Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Sara Blanche Wrenn, 1881-1962
By Sara Rike, undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park
Sara Blanche Wrenn was born in Linn County, Oregon on April 24th, 1881, to John and Elizabeth Watt Wrenn. She was the youngest of twelve children and both of her parents died when she was a child. The Wrenn family moved to Oregon when it was still a territory. In her exciting life, she advocated for suffrage, worked various high-profile jobs, and traveled around the United States, China, and Japan.
Wrenn was active in the suffrage movement as her home state moved toward an amendment enabling women to vote. In January 1912, she took part in a meeting of "prominent women suffragists" to discuss tactics and strategies. The group decided to hold bi-monthly open forums in the Olds, Wortman, and King department store's auditorium. Later that Spring, she was personally appointed by Abigail Scott Duniway, a renowned suffrage advocate, to the literature committee of the State Equal Suffrage Association alongside other women involved in the movement. The literature committee was entrusted with the task of creating and distributing literature relevant to the movement. The State Equal Suffrage Association coordinated with other committees representing the Men's Equal Suffrage League, Portland Equal Suffrage League, and College Equal Suffrage League. The Oregon woman suffrage movement was not a smooth journey, according to the Oregon Encyclopedia. The State of Oregon defeated woman suffrage more times than any other state. People believed that the West was the most progressive, and most likely to support equal suffrage. Oregon, being a western state surrounded by states supporting equal suffrage, finally passed the amendment in November 1912. However, the right to vote was not extended to indigenous and first generation Asian women at that time (see "Origins of the Women's Suffrage Movement in Oregon").
After the suffrage amendment passed in Oregon, Wrenn went on to embrace a life full of work and travel. She worked as a stenographer for the State Supreme Court at Salem. Her quick-thinking and fast hands earned her high praise among her colleagues and superiors. Wrenn was quite the trailblazer in her day, since she was one of few women employed in the State Supreme Court as well as in the U.S National Bank.
On November 17, 1917, Congressmember Clifton N. McArthur of Portland appointed Wrenn as his private secretary. Oregon's 3rd Congressional District could not have been so efficiently maintained if it were not for Wrenn's organization and leadership skills under the Republican Congressman. From 1917-1919, Wrenn was based in Washington, D.C. In 1918, she resigned her position as secretary to Congressmember McArthur, opting instead to travel around the east coast as a writer and special agent for the Department of Labor ("Society." The Sunday Oregonian, July 20, 1919).
After a brief visit back home to Oregon, Wrenn then spent three years (1919-1922) traveling in China and Japan as a magazine writer for the Philadelphia Public Ledger and the Trans-Pacific. When she returned home to Oregon, she opened the Yellow Lantern Tea Shop in the small seaside town of Gearhart, where one of her sisters lived. There, she served social teas to beachgoers and displayed goods she acquired during her travels in Asia. Wrenn nurtured a lifelong love for travel, having published a poem about her desire for adventure titled "The Open" in the September 3, 1916 issue of the Sunday Oregonian.
Wrenn's family was very important to her. She frequently visited her sister, Mrs. A.R. McCoy, in Albany, Oregon. According to the federal census, Wrenn lived with her sister Etta E. Wrenn, in Seattle, Washington in 1930 while working as a writer. The sisters later moved together to Clackamas, Oregon. Sara Blanche Wrenn died in Portland in 1962 at the age of 81.
Biographical information was gathered using Ancestry.com, which includes information about Wrenn in census data and documents her foreign travel. Note that it is useful to vary search terms to account for different spellings (Sara* Blanch* Wren*). Some suffrage coverage refers to her as Blanche Wren. Researchers should visit the Century of Action Project (centuryofaction.org), the Oregon History Project (oregonhistoryproject.org), the Oregon Encyclopedia (orgeonencyclopedia.org), and the Oregon Blue Book web exhibit on "Origins of Women's Suffrage in Oregon" (https://sos.oregon.gov/blue-book/Pages/explore/exhibits/woman-intro.aspx).The following articles, accessed via University of Oregon's Historical Oregon Newspaper database (https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/) were particularly instructive for this bio-sketch: "Personal," The Daily Oregon Journal 1 January 1905; "Suffrage Arrange Meetings," Morning Oregonian, 29 January, 1912; "Suffragists Name Central Committee," Oregon Journal, 9 March 1912; "Suffrage Leaders' Session Stormy," The Sunday Oregonian, 10 March 1912; "Writer is a Visitor in Home City," Capital Journal (Salem, OR), 30 June 1922.