Celebrate women’s history in Troutdale this March
10 Mar 2023
March is Women’s History Month in the U.S., presenting an excellent option to recognize women’s impact on the country’s development. Each year, communities celebrate those women’s efforts and contributions to driving forward the progress of their local ways of life. The international community also participates, with March 8 being International Women’s Day.
In the Pacific Northwest, Troutdale, Oregon, has a long history of community development led by local women. One of the most significant representations of that dedication is Clara Latourell Larsson. While the 1920 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution essentially granted women the right to vote, Oregon was ahead of the curve by exercising that authority in 1912. Troutdale citizens voted for their first female mayor, Latourell Larsson, to take office in 1914. Her tenure, which ran to 1918, made her one of Oregon's earliest women mayors.
Latourell Larsson’s election represented the impact she had on Troutdale beginning long before her mayoral campaign. At the time of her election, the Oregon Sunday Journal announced her success by stating, “...Mrs. Larsson has been in social and semi-civic life by holding office in local organizations for some time, and has shown special business ability and executive force as clerk of the school board…”
Many of Oregon’s early mayors were women, reflecting the nature of rural communities requiring all people to work together regardless of gender. Latourell Larsson was a perfect fit for Troutdale. In It Could Have Been Carpdale, a Centennial History of Troutdale Oregon, author Sharon Nesbit wrote Latourell Larsson “...would have sunk without a trace in the social swim of Portland. She was part Native American, aligned with the Yakima tribe. She was divorced and a tragic figure because of the early deaths of both of her children.”
Latourell Larsson turned her loss into a dedication to Troutdale. Before her mayoral term, she was very active in Troutdale from her post as a music teacher at Troutdale’s school house. Latourell Larsson was involved in nearly every institution in the community, with many records indicating former students mentioning her as a guiding force and kind presence.
She was married to a city saloonkeeper, John Larsson, and continued city service until 1939 with the Torudale Council. One of her fellow active community members, Laura Harlow, followed in her footsteps, being elected Troutdale mayor in 1924.
Today, a “Bronze Clara” statue stands in Latourell Larsson’s honor in the town's Mayors Square. The statue was completed by lead artist, Marlena Nielsen, project director Rip Caswell and the Firebird Bronze Foundry, made possible by funding from the City of Troutdale through a Troutdale Community Enhancement Program grant, Troutdale Historical Society and the Troutdale Arts Council.
The square itself is rich in women’s history. A mural exists on the east wall of the historic Helming Saloon building, created by Tamara Callens and Dwayne Harty. The mural, completed in 2016, depicts life Latourell Larsson would have found familiar. The mural illustrates the mayor riding in a horse-drawn carriage. Francis Fox, the wife of Aaron Fox, Troutdale’s first mayor, owned the site of Mayors Square, which held her Chevrolet Garage dating to 1926. Since its completion in 1996, Mayors Square has become a valued component of the Troutdale Town Center. Business owners, residents, and visitors appreciate it as a popular locale to relax and enjoy the ambiance of downtown Troutdale.
Learn more about the history of Troutdale’s women at three museums: