Hannah Martin, first woman elected to the Oregon State Legislature. Photo Credit - Oregon Voter, December 31, 1932

Hannah Martin, first woman elected to the Oregon State Legislature. Photo Credit – Oregon Voter, December 31, 1932

Each summer as school lets out, another type of school begins at the Willamette Heritage Center.  Select teens from the greater Salem area enter training to become living history interpreters. After classes in research skills, customer service, costumes, and living history interpretation each teen selects a person from Salem, or Marion County history, to portray on museum grounds for the summer.  It is enjoyable to watch the teens step into the historic shoes of someone that resonates with them, and this year is no exception.

A relatively new character to our summer repertoire is Hannah Martin the first woman elected to the Oregon State Legislature from Marion County, portrayed by teen interpreter Kira Kinney.  Long before Hannah took her place in political history, she was a young 17 year old working at Oaks Park in Portland with a pet chameleon that she trained to sit on her lapel as though it were a fine piece of costume jewelry.  She even fashioned a tiny silver collar and chain to keep it safe.  Hannah’s parents were European Jews that had immigrated to America in the late 1800s.  They were the parents of 4 children; Leo, Hannah, Victor, and Josephine.  Hannah’s father, Joseph Dautoff found gold fever and death waiting for him on the Alaskan frontier in 1898.  Her widowed mother, Dina Margulies Dautoff did her best to provide for the family as a grocer in Portland.

Hannah’s Formative Years

Hannah’s teen years were somewhat rocky as she exercised her independent spirit.  In the Oregonian September 9, 1911 we read the captivating tale. “Did the hypnotic eye of “Jack, the Snake Charmer” lure pretty Hannah Dautoff from her home…or did the girl, head-strong and independent, go away by herself?  This is the question that is worrying her mother, Mrs. D.S. Dautoff, who has been seeking traces of her daughter, since Friday, September 1; and who has asked the police to find the girl.”  The couple made it all the way to Seattle before being located by the police on September 11th.  Hannah was returned to her mother.

A year later Hannah fell under the spell of Russian violinist Isidore Kohnsky, employed by a local hotel grill as an orchestra leader.  She married and divorced him all within the span of 6 weeks, then turned and sued him for support despite the fact that he had deserted her “within a few moments of their marriage” according to the Oregon Daily Journal dated November 10, 1912.  This time Hannah was not content to remain at home for long.  Three months later she eloped to New York with the son of the infamous philandering gypsy violinist Jack Rigo.  However, Jack Junior’s wealthy wife quickly put an end to the relationship and the police delivered Hannah to the local YWCA until her mother could arrive.  Despite her mother’s tearful pleas, Hannah remained in New York for six years, working in numerous occupations.  Then her wandering took her to pre-Castro Cuba for a couple of years before she finally returned to her roots in Oregon in 1920.

There Hannah met and married Ivan Martin on November 11, 1920, an attorney and former politician.  The couple set up residence in Salem where Hannah was accepted into law school at Willamette University.  She graduated and passed the bar with a perfect score in 1924, and took up practice with her husband’s law firm in the Masonic Temple building.

Running for Office

One day in early 1932, Hannah found herself walking down Commercial St. near the Capital Journal office, when a newspaper friend stopped her. He had heard that she was considering a run for political office.  “What do you want to do that for?” he asked, “you know a woman can’t be elected.”  And that was all it took because, as Hannah said, “all my life if someone told me I couldn’t do something, that’s just what I wanted to do.”  She took up the challenge, proved him wrong, and made history as the first woman from Marion County to be elected to the Oregon House of Representatives.

Hers was a do-it-yourself style campaign.  She had a car and covered the whole county, all alone.  She didn’t ask for any special favors, just paid attention to what the voters politics were.  As she pointed out later with pride, it didn’t bother the voters that she was a woman or a Republican.  She garnered both party’s votes even in Mt. Angel, a heavily Roman Catholic community.  When she won in 1932, repeal of prohibition was the red hot issue, second only to government aid for victims of the Great Depression.

Teen interpreter Kira Kinney as Hannah Martin. Photo Credit - Michelle Wonderling

Teen interpreter Kira Kinney as Hannah Martin. Photo Credit – Michelle Wonderling

Legislative Career

During her eight years in the House, she developed a name and reputation for being a legislative spitfire who did her homework and was a match for anyone.  “I was never looking for a fight,” she later recalled, “but I wasn’t there to be stepped on, either.  I’ve always been tolerant of others’ views, and I’ve never held still while someone is trying to shove something down my throat.”  Hannah’s independent spirit, strength and persistence are exactly what convinced Kira to research and portray her this summer.  Kira also participates in the Youth and Government program through Sprague High School and has had the opportunity to create bills and debate them in the capitol.  She has no trouble sharing her opinion or questioning bills, just like Hannah.

Sir Isaac Newton once said, “if I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”  In researching and portraying the history giants of Salem and Marion County, our teen interpreters connect with history in a personal way, gaining perspective and drawing upon the strength of the past to face their own future. Kira (as Hannah) can be found volunteering at the Willamette Heritage Center Monday mornings.