Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Lettie Johnesse McFadden, 1867-1939
By Leslie Miller
Graduate student, Idaho State University
Lettie McFadden was born in Iowa in 1867. She married David W. McFadden around 1890. The McFadden family lived in Custer, South Dakota, where Lettie gave birth to their six children. David was employed as a forest ranger for the United States Geological Service in Custer. Sometime in the early 1900s, the family relocated to Meridian, Idaho, where David was employed as a superintendent for a lumber mill, and Lettie worked as a reporter for a local newspaper.
In 1909, Lettie McFadden served as a legislator in the state capital of Boise for one term, representing Ada County as a Republican in the House of Representatives. Lettie did not set the precedent of women in government in Idaho; there were women who had served before her. Clara Campbell, Hattie Noble and Mary A. Wright had each won seats in the Idaho House of Representatives in the first election in which women were allowed to vote. There had been a ten-year gap between those first three women legislators and Lettie's election. After her two-year term in the legislature ended, the family moved to Arrowrock, Idaho in 1911 on the Boise River, where David worked at the Arrowrock Dam, presumably as some sort of supervisor given his other positions. In Arrowrock, Lettie established the Post Office to serve the men and their families at the Arrowrock Dam. She served as postmistress until 1916 when the dam was finished.
Lettie's name appeared once in the August 28, 1910 edition of the Idaho Daily Statesman. A reporter interviewed her about her decision to support the Sunday Rest Law; this law was designed to guarantee a day of rest for workers. She believed, however, that the law should be amended in order to make it practical, "to [answer] the needs of a liberty loving people, yet consistent with the peace and quiet of that large number of citizens who observe the first day of the week as a day of devotion." She continued to state that "there can be no question of the need of revising a law which permits the baseball fan to yell his voice hoarse at a Sunday game, yet forbids the Sunday purchase of a wreath of flowers for a loved one, or which smiles approval upon the Sunday game of cards in the back room of a cigar store while it frowns condemnation upon the Sunday purchase of a beefsteak." With these comments, McFadden suggested that the Sunday Rest Law was being implemented unfairly; leisure time entertainment for men continued to be permitted on Sundays, while businesses catering to females were shuttered. Men wanted to go to baseball games and play poker in smoky back rooms. But women weren't allowed to perform tasks that they wanted or needed, like going to the market for food. The Sunday Rest Law needed to be flipped, so that baseball and poker were frowned upon while everyday activities like going to the market or general store could continue apace.
Lettie McFadden was fortunate to live in a state that enabled her to vote and to hold public office. Lettie died on June 2, 1939 in Bremerton, Washington.
1900 & 1910 U.S. Census, population schedule, David W. McFadden and Lettie J. McFadden. HeritageQuest Online. http://www.ancestryheritagequest.com/HQA.
"Idaho Pioneer Dies." Idaho Free Press. June 5, 1939
Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series. Idaho Women Legislators. November 1994. https://history.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/reference-series/1055.pdf.
Meridian Historical Society. "Before the Times" Meridian Miscellany 1883-1909. Meridian, ID: Modern Printers, 2000.
"Not A Radical Says Woman Candidate." Idaho Daily Statesman. August 28, 1910, p.2.
Penson-Ward, Betty. Idaho Women in History. Boise, Idaho: Legendary Publishing, 1991.