10 Women Who Changed Portland

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For Women’s History Month, teach your kids about the women who helped make Portland the special place it is. You might be surprised by some of the women who changed Portland for the better over the years: from the author who created one of children’s most beloved book characters, to the rainbow of women who made our city the progressive place it is known to be. Read on to find out more about these amazing ladies.

Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary is a National Book Award-winning recipient author best known for the Ramona series of books about Ramona Quimby, as well as the Henry Huggins series. These books centered around the fictional children’s lives with their families, friends and Portland-based neighborhoods. Her imaginative stories took place in the Grant Park neighborhood of northeast Portland, with familiar sites such as Klickitat and Tillamook streets. Beverly Cleary won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association for "substantial and lasting contributions to children's literature", as well as the National Medal of Arts.

You may visit the statue of Ramona Quimby in Grant Park, or visit the Beverly Cleary School in the Grant Park neighborhood.

Hattie Redmond

Hattie Redmond was a Black American suffragist who lived in Portland. Hattie and her seven siblings attended the Portland Colored School, which was located at SW 4th and Columbia. As a child of emancipated slaves, Hattie was committed to helping women, especially Black women, achieve the right to vote. Hattie hosted suffrage meetings in Portland in the early 1900s. Mrs. Redmond became president of the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage Association and was instrumental in the Black Civil Rights movement. Through her activism in the State Central Campaign Committee, Hattie Redmond helped advocate for the passage of Oregon Measure 1, the Women's Suffrage Amendment in 1912. Because of Hattie’s civic contributions, women achieved the right to vote in Oregon. You may “visit” Hattie’s grave at Lone Fir Cemetery in SE Portland.

Tawna Sanchez

Tawna Sanchez is a member of the Oregon House of Representatives. She is the second Native American to serve in the Oregon legislature, and the first to represent Portland.

Sanchez is known for her work with the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), where she began working in her youth and currently serves as the Director of Family Services. Ms. Sanchez founded the Healing Circles program, a nationally-recognized program for preventing and disrupting domestic violence. In addition to her civic work, Ms. Sanchez is a leader in child welfare and has raised 18 foster children.

Mercedes Deiz

Mercedes Deiz grew up poor, the eldest of 10 children. While working during the day, she attended law school in the evenings, becoming the first Black woman admitted to the Oregon Bar, as well as the first Black woman to serve as a district court judge, and the first to be elected as a county circuit court judge. Mrs. Deiz served 22 years as a Multnomah County judge and was well known in the Albina Neighborhood for her civic action in the Urban League of Portland and the NAACP Portland.

Leah Hing

Leah Hing was the first Chinese American woman to earn her pilot's license, later becoming an instrument mechanic during World War II at the Portland Air Base.

Ms. Hing was a lifelong resident of the Ladd's Addition neighborhood. Ms. Hing served as president of the Portland Chinese Girls' Club and founded the Portland Chinese Girls' Orchestra, as well as serving as the general manager of the Chung Wah Hoopers, Portland’s female basketball team. She also played the saxophone and performed internationally as part of The Honorable Wu's Vaudeville Troupe.

Ms. Hing is shown in a mural of female Oregon aviators at the Portland International Airport, and her first plane is on display in the Pearson Air Museum.

Gretchen Kafoury

Gretchen Miller Kafoury co-founded the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1970. Mrs. Kafoury served in the Oregon House of Representatives, the Multnomah County Commission, and the Portland City Council. Mrs. Kafoury was also an instructor at Portland State University, teaching classes related to community development, homelessness, and poverty. In 1972, Mrs. Kafoury was part of a small group of women who protested the City Club of Portland's policy excluding women members, successfully allowing women members to join over 50 years of only male members.

Gretchen Kafoury Commons, a nine-story apartment community, is located downtown near Portland State University. Gretchen Kafoury is also part of the Women Making History mural, located on the exterior of the building at 2335 North Clark Avenue.

Beatrice Morrow Cannady

Beatrice Morrow Cannady was the co-founder and vice president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP. Mrs. Cannady was also editor and owner of The Advocate, a Portland-based newspaper that reported on issues relating to racial minorities in the 1920s and 30s. Mrs. Cannady worked to remove racist, exclusionary language from Oregon's constitution and advocated for the passage of civil rights bills. Mrs. Cannady attended Northwestern College of Law and became the first Black woman to graduate from law school in Oregon and the first Black woman to practice law in Oregon.

The Beatrice Morrow apartment building, named after Beatrice Morrow Cannady can be found on NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd in the Eliot neighborhood.

Lola Baldwin

Aurora "Lola" Greene Baldwin was one of the first policewomen in the United States. In 1908, she became the Superintendent of the Portland Police Department Women’s Protective Division, where she lobbied for laws to protect women. Ms. Baldwin served as a detective from 1908 to 1922. Ms. Baldwin promoted criminal behavior reform over incarceration. She advocated for laws to protect women, counseled other jurisdictions about women's law-enforcement issues, and championed women being effective police officers.

Lola Baldwin is buried at River View Cemetery in Portland.

Mary Gysin Leonard

Mary Gysin Leonard immigrated alone from Switzerland to Portland in her twenties. She studied law and passed the bar exam, however, the Oregon Supreme Court denied her application to the Oregon Bar because she was a woman. Mrs. Leonard persevered, and, after 10+ years of petitioning and legislative action, was finally admitted to the Oregon Bar in 1886. She was a successful attorney in Portland for decades, offering free legal advice women to help them be successful, too.

Kim Stegeman

Kim "Rocket Mean" Stegeman is the founder and Executive Director of the Rose City Rollers, a women's flat track roller derby league and 501(c)3 non-profit. The Rose City Rollers has trained thousands of skaters from around the world and hosted hundreds of skating competitions. Rose City Rollers has over 400 members participating in recreational programs, and adult and junior skating programs with skaters ranging in age from 7 to 60 years old. Rose City's all-star travel team has won the Women's Flat Track Derby Association Championships four times. Rose City Rollers continues to train athletes, host events, and offer pop-up roller skating activities throughout Portland.

—April Hasson

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