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Feminine Force Exhibit Honors A Sampling Of The Many Women Who Have Had Great Impact On Spokane History

Fate didn’t make things easy for Jacqueline Bahrenburg.

First she lost her husband. Then she moved with her young daughter all the way across the country only to give up on her chosen career.

But Bahrenburg persevered, and that attitude allowed the woman whom generations of medical technology students knew as “Mrs. B” ultimately to become one of the “outstanding women in Spokane’s history.”

That, at least, is the opinion shared by Ralph Busch and Nancy Compau, co-curators of an exhibit on display at Chase Gallery through March 28.

Titled simply “Outstanding Women in Spokane’s History,” the exhibit was initiated by the City of Spokane’s Employee Diversity Committee. It runs in conjunction with a proclamation by Mayor Jack Geraghty making March “Women’s Awareness Month.”

Busch, who works for the city’s Arts Department, took the diversity committee’s idea and approached Compau, who for 11 years has run Spokane Public Library’s Northwest Room.

Compau began searching though massive volumes of Spokane history, looking for women to include. From the beginning, she had an idea of what she wanted.

“What I was trying to do was go back to the beginnings of Spokane and pick out women that I thought had done a lot of things that represented outstanding work,” Compau says. The exhibit includes both contemporary and historical figures, but Compau looked especially for women “who had made a difference in Spokane.”

One of her models was Pauline Flett, a visiting artist in residence at Eastern Washington University and member of the Spokane Tribe who teaches the Salish language.

“I chose Pauline because she is saving the Spokane language,” Compau says. “What she’s doing not only affects her tribe but all of us because we’ll benefit from her expertise.”

Busch is as succinct as Compau when describing the 33 women who made the exhibit’s final cut. “Most of them were founders in one sense or another,” he said.

Even so, the final list ended up being harder to trim than either Busch or Compau initially expected.

The women featured in the exhibit represent a cross-section of Spokane, from both the privileged to the working classes and from various ethnic groups. Six of the women, among them the likes of Eleanor Chase and Nellie Marceleit Mapps, are African American.

Two, Flett and Jeanette Finlay Whitford, are Native American.

All, in one way or another, exhibit the traits belonging to Bahrenburg, who died in 1972 at age 88.

According to a 1964 story in the Spokane Daily Chronicle, Bahrenburg had been lured to Pullman from Boston by an article in a magazine called The Country Gentleman. Her intent was to study chicken farming.

But when she found herself in Pullman, overseeing a egg-laying contest held by the agriculture department at Washington State College, she began to have second thoughts.

“The romance of chicken raising went out the window when I had to get up at 3 a.m. to turn on the lights in the hen house, trying to fool the birds into thinking it was daylight and time to start laying eggs,” she said. “I soon found, too, that juggling 100-pound sacks of wheat was no job for a woman.”

Bahrenburg switched her major to bacteriology, and in 1923 she began teaching at the St. Luke’s School of Medical Technology. She remained on staff at St. Luke’s for 42 years.

In addition to her teaching duties, which included part-time teaching stints at Washington State, the University of Idaho and Gonzaga University, Bahrenburg served five terms on the Spokane City Planning Commission, was a charter member of the Soroptomist Club of Spokane and was named Spokane’s “Woman of Achievement” in 1951.

Despite being a woman, one who enrolled at WSC some three years before women had even earned the right to vote, Bahrenburg nevertheless became one of the nation’s first medical technologists.

Her story is impressive; there are many others that are similar.

Just as there are many women in the exhibit who accomplished firsts, such as:

Vicki McNeill, Spokane’s first woman mayor.

Nellie Mapps, the founder and first president of the Colored Women’s Federation of Washington State.

Pat Mummey, the Spokane County’s first woman commissioner.

Marion Getchell Schulte, the first woman vice chair of the Republican National Convention (1946 in Philadelphia).

Frances Nichols Scott, the first woman and the first African American to serve on the Civil Service Commission.

Dorothy Darby Smith, co-founder and first president of Spokane Civic Theatre.

Julia Davis Stuart, first Westerner to be named national president of the League of Women Voters.

Pauline Suing Bloom, pioneering editor-publisher of Spokane Woman magazine from 1926-32.

Sonora Smart Dodd, founder of Father’s Day.

“This has been an education for me, as I hope it will be for other people,” says Busch. “It just doesn’t occur to you the extent of the contributions that women have made. You look at how it goes back to the beginnings of our city. It’s been there the whole time, that feminine force, that feminine energy.”

Compau agrees, although she’s anxious about how people will react to the exhibit.

“I hope I haven’t missed some people,” she says. “I’m sure I have. It’s really hard when you dig through files. We’ve probably missed women who did a lot of things.”

No problem. There are many out there who undoubtedly will do a whole lot more.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos

MEMO: If you want to nominate someone for possible inclusion in a future exhibit honoring outstanding Spokane women, call Ralph Busch at 625-6081 or Nancy Compau at 626-5300.

This sidebar appeared with the story: EXHIBIT “Outstanding Women in Spokane’s History” is on display at Chase Gallery through March 28.

If you want to nominate someone for possible inclusion in a future exhibit honoring outstanding Spokane women, call Ralph Busch at 625-6081 or Nancy Compau at 626-5300.

This sidebar appeared with the story: EXHIBIT “Outstanding Women in Spokane’s History” is on display at Chase Gallery through March 28.

 

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