When it comes to writing historical biographies, one of the reasons the same figures show up in book after book is simply the wealth of information they left behind. There is so much readily available stuff for biographers and historians to draw on to tell and retell their stories.
The same is true of the people buried at Metro’s 14 historic cemeteries. These cemeteries stand as the most visible landmarks of the beginning of the colonization of greater Portland by white pioneers, and the stories we have of the people buried at them are mostly of men, men considered important, men who left records. Their stories are readily available, so they get told.
For women to register similar historic records it required incandescent lives like the one lived by doctor and suffragist Esther Pohl Lovejoy. Death too was unrecorded. Many of the cemeteries’ female residents were buried under their husband’s name, their death record calling them Mrs. Husband’s Name, their own names never memorialized.
This is true even of women who did some remarkable things in our region. Miyo Iwakoshi, for instance, was the first Japanese immigrant to Oregon. Gresham didn’t have a library until Iona McLaughlin Linnemann McColl started one in her post office (we don’t know if she had an extra-long library card to fit her three last names, which tell their own small epic of a story). And then there’s Hattie Redmond, a founding member of Oregon’s Black community, a suffragist who stands next to Lovejoy in influence, and who was written out of the region’s history because a lectern-commanding Black woman who came to Oregon in 1868 when it was unequivocally, constitutionally a white state didn’t fit its pioneer mythology. Redmond is now, belatedly but assuredly, considered one of the most consequential people buried at Lone Fir Cemetery.
Throughout 2020, Metro dug into the historical records to learn more about some of the women buried at its historic cemeteries and make their stories known. A grant from the Oregon Heritage Commission allowed Metro to hire a researcher to compile material and write short biographies of these women.
As the manager of these cemeteries, Metro is a steward of Oregon’s history, which includes many people whose achievements in the fight for a better region and better world may have never received the recognition they deserved. As you walk through these cemeteries, all of which are open to the public, it’s easy to be struck by the remarkable effect of seeing multiple centuries of history coexisting in the same space. In Lone Fir Cemetery, for example, burials from the present day lie side-by-side with figures from Oregon history textbooks and local lore.
The history represented at Metro’s historic cemeteries is incomplete, beginning only with the arrival of white colonizers. Native people from many tribes and bands have called, and continue to call, these lands home since time immemorial.