Visitors to the Seaside Library had an opportunity to meet a Victorian heroine, Georgiana Pittock. Pittock championed for the rights of women and children, became a suffragette and founded Portland’s Rose Society and Rose Festival.
She founded the Ladies Relief Society, joined the Portland Women’s Union in 1912 as a suffragette, played a key role in building the Martha Washington Home for single women, supported the Boys and Girls Aid Society and the Parry Center for Children.
“It’s so good to be back in Seaside after such a long time,” said Pittock — never stepping out of character — as she thanked the Seaside Museum, Seaside Library and guests for coming out to hear her talk.
Mrs. Pittock and her chauffeur, Herman Hawkanson, were the subjects for historical re-enactors Mary and Michael Hutchens during their presentation “Georgiana Pittock: Her Last 10 Years, 1908-1918” on Thursday at the library.
Pittock adored flowers, especially roses. Along with friends, she held backyard rose shows, which gave the Portland Rose Society its first exposure. She became a founder and the inspiration behind Portland’s famous Rose Festival in 1907 with her good friend Harry Lane, a former mayor of Portland and supporter of the Lewis and Clark Exposition.
She married Henry Lewis Pittock when she was 15 years old. Henry Pittock, who was a typesetter when Georgiana married him, later became the owner and publisher of The Oregonian for nearly 60 years. He became successful in real estate, banking, railroads, mining, lumber mills and the pulp and paper industry.
It all began for Forest Grove actress Mary Hutchens in 2006 when she answered an ad for a Rose Festival historical re-enactor. She got the job and thereafter, Hutchens spent months preparing for the role. She researched and memorized Georgiana’s life, down to the most insignificant details that make up both the public and the private life of a historical persona.
In 2007, “Georgiana” made her first appearance in 89 years at a rose planting and tea party held at her home, the Pittock Mansion.
When Mary’s contract ended with the Rose Festival after four years, she became independent and, together with her husband, they have continued to share the Pittock story to schoolchildren, residents at assisted living facilities, libraries, civic centers and philanthropic organizations — always in full period costume.
The Pittocks played a major role in the history of Portland and to the growth of Oregon’s largest city.
The Pittock Mansion was built on Portland’s original “lover’s lane” above Burnside. Built in the style of a French Renaissance chateau in 1914, it was a progressive masterpiece for its time.
Amassed on 16 acres with 44 rooms, it included all the latest technology. A central vacuum system, a telephone and intercom system with intercoms in every room, refrigeration, indoor plumbing and electricity. There was a dumbwaiter and a passenger elevator was installed for Georgiana after her stroke. (The elevator is still operable today.) Henry Pittock used Oregon artisans and craftsmen and insisted that all materials used including marble, tenino stone and wood came from the Northwest.
The Pittocks were deeply connected in their community and spent much of their time improving the lives of local residents. Family and community were central to them and they shared their home with some of their children and grandchildren. Generations of Pittocks lived in the mansion up to 1958 when it became too much to endure.
Now a museum, the mansion has become a popular destination for visitors, bird watchers, event planners and gardeners. Though it seems lavish, it is a testament of who the Pittocks were as pillars of the community in both business development and philanthropy.
Pittock suffered a stroke in 1913, just before the mansion was completed. Sometime afterwards, she started to read The Oregonian for the first time. She never cared for it before, but started to feel her world getting smaller. Because of the Spanish-American War, there were stories about German atrocities, propaganda, spies and submarines.
“I liked that stuff,” she said. “I know I shouldn’t have, but they opened my mind.”
The Hutchens divided their program into two parts. The first story covers the years 1845 to 1907 and includes the wagon trains that brought the Burton family to Oregon; Georgiana’s marriage to Henry Pittock, the formation of the Portland Rose Society; the Lewis and Clark Exposition and the Rose Festival.
The Hutchens’ portrayals covered part two of the program: the last years of Georgiana’s life, the building of the Pittock Mansion, the evolution of women’s voting rights in Oregon, World War I and her final years suffering from the debilitating effects of a stroke.
“In 1905, the Seaside Signal cited that I was here in Seaside,” said Mrs. Pittock, “and for the next eight summers, I visited Seaside with one of my daughters or with my granddaughter Georgiana Leadbetter as a respite from the city.”
She said they traveled by one of the four trains in and out of Seaside, took walks on the Pacific Pier, bought taffy at Pool’s Confectionery (now Phillips Candy) and stayed, not in one of the five hotels in Seaside, but in a local boarding house on Third Street because “I was frugal.”
Her daughters always tried to get Mrs. Pittock to try new things like going to the cinema. “I would never attend the cinema in Portland,” she said, “it would be scandalous. But I’m at the beach,” she said laughing heartedly. The movies were four minutes long and were mostly about new technology. This news peeked Henry Pittock’s interest and soon he, too, attended the cinema in Seaside, arriving by the “daddy train” on weekends.
Mary and Michael Hutchens visit Seaside as often as possible. But unlike the Pittocks who chose to stay in boarding houses, the Hutchens own a vacation home in Seaside and on those occasions when a respite from their residence in Forest Grove is needed, they take the short drive to the coast.