2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)
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Jonathan Bourne Jr., the rascally and creative political mastermind behind the 'hold-up session.'

The legislature's notorious 40-day drunken party

Lawmaker Jonathan Bourne Jr. knew if the state House convened, it would elect his opponent. So he held things up for six weeks — with a Bacchanalian bender. Here's the story.

One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

Sammy Davis Jr. used to regularly play portland clubs.

Many consider him the coolest member of the Rat Pack. Sammy caught his big break while he was in Portland. Here's the story.

The steamer Telephone, fastest boat on the river in the 1880s and possibly the world -- until it burned to the waterline one day.

riverboat captain had to choose: save passengers, or save his boat?

The steamboat Telephone caught fire at the widest spot in the Columbia; the decision must not have been too tough, because Captain U.B. Scott didn't hesitate for a moment. Here's what happened.

The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.


Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.

Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).

The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on its 'giant violin' float, after riding it through the town of Burns in the Fourth of July Parade, 1915.

america's first youth orchestra came out of tiny sagebrush town.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic says it was founded in Portland in 1924. Actually, it's older than that -- and much more rural. Here's the story.

Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

central oregon's most fabulous homesteader ever.

Homesteader Kitty "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, retired from the bright lights of Vaudeville, often wore full costume just to weed the garden. Here's the story.

Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

It started out as a church seeking perfect holiness and Godliness. It ended in murder, insanity and chaos — and, yes, rumors of naked ladies. Check out the full story (in two parts).

Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...

The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

was this shipwreck insurance fraud or just drunken incompetence?

On a beautiful clear October day, astonished beach-goers watched a big windjammer simply turn and sail straight into the side of a mountain. Why would her crew do such a thing? Here's the story.

.44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolver, designed in 1848.

gold-rush bandits hunted down and killed ... but where was their loot?

No one has ever found it — or if they have, they've been awfully discreet. The Triskett Gang had stolen it hours earlier from the assaying depot in the town of Sailors' Diggins. Here's the story.

U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers save sailors' lives, but get thrown in jail anyway.

In the early years of Prohibition, a Canadian rumrunner entered U.S. territorial waters to save the lives of nine castaways — and got caught and sent to jail anyway. Here's the story.


pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Murder defendant, acquitted, became first female lawyer

Many historians, eager to see in her the caricature of the nagging, garrulous fishwife and gold-digging black widow, have missed the real story of Mary Leonard — and done both her, and the historical record, a disservice.

<<First | <Previous | — This story is Part 1 of a 3-part series on Mary Leonard. — | Next> | End>>
Front Street facing south from Ankeny, deep in the notorious Portland North End, in 1888.
This drawing from a 1888 edition of The West Shore, a literary
magazine published in Portland, shows the neighborhood in which
Mary Leonard ran her boardinghouse and practiced law. This image
is along Front Street facing south from Ankeny. One of Mary's
boardinghouses was located two blocks to the right along Ash, which
is the intersection shown in this image, close to the present-day
location of Dan and Louis’s Oyster Bar. (Image: University of Oregon
By Finn J.D. John — May 13, 2012

Most Oregon professional women can point to a truly amazing pioneer who opened her profession up to women. Physicans (physiciennes?) can look to Bethenia Owens-Adair, who, despite her now-embarrassing enthusiasm for eugenics, was a giant in her field. (Here's a link to her story.) Journalists (journalistes?) have Abigail Scott Duniway, about whom little more needs to be said.

But attorneys? Not so much — not, that is, if you believe the conventional wisdom on the subject. Oregon’s first female attorney was a bit of an embarrassment — or so they say.

The stereotype

The conventional wisdom on Oregon’s first-ever “lady lawyer” is that she was a grasping and crazy-eyed but endearing borderline girl, grinding down all barriers through the sheer force of manic enthusiasm and pro-level nagging skills.

Oh, and a murderess, too, her biographers hint darkly. It seemed she’d gotten into the profession of law after acquiring her husband’s large estate through the simple expedient of murdering him before their pending divorce could be finalized — so the rumor goes. Then, it adds, she moved to Portland and proceeded to make herself notorious as a last-ditch defender for the clearly guilty down-and-out in police court, as a hard-drinking and unladylike mascot of sorts at social gatherings of young male attorneys half her age, and to top it all off, as an operator of boardinghouses marketed winkingly to working prostitutes.

Ah, stereotype. So comforting, so easy to laugh off. The truth of the Mary Leonard story will probably never be fully known, but it’s a sure bet that it bears only a faint resemblance, at best, to that story.

An unhappy marriage

Mary’s life was complicated and full of drama — on that, at least, everyone seems to agree. Originally from Switzerland, she came to The Dalles in 1875 to meet, and subsequently marry, a prosperous ferryman, hotelier and restaurateur named Daniel G. Leonard, when she was pushing 30 — at the time, an age at which women started worrying about spinsterhood — and he was pushing 60.

Their marriage lasted roughly two years before he sued her for divorce, claiming she was lazy and a spendthrift, had started refusing him what he referred to (perhaps tellingly) as his “marital rights,” and had started sleeping regularly with a telegraph lineman who was staying in his hotel at the time.

She shot back that he had put her to work like a servant in the kitchen, worked her until her health broke and then refused to pay for necessary medical treatment, refused to give her money and treated her with physical cruelty. She denied, of course, sleeping with the lineman.

While all this was being sorted out, the judge ruled that Daniel must pay separate maintenance, since they were living apart. This he refused to do, prompting her to fire off an angry letter to him in which she implied, essentially, that she would exact a terrible revenge if he did not obey the judge, and that he should watch his back.

A few nights later, someone slipped into Daniel G. Leonard's house and plugged him in the head with a small-caliber pistol while he slept.

Acquitted of murder

There was no actual evidence that Mary had done it. But everyone assumed she had. First off, Daniel was apparently not a nice man, and the popular opinion on the subject was that he’d had it coming. So when, a year or so later, she was acquitted, it wasn’t so much an exoneration as a justification — not what you need if you want your neighbors to stop looking at you like you’re Norman Bates. Nor did it help that her defense attorney was widely reported to have conducted a “masterful” defense — the implication being that the verdict had more to do with his skills than her lack of provable guilt.

The timing of the crime also made it look bad for her. Had Daniel been murdered a few days later after the divorce was final, she would have gotten nothing. But because he was murdered before the ruling could be made, she was his sole heir — and he was a fairly wealthy man.

Thus, regardless of means or opportunity, she had motive in spades, and that was good enough for the rumor mill. And in 1877, being known as an over-30 adulteress, murderess, and almost-divorcee — reputations didn’t get much more ruined than that. Finding another husband was surely out of the question.

She may also have felt that her economic prospects in The Dalles weren’t all that good. Certainly she could have continued to operate her almost-ex-husband’s business, and most likely made a good living doing it. But apparently she had had enough of Wasco County.

Moving to Portland

So instead, she moved to Portland and went into business as the proprietress of a boardinghouse in the wild, seedy neighborhood known as the North End — the corner of town near the waterfront north of Stark Street, known as Old Town today. In the 1880s the North End was the most dangerous part of town, home of Portland’s skid road, peopled with sailors on shore leave, thieves and ruffians, laid-off loggers, temporarily-wealthy gold miners and prostitutes of all kinds. It was to these folks that Mary now went into business renting out rooms.

Looking over Mary Leonard’s life today, from the safe distance of 130 years, it looks pretty likely that her decision to do this changed her life — and Oregon history — more radically than she ever imagined it would. We’ll talk about how that played out next week.

(Sources: Clark, Malcolm H. “The Lady and the Law,” Oregon Historical Quarterly, June 1955; Abrams, Kerry. “Folk Hero, Hell Raiser, Mad Woman, Lady Lawyer,” womenslegalhistory.stanford.edu; Aldrich, Myrna. “Oregon’s First Woman Lawyer,” With Her Own Wings, ed. Krebs, Helen. Portland: Beattie, 1948)

TAGS: #PEOPLE: #heroes #progressives #doers #rascals #mavericks #largerThanLife #women #brave #crazy #charismatic :: #CRIMES: #murder #wronglyAccused #sexCrime :: # #cultureClash #legal #underdog #misunderstood #mystery :: LOC: #pdx :: #181 #182 #183


<<First | <Previous | — This story is Part 1 of a 3-part series on Mary Leonard. — | Next> | End>>