandy Godsey, strong leader in Seminary Hill preservation;

20. Ann Trout Blinks, award-winning reporter for The Chronicle;

21. Dixie Rogerson-Bill, whimsical visual artist of great renown;

22. The Rev. Mary C. Jones, Centralia Baptist minister and founder of Grace Seminary and School for Girls in 1885 (namesake of Centralia’s Seminary Hill);

23. Helen Holloway, a former Rosie the Riveter, and an energetic senior citizen activist;

24. Mary Victorine “Rena” Coonness, a teacher, musician, orator, boxer, gold-miner and step-daughter-in-law of Centralia founder George Washington; and

25. Connie Small, leader of Penny Playground and Alexander-Lintott Park construction.

I know there are many that I missed. I’d love to hear your suggestions for women from history or the present day who deserve inclusion in this list of Lewis County greats.


This Dad Joke of the Week comes from my 10-year-old son, who thought of it while in the middle of scoring an epic 400-point round of Yahtzee.

Q: What do you call a countless number of Brazilians?

A: A brazillion.


Brian Mittge’s column appears each Saturday in this, his hometown newspaper. Contact him at