Butler, Maude Eliza Kimball (1880-1963)

  • By Frank Chesley
  • Posted 8/19/2008
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8711
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Maude Eliza Kimball Butler, born 1880, was a pioneer teacher-educator who devoted her life to public service and her family, a fidelity she inherited from her mother and bequeathed to her children and students. She was encouraged to be independent, self-reliant, and curious, and she was. She became a teacher at age 16, Wahkiakum County superintendent of schools at age 23, and widowed at age 36 with three children -- yet following the last, she resolutely survived to become a successful educator and parent. In addition to crusading for education, she pursued a full civic life and nurtured her own children to take on service careers. Her daughter, Julia Butler Hansen (1907-1988) was a groundbreaking state legislator and member of the U.S. Congress, and her son, James H. Butler (1908-1985), was chairman of the University of Southern California Drama Department from 1953 to 1974. Maude was an avid artist and possessed a full range of domestic skills. Said Julia Butler Hansen: "She was a brilliant, able, and talented woman, an excellent citizen and a wonderful mother ... . Her upbringing was strictly Victorian. Hers was a high code of duty, responsibility and morals but she was the most tolerant, adventurous and happy human being I have ever known" (J. B. Hansen to B. Leroy). Maude Butler died on December 9, 1963.

Frontier Beginnings

Maude Eliza Kimball was born on June 20, 1880, in Portland, Oregon, the only child of James Freeman Kimball (1832-1893) and Julia Ann Blood Kimball (1849-1916). James, born in Hollis, Maine, was a timberman who "spoke French like a native" and a Civil War veteran who served with the 18th New Hampshire Volunteers. Julia Ann was born in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, and was "strong, sturdy and unswerving as the granite of [that state]" (J. B. Hansen to B. Leroy). She had a deep social conscience, was a vociferous advocate of education -- for girls as well as boys -- and was a devoted suffragette. "My grandmother never, never considered that she hadn't the right to talk and do and say what she pleased on the subject. That was the way my mother was, too" (Meyers). The family trees of James and Julia Ann were rooted in early New England history: family members had fought in all the country's wars since King Phillip's War in 1675-1676, and responsibility to that civic heritage ran deep.

James, searching for "bigger and better timber," immigrated to Washington Territory with Julia Ann in 1877 (J. B. Hansen to B. Leroy). With a party of relatives and friends, they crossed the continent by train to San Francisco and traveled by steamer to Astoria, Oregon, and then by riverboat, stagecoach, and finally, open wagon to a logging camp at Mud Bay, near Olympia. Julia Ann, a proper New Englander, didn't like the primitive frontier life, but she adapted. She and James opened a restaurant in Olympia in 1879, and Julia Ann would have been happy to remain there. Six months after Maude was born, James moved the family to White Salmon, a port about 70 miles upriver from Vancouver, "before the ice closed in" (J. B. Hansen to B. Leroy).

The Kimballs finally settled in the Cathlamet area in 1886. James managed two logging camps in the nearby Elochoman Valley, while Julia Ann kept the books, a rarity for a woman in those days. They bought a house in Cathlamet and took in boarders to supplement their income. Julia Ann "was an enterprising woman," and she became an avowed temperance advocate because James "liked the bottle and in the 1880s would go to Portland on a binge" (Chesley).

Educational Priorities

"Great-grandmother and -father were very determined that my grandmother have an education, but education wasn't a priority in Cathlamet," David Hansen said (Chesley). The differences bred considerable friction in the small town, and Julia Ann's New England forthrightness didn't help.

Julia Ann homeschooled Maude until she was 9, teaching reading by the old-fashioned "word method." Cathlamet's school, a crude one-room affair, was in session four or five months in summer. The pipe from the pot-bellied stove sometimes set the roof on fire, and the school lacked an outhouse -- until Julia Ann protested. (Years later, when Maude’s daughter, Julia, was 6, the local school board told her that the girl should start attending school, but Maude said, “I am not going to send a child of mine into that firetrap building, nor should anyone else.” She crusaded for a new school, which was finally built in 1916.) (J. B. Hansen to B. Leroy).

Maude liked history, but had trouble with math. Father James, a Civil War veteran, schooled her on that conflict and passed on the knowledge he had gained as an occasional land surveyor. When Maude finally was enrolled in school, it was a full-family affair, with James joining the school board and, according to protocol, Julia Ann selecting the teacher.

Vagabond Education

The curriculum was far below Julia Ann's expectations for her daughter, and in 1895 she enrolled Maude in Portland's Washington High School, taking a job in the city to support the endeavor. Maude thrived, squeezing in as many courses as possible. She was exposed to art instruction for the first time and remembered "a wonderful teacher, Miss Christine McConnell who taught me to think and reason" (Butler, 59). But Portland was still suffering from the Depression of 1893, along with the rest of the country, and Julia Ann lost her job. She and Maude had to return to Cathlamet after one semester.

Maude, however, now 15 and thirsty as ever for knowledge, made friends with the town's "intellectual," who gave her access to his library and introduced her to some of literature's classics. David Hansen guessed that that unidentified mentor was lawyer J. Bruce Polwarth.

Maude passed the test for her teaching certificate, but the minimum age for teachers was 17. A sympathetic county superintendent of schools finally granted Maude a certificate two months shy of her 17th birthday. Her first teaching assignment was a three-month term in the settlement of Skamokawa (pronounced "ska-MOK-away"), about seven miles downriver by steamboat from Cathlamet. The pay was $30 a month, but "$10 of this I paid for board and a tiny lean-to bedroom attached to the rear of a log cabin" (Butler, 8). She was a self-described spoiled brat, it was her first time on her own, and she was homesick for her mother.

Her first class included nine boys and four girls, ranging in age from 6 to 15. "They were all barefooted, even the girls," Maude recalled (Butler, 66). Scabies and head lice were common. Maude considered the year a failure, but was nonetheless inspired and more determined than ever to pursue a teaching career. She landed an appointment in Cathlamet -- a seven-month term at $20 a month -- and was able, finally, to live at home again. Rural teachers lived with the families of their pupils in those days, and for most families it was a hardscrabble existence.

Summing up Wahkiakum County life in that era, Maude recalled, "Time was less than nothing in that peaceful way of living forever gone. No one could go fast and no one went far" (Butler, 25).

Eager for More Education

Maude was thrifty and saved for further education, despite her meager wages. She spent a year at Oregon State Normal School (later Western Oregon University) in Monmouth, about 15 miles west of Salem. It was a heady experience for the 20-year-old from Cathlamet and she did well, expanding her interest in the arts as well as teaching. Unfortunately, her money ran out after one year, and she had to return to Cathlamet, a comedown exacerbated by some social ostracization resulting from tension between her parents and the community. But Maude found a six-month term in a one-room school at Eagle Cliff, a cannery about nine miles up the Columbia from Cathlamet, followed by terms of varying lengths in neighboring settlements.

Maude was finding her chosen path increasingly satisfying, and her crusading passion was evident in an exhortative article in the September 1900 Oregon Teachers Monthly: "Let us throw our life into [our pupils]; it will shine somewhere, some day. We are not working for glory, honor or money. We are working because we feel ours is the noblest profession. On us depends the fate of our country! Our names may be 'unhonored and unsung' but our work lives forever" (quoted in Butler).

Maude was encouraged by her mother and friends to run for Wahkiakum County school superintendent, but she lacked some requirements and so attended a six-week summer school sponsored by the University of Washington -- then only a couple of small buildings in downtown Seattle. Her lodging was "a room in a comfortable home on Fourth and Pike, quite out of the city in those days" (Butler, 80). She was invited to consider a teaching position in Seattle, but preferred smaller schools and cast her lot back in Cathlamet, a decision she later questioned.

In 1903, she ran for the county school superintendent position and won -- though she couldn't vote -- the first woman to hold the post, and she later won re-election. She worked for safer school buildings, rural school consolidation, hot lunches, and was devoted to inspiring young people to become teachers. "She was the soul of patience, very loving," her grandson David Hansen remembered (Chesley).

Married at 25

In 1905, when she was 25, Maude married Don Carlos Butler (1865-1916), a 40-year-old carpenter and Spanish American War veteran born in West Point, Kentucky. He was descended from settlers who had migrated to Kentucky with the legendary pioneer Daniel Boone (1734-1820). "[Butler] got the contract to build the courthouse. He was a boarder at the [Kimball] house," remembered David Hansen (Chesley). Maude apparently had her eye on him -- or vice versa -- for some time. He later served as Wahkiakum County sheriff.

Maude became pregnant during her second term as school superintendent and was asked to resign -- holding office while pregnant was considered improper. But Maude refused, saying that "duty to all women who in the future would be elected to public office prevented me from resigning" (J. B. Hansen to B. Leroy). A daughter, Julia Carolyn, was born in 1907 and two boys followed -- James in 1908 and Donald in 1911.

Maude embraced the homemaker role: She raised chickens and ducks, crocheted beautiful needlework, painted, gardened, and baked prize-winning cakes for the county fair. But she remained engaged in a wide range of community and civic pursuits. She was superintendent of the Congregational Church Sunday School and served on the Wahkiakum County Board of Education. During World War I, she was one of two women food administrators for the state and was active in 4-H canning clubs and the Red Cross.

But this rich, full life had a dark side. Don Carlos developed an incurable disease, mother Julia Ann was increasingly ill, and there were three children to raise -- and raise to the same high standards that Maude's mother had set.

Difficult Times

Don Carlos Butler died in February 1916 at age 50, and Julia Ann died seven months later. There was some insurance and other money, but Maude returned to teaching to make ends meet. She also became a correspondent for three newspapers in the region and earned nearly as much as she did teaching. Her backyard garden produced vegetables, and Maude bought only the cheapest cuts of meat. Little Julia's dresses and the boys' pants were homemade.

World War I added its own tribulations, as Maude recorded in her journal:

February 6, 1917: "War is almost upon us ... [President Woodrow] Wilson should have taken a firmer, decisive hand a long time ago."

July 5, 1917: "I am mother enough to be glad that my boys are not old enough to go but this will be the first war since King Phillip's that no member of the family has not fought in. If it were not for the children, I would go overseas on canteen duty."

January 1, 1918: "Our first wartime holiday passed very quietly. We had no tree and our few presents were useful ones. Things are so high that every penny must go for necessities." (Butler, 33, 36, 37)

Maude also served as assistant deputy state superintendent of schools under Josephine Corless Preston. In a letter to teachers dated September 6, 1918, reflecting the times, Maude encouraged them "to prepare our boys and girls for citizenship in our great democracy" and to "educate our people in the purposes for which we are engaged in this awful world war" (Butler).

More Family Tragedy

With the war over in 1918, Maude continued to teach in Cathlamet. But she was dealt another blow in 1919 when her son Donald was run over by a delivery truck driven by a neighbor boy. Donald was taken to a hospital in Astoria with internal injuries, but died two weeks later, the first auto fatality in Wahkiakum County. "The doctors later said he would have survived had he been kept at home [instead of being transported]," David Hansen said (Chesley). As a result of the tragedy, Maude turned to Christian Science, and her daughter Julia and grandson David became members as well.

Maude wanted to rebuild her life and send the children to an accredited high school, and in 1920 she accepted a teaching job in Orting, Washington, renting out the family home in Cathlamet. She later served as principal of Wickersham Grade School in nearby Buckley for 12 years. Julia and James were homeschooled during their early years, but Julia graduated from Buckley High School in 1924 and James in 1925. The two both later graduated from the University of Washington.

Maude continued her own education during summer sessions at Bellingham Normal School -- subsequently known as Western Washington College of Education, Western Washington College, and finally, Western Washington University. She never considered her education complete and was taking art lessons well into her senior years. She exhibited regularly and was also an avid amateur photographer.

Daughter of a Union veteran of the Civil War, Maude had been a lifelong Republican, but in 1932, as the Great Depression was bottoming out, she voted for Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945). "When she came home to announce it, she looked as if she had just jumped over a cliff. However, she became an ardent Democrat" (J. B. Hansen to B. Leroy).

Maude retired and returned to Cathlamet in 1935, refurbished the tenant-abused home, and took up her old hobby of painting.

An Obligation to Serve

Meanwhile, Maude had nurtured her own children's endeavors -- Julia's in public office and James's in drama education. Julia was close to her mother and she was raised "with an obligation to serve in some way ... your country or your community or something, and it was just something that was implicit in my childhood" (Hinsch). Julia fulfilled her obligation when she was elected to the Cathlamet Town Council in 1937, at age 30, the first female member of that body. Then in 1938 she became a Democratic state legislator when she won the 18th legislative seat (Wahkiakum and Cowlitz counties); she would serve 21 historic years in the state legislature, accomplishing further "firsts."

During World War II, Maude -- then in her 60s -- returned to teaching, this time at Pacific Beach in Grays Harbor County, and took advantage of her location to fulfill her desire to paint surf scenes. She also wrote an essay, "Reflections on Women in World War No. 2," part of her memoir, in which she recounted her travails raising three children during World War I. But given her dauntless spirit, she concluded: "The women in the present emergency [World War II] are going to meet the hardships and make the sacrifices as courageously as the women of the Revolution, the Civil War, and World War No. 1. What they have to do they can and will ... . There are thousands of women without children and women whose families are grown who should be up to their eyes in war work. Enlist them first" (Butler, 42).

In 1939, after her first legislative term, Julia married Henry Hansen, a logging blacksmith from Cathlamet, and in 1946 they had a son, David Kimball. Julia briefly considered quitting her political career, but Maude filled in as a caretaker and Julia was able to continue. David recalled, "When Mother was in the legislature, she [Maude] would do all the cooking, things my Mother would no more fix than fly to the moon -- things like liver and sweetbreads ... . She loved to cook ... I was very close to my grandmother. She gave me an interest in history" (Chesley). David would go on to earn a master's degree in history from the University of Washington and for 30 years would serve as curator of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

On to the U.S. Congress

In 1958, Julia launched a campaign for the Third Congressional District seat held by Russell V. Mack (1891-1960), but she withdrew when Maude, then 78, suffered a heart attack in March of that year. In 1960, however, Mack died suddenly, on the floor of the House, and Hansen ran again, in a special election for a seat in the 86th and 87th Congresses. She won, and while the exhausted candidate went to bed "for a long sleep," the 80-year-old Maude proudly told a newspaper reporter that her daughter was "very rugged and vigorous," characteristics she had passed on to her daughter (Emery). Julia moved the family -- Maude, Henry, and David -- to Washington, D.C.

In 1961, Maude was named Washington State Mother of the Year, an honor bestowed by a group called American Mothers. She was "thrilled and surprised," and said she was named "because of my children" (Johnson). In addition to her daughter's history-making career, son James had become chairman of the University of Southern California Drama Department, a post he held from 1953 to 1974.

Though slowed by age, Maude regularly attended art galleries in Washington, D.C., but had never been to the Capitol to see Julia in the House chamber. And despite living in a Georgetown townhouse, she never lost her habit of thrift. David, in high school, would take his lunch to school and afterward buy a 10-cent pastry for a treat. David recalled, his grandmother telling him "I can make them cheaper" (Chesley). And she did.

Maude was elected to the teachers' honor society, Delta Kappa Gamma, for her achievements in education, and was a member of the Business and Professional Women's Club of Cathlamet, the Oregon Artists and Lower Columbia Art Association, and the Grange. She was also a member of Eastern Star and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Maude Kimball Butler died December 9, 1963, at age 83. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Cathlamet.

Sources: Maude Kimball Butler, Cathlamet Pioneer Artist: The Writings and Sketches of Maude Kimball Butler, 1880-1963, Vol. 1 (Cathlamet: Wahkiakum Community Foundation, 2005); Frank Chesley interview with David Hansen, June 12, 2008; Julie Emery, "Proud Mother Lauds 'Rugged' Mrs. Hansen," The Seattle Times, November 9, 1960, p. 12; Julia Butler Hansen to Bruce Leroy of the Washington State Historical Society, January 31, 1972, letter in author's possession; Kathryn Hinsch, oral history interviews,1980-1981, Elected Washington Women Project, Women's History Consortium website accessed July 2008 (www.washingtonwomenshistory.org); Alice Frein Johnson, "State Mother of Year, 80, Has Eye on Future," The Seattle Times, May 14, 1961, p. 1; Anne Kilgannon, "Julia Butler Hansen," Women's History Consortium website accessed July 2008 (www.washingtonwomenshistory.org); David Meyers, "Julia Butler Hansen -- Dedicated to Service," Women's History Consortium website accessed July 2008 (www.washingtonwomenshistory.org).

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