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A color lithograph of George and Kate Ann Williams’s Victorian  mansion, located at 18th and Couch streets downtown.

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A prominent Portland socialite led a sect called "Truth," with the motto "Pray and Be Cured," that required 40-day fasts. It vanished after its leader starved herself to death during a 110-day fast. Here's the story.


An illustration of the scene in the Davis Hotel when detectives saw a hand suddenly  reach out from under the bed, grabbing for a pistol hidden there, from the Portland Morning Oregonian.

Railroad Murder mystery solved with the victim's help

The thieves, cornered in a boxcar, shot their way out, mortally wounding a railroad "bull." But the dying man was still a pretty good shot. Here's the story.


The archway monument leading up to the Wallowa County Courthouse,  built in 1936. The bronze plaque on the inside left of the arch includes  the name of murderer and horse thief Bruce “Blue” Evans.

A monument in honor of a horse thief and mass murderer?

Bruce "Blue" Evans led the gang that slaughtered over 30 innocent Chinese miners in 1887. So why is his name celebrated on a monument to Wallowa County Pioneers? Probably because they didn't know. Here's the story.


Legendary Coast Guard rescue-boat man Tom McAdams.

Newport's legendary cigar-chomping Coast Guard lifesaver:

In one famous incident, he saved four drowning people and earned a lifesaving medal — but the Coast Guard had wanted to reprimand him for risking their nicest boat to do it. Here's the story.


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.


Title screen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mel Blanc, the legendary Looney Toons voice man, grew up in Portland.

The voice of Bugs Bunny went to high school in Portland

Legendary Hollywood voice man Mel Blanc's teachers weren't too impressed with his voice talents, but Oregon radio listeners and cartoon fans sure were. Here's the story.


Three Rocks Beach, Camp Westwind, the mouth of the Salmon River and Cascade  Head as they appear today.

Is there pirate loot buried at this YWCA youth camp?

The discovery of a giant skeleton in the 1930s suggested that the old Indian legend of a pirate ship sinking in the Salmon River might be true ... or maybe not. Here's the story.


This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose?. 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.


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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.

sHE DIED AROUND 1874. SO WHY DOES THE GRAVESTONE SAY SHE WAS 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.

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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).


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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Pioneering Oregon “lady lawyer” deserved a better legacy

Had Mary Leonard died in 1890, she'd be remembered as she really was — a brilliant orator and an inspiration to future Oregon women and attorneys. But fate let her live another 20 years, during which she devolved into a total nut case.

<<First | <Previous | — This story is Part 2 of a 3-part series on Mary Leonard. — | Next> | End>>
Portland's Pioneer Courthouse as it appeared in 1888. When this lithograph was produced, Mary was a regular officer of the court here.
This drawing of what we know today as the Pioneer Courthouse in
Portland appeared in 1888 in The West Shore magazine. When this
drawing was inked, Mary Leonard was a regular visitor to the
courthouse.

It was around 1878 that newly-single Mary Leonard moved to Portland and set herself up as the proprietress of a boardinghouse in the North End waterfront district — the seediest, roughest neighborhood in Portland.

Mary was in her early 30s, striking in appearance and more than a little notorious. She’d moved there from The Dalles, where she had just been acquitted of charges of sneaking into her estranged husband’s bedroom one night and shooting him in the head while he slept. She’d spent a full year in jail there while the government prepared its case.

The jury had found her not guilty, but few people thought she was actually innocent. Newspaper accounts talked of the brilliant job her defense attorney had done in defending her, the implication being that it was because of his brilliance, not her innocence, that she was acquitted. Her husband had been quite well-off, she was his only heir, and he’d been in the process of divorcing her when he was murdered. So she had a motive, and in The Dalles, that was good enough for most folks.

So she’d come to Portland to start a new life — in the Skid Road neighborhood.

An unlikely law student

Mary settled into her new role, and apparently made her peace with singlehood; she never remarried. But something must have been missing in her life, because five years after that, she became a law student — first in Portland and then in Seattle, where she moved to study under renowned attorney J.C. Haines, leaving her boardinghouse behind.

In 1885, having passed the bar exam, Mary became the first woman ever licensed to practice law in Washington.

Then she turned back to her home state, applying to be licensed to practice there as well. But although Judge Matthew Deady ordered her admitted to practice in federal courts, at the state level it was not so easy.

The fight over female lawyers

It had long been the state courts’ practice to recognize the credentials of attorneys from other jurisdictions without requiring them to prove their merit and “good moral character.” But the state supreme court now suddenly and conveniently decided to question whether that “exuberance of liberality” was appropriate, and denied her application. Mary responded by lobbying in the state Legislature and getting a law passed that would require women to be admitted to the bar on the same basis as men. It passed overwhelmingly in both houses.

The Supreme Court responded to that by hastily cooking up a brand-new one-year residency requirement and using that to deny Mary’s application a second time. This time, Mary argued her case in person before the Supreme Court itself.

She started by pointing out that in the month since it had adopted the new rule, the court had made exceptions for 12 other (male) attorneys moving to the state.

“If in its discretion the court saw fit to treat these men with such consideration, then may I ask who is entitled to more consideration than I am?” she said. “Since I have been deprived of practicing my profession for the last twelve months, having made my arrangements and my calculations under the old rule, and knowing nothing else until a month ago, when the rules were published. I am now pleading to this court not to impose upon me a hardship which the court deems too hard for a strong, free and unfettered man to bear. I am not a free man, but since I belong to the protected sex, or oppressed sex, whichever you please … I am asking for the pitiful privilege to be allowed to obtain a livelihood as best I can, which is a natural and God-given right and my right in law.”

One of the things that historians have frequently said of Mary is that she was incompetent as an attorney. This was probably true late in her career, when she was probably suffering from some unknown and progressively worsening medical condition. And it was certainly true that she never was much of a detail person. But as this quote nicely shows, in the late 1880s she had some serious rhetorical skills, and she was hell on wheels in a closing argument. Of course, the court admitted her. It really had no choice.

The first “lady lawyer”

As a practicing attorney, Mary was not particularly successful, but she was most definitely noticeable. Her practice was mostly in the criminal courts, where she represented down-and-out prostitutes, gamblers, vagrants and laborers in trouble with the police. These clients had little or no money, so to make ends meet she went back into the boardinghouse business again.

She was also famous for going out drinking with the young attorneys, who seem to have regarded her as something of a mascot. She drank and caroused as wildly as any of them despite being in her late 40s — twice their age. But as far as I’ve been able to learn, there was no hint or rumor of anything sexual.

If Mary Leonard had been run over by a trolley at this point in her life — in the early 1890s — she would have been remembered as a pioneering woman of considerable promise and talent cut tragically short in the prime of her career, and probably would have had a monument in her honor at Riverview Cemetery.

But as it turned out, fate had something considerably less glorious in store for her.

Mysterious personality changes

About 10 years after she was admitted, Mary’s behavior started to change. She started feuding with people — neighbors, clients, the owner of the building in which her boardinghouse operated.

Other things were happening too. Mary’s pleadings in court were getting increasingly erratic. She was getting arrested for things that ranged from stupid to bizarre — suborning perjury, embezzling $1.40 in witness fees from a client’s mother, threatening bodily violence, menacing her landlord with a pistol. Her handwriting started to change. By the end of her career, it was completely different, and it wandered off the lines in strange and illegible ways.

Her famous oral arguments started to lose their edge, fading into a chaotic style of wandering, garrulous griping. Her success rate in court dropped accordingly.

What was going on? Alcohol-induced dementia? Tertiary-stage syphilis? Early-onset Alzheimer’s? It’s just not possible to say.

Mary’s law career ended just a few weeks before her death with complete humiliation in an attempt to claim title to some real estate in lieu of payment from a client who’d been judged insane.

Maybe Mary, too, should have been judged insane. Her habits and practices at the end of her career were totally different from those she’d shown at the beginning of it. And by the end, she’d apparently lost every friend she had.

A homeless, penniless, friendless end

The end came just days later, when Mary was admitted to Multnomah County Hospital on Oct. 11, 1912. On her admission papers, the lines for the names of friends and family members are blank. Her coterie of young lawyers was gone; apparently they’d all stepped away from the awkward spectacle that she’d become. Her sister lived in town, but they never spoke and her nephew didn’t even learn he had an aunt until years later.

Two weeks later, she died in her hospital bed — alone, friendless, penniless. Today, no one even knows where she’s buried.

(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)

<<First | <Previous | — This story is Part 2 of a 3-part series on Mary Leonard. — | Next> | End>>