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Fannie Case – the first woman to climb Mt. Hood?

///Fannie Case – the first woman to climb Mt. Hood?

So often in the process of researching and writing a monthly article for the Statesman Journal, I uncover fascinating side stories. A different angle or perspective on the current topic, but with so much information that it deserves its own separate article. Such was the case with last month’s article about Butteville.

In reading historic newspapers about the small town during its heyday I came across an Oregon Statesman article dated 1870 about three young ladies, daughters of an unnamed Butteville man “holding a responsible office in this county”, who volunteered to help survey the Waconda-Butteville Rd and did so with great accuracy to the surprise of the surveyor in charge.  At the end of the article it mentioned that “one of the young ladies is the same who two or three years ago climbed Mount Hood.”  I was immediately intrigued.  First with the idea of three sisters who had been educated in mathematical and surveying studies at a time when university education opportunities for women were limited.  Second, by the fact that one of them climbed Mt. Hood at a time when climbing gear was primitive and the journey hard and rigorous.  Third, with the mystery of figuring out who they were with so little information to go on.

Early postcard of Mt. Hood dated 1904. WHC 1963.001.0021.0006.04.01

I turned back to the historic newspapers online.  Perhaps, having a woman climb Mt. Hood was unusual and newsworthy at the time.  Using the key words “Mt Hood” and “woman” along with the years 1867-1868 calculated from the printing date of the Statesman article and the author’s words “two or three years ago”, I got lucky.  Dated September 3, 1867 was a letter to the editor of the Oregonian detailing a trip to Mt. Hood taken by the Honorable David Powell and lady, professor L.J. Powell and lady, Miss Mary A. Robinson, Miss Lucy Hay, Miss Fannie S. Case, and the author (John M. Garrison). In reading the details of the trip I discovered that the only ladies of the party who made it to the summit were Miss Mary A. Robinson and Miss Fannie S. Case to whom Garrison gave great praise for their “persevering and untiring energy”.  The field was narrowing.

Now to investigate the two ladies and determine which had a secondary education that included mathematics and surveying studies, ties to Butteville, a father prominent in county government, and at least two sisters. Let’s start with the 1870 Federal census. Fannie can be found in the 1870 census in East Salem, Oregon.  Age 26, she is listed as the head of the household with three other women, Mary E. age 19, Alice A. age 17, and Jennie Case age 15. Her neighbors are L. J. Powell and family. A familiar name from the newspaper account of the women’s ascent of Mt. Hood. The only Mary A. Robinson near Salem in the 1870 census lives in Dayton, Oregon at the home of her parents Benjamin and Elizabeth Robinson. Mary is age 23 and listed with one sister named Eliza age 19. The scales seem to be tipping in favor of the Case family.

Let’s follow the education lead for a moment.  The nearest university to both women would have been Wallamet (now Willamette).  We strike gold with a Wallamet University school catalog listing both Mary A. Robinson and Fannie S. Case as seniors in 1865-1866.  Mary’s residence is Dayton, no surprise after reading the 1870 census record.  And guess where Fannie’s home lies?  Butteville. Her sisters Mary and Jennie Case were also listed.  According to the same school catalog, a Wallamett course of study at the time would have included advanced mathematics including surveying and spherical trigonometry. Skills the women would have put to use surveying the road between Butteville and Waconda.

Fannie still remains the stronger lead of the two women climbers based on her Butteville connection and number of sisters with a university education.  Let’s follow the trail a bit further and investigate her father.  We find his biography in the History of the Willamette Valley (1885) by Herbert Lang.  In the biography we read that he “held the office of county commissioner of Marion County for eight years.”  And so, the final piece to our initial puzzle falls into place.  Surely a county commissioner would command enough respect that a local surveyor would have followed his recommendation and allowed the man’s daughters to survey the Waconda-Butteville Rd.

Photo of Case daughters circa 1877, clockwise from the far right: Fannie, Mary, Jennie, Annie, Ida, Elenora, and Alice in the center. Ancestry.com

Fannie, or Sarah Frances Case was no stranger to outdoor adventure and life-risking peril.  She was born June 28, 1844 along the Oregon Trail to William and Sarah Potter Case.  She was the eldest of nine children, seven girls and two boys. She had a narrow escape as a baby when she and her mother were swept off their flatboat on the Columbia River. Both were rescued.    As mentioned above she graduated from Wallamet University in 1866.  Fannie was married three times. The first to John P. Strowbridge April 5, 1859 which ended in divorce two years later.  According to the divorce case file, Fannie abandoned her husband and returned to her father’s home in Butteville in August 1860 a year after their marriage.  Seven months later she gave birth to a female child named Emma, not claimed by her husband.  Her second husband was Samuel A. Moreland a newspaper writer, later a judge.  Their marriage on December 26, 1871 produced one daughter, Edna.  Samuel died in 1886 after a brief illness.  Fannie’s third marriage also ended in divorce.  Husband Edward G. Harvey was an Englishman that married her August 3, 1892 but by 1910 had abandoned her.  Frances traveled extensively, was active in the woman suffrage movement and contributed to the press on matters of local interest. She died January 1920 in her home in Portland, Oregon and was buried in Lone Fir Cemetery in Portland, Oregon.

This article was written by Kaylyn Mabey for the Statesman Journal newspaper where it appeared on Sunday March 18, 2018.

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