|Fanny Turner Pedersen, Social Activist, 1900s|
That was my Grandmother Fanny Turner Pedersen, writing to her colleagues in the Alaska Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1918. And when she says "fought," she means it. When necessary, the women took baseball bats and demolished the saloons.
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The men in my family like strong women. We marry complicated, independent wives (one apiece) and then hang on. My god, look what I've done to myself with Sue.
I don't know how far back this goes but at least to my Grandfather Louis, who married Fanny in 1890. On this Mother's Day I can't stop thinking about the militant matriarch of our family, who died young and beautiful at age 49. I never met her.
|The strong women of Langley reclaim their heritage.|
Yesterday's reenactment of a 1913 suffrage march in Langley, part of my town's centennial celebration, really brought home Fanny's social activism for me.
At the turn of the century she was a preacher's wife in the ragged, frontier towns of Seward and Skagway, Alaska Territory. No doubt when Louis married her, he was hoping for a bright but traditional partner for his life's work. Back in those days a woman's place was in the home. Women did not have the right to vote in our young, imperfect democracy, but we sure had alcohol abuse and all the social vices that came with it.
In Fanny my grandfather got a perfectly fine wife, mother and partner, and also some bonus qualities. She did her own thinking.
Fanny was raised to question and use her intellect. Her dad was a Civil War veteran and later sheriff at Oysterville, Pacific County, Washington. He believed in education and principle. He had fought to emancipate the slaves, and his daughter believed that women, too, should enjoy all the rights and freedoms of equality under the law.
In the eyes of many men, it was natural and right to exclude women from the vote. In fact it might even be the outright will of God.
|Fanny (center) in a Seattle P-I article from 1915|
Growing up in Oysterville, and later in Seward and Skagway, Fanny saw the awful damage alcohol caused in those communities. Women led the fight to change this. But their political power was crippled by ineligibility to vote. For many women, temperance and suffrage were inseparate as national crusades.
In the tradition of so many other social causes in our nation's history, Fanny and the WCTU went militant at times, going "over the top" to enter saloons and destroy merchandise. Fanny was Alaska state treasurer of the WCTU and hosted both state and national crusaders in her home.
One of her friends and guests was the prominent suffragist and temperance leader, Frances Willard, in whose honor Fanny named my uncle, Willard Pedersen.
Fanny lived to see two huge victories in her lifetime -- the 18th and 19th Amendments to the US Constitution, enacting Prohibition and women's suffrage.
That's not a bad legacy for any social activist, in any era.
She was just a few months short of her 50th birthday when she died unnecessarily in surgery for a relatively routine procedure.