Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Rosemary Schenck, 1875-1948
By Mary Langer Thompson, Ed.D., retired public school principal and writer
Rosemary Cowman Schenck was born about 1875 in Iowa. Little is known of her early years, except that she attended four years of high school. Rosemary married George Schenck in 1891 and by 1900 the couple, lived in Toledo in Lincoln County, Oregon. George was a hardware merchant. They continued to live in Toledo in 1910 and still had no children. George was listed as an employer and the couple owned their home, free of mortgage. They continued to live in Toledo in 1920 without children. George was now 52 and Rosemary 45, but now George was listed as a sawmill laborer.
From 1900-1904, the suffrage cause in Oregon was one of indifference and apathy. Abigail Scott Duniway, “the Mother of Suffrage in Oregon,” preferred to feature prominent men and women rather than actively maintaining a large general organization. In 1904, however, the National American Woman Suffrage Association praised Oregon for the Lewis and Clark National Expedition to such an extent that Oregon was chosen for the location of the national association's next meeting.
The sentiment toward women was changing in 1905. The Sacagawea Statue was unveiled on exposition grounds in Oregon, and Susan B. Anthony, age 85, gave a tribute. Women were inspired. When Anthony died in 1906, Portland became “the Mecca” for suffragists from all over the state. Several from outside Portland came to help, including Mrs. Rosemary Schenck from Lincoln, Oregon. A large room at headquarters was set aside and women worked from morning to night, mostly preparing literature for mailing. Despite the women's hard work, some disastrous campaigns followed. Voting rights appeared on the ballot six times before women won the right to vote in Oregon, in 1884, 1900, 1906, 1908, 1910, and finally 1912. From the History of Woman Suffrage, we know that Rosemary Schenck took active part in the unsuccessful 1906 suffrage campaign.
Like several states, Oregon won voting rights prior to the federal suffrage amendment, including winning a place for women on juries, and Rosemary participated in other community activities after working in Portland. Mrs. Rosemary Schenck was named as a County Manager (Toledo) for a Red Cross Campaign. She had several local managers under her to do the door-to-door canvassing. Both Rosemary and her husband George registered a motor vehicle, a Ford, in Oregon in 1920. Their son, George, was born in 1921.
Rosemary was involved in “The Japanese Incident of 1925” in The Port of Toledo, Oregon. Thirty-five Issei (born in Japan) were hired to work at the Johnson lumber mill to do jobs local whites did not want to do without more pay. Nationally, this was a time of the Red Scare, the Sacco-Vanzetti case, and racially-restrictive immigration laws. George and Rosemary Schenck led a vigilante group and drove the Japanese out of town, despite mill employee opposition. Rosemary was quoted as saying, “Everything women can do has been done.” Fifty white men with wooden planks and rocks broke windows and threatened the immigrant workers, forcing them out of their homes, cheered on by two hundred women and children. The Japanese, in a 1926 trial, won a lawsuit and restitution. The case established for the first time in a federal civil suit that legal aliens living in the U.S. had civil rights.
In 1936, Rosemary was nominated to be a United States Postmaster. She was appointed in June, 1940. She served in that position until her death in December of 1948 at age 73, in Lincoln, Oregon.
Ancestry.com. Rosemary Schenck in the 1940 United States Federal Census; the Oregon Motor Vehicle Registrations, 1911-1946; the Oregon, Death Index, 1898-2008; and U.S., Appointments of U.S. Postmasters, 1832-1971, accessible at
Hitchman, James. The Port of Toledo, Oregon, 1910-1920, history paper accessible at
Oregon Blue Book: Women Suffrage Centennial Web Exhibit, accessible at
bluebook.state.or.us › Facts › Web Exhibits › Woman Suffrage
Oregon Voter: Magazine of Citizenship for Busy Men and Women, Vol. 16, Published 1919, Original from Princeton University, accessible at
Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds., The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 922) [LINK]