Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Imogene Gertrude Bath, 1862-1929
By Evelyn Rose, PharmD, Project Director
Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project, San Francisco, California
If a single word could define the life of Imogene Gertrude Bath, it would be "wayfarer." Born August 24, 1862 in Columbus, Columbia County, Wisconsin, Imogene was the daughter of Dennis S. and Sarah A. (née Horton) Birdsey, both of whom were natives of New York. In the late 1860s, the Birdseys moved to Iowa but returned to Columbus shortly thereafter, the first of multiple relocations Imogene would endure throughout her life.
As a teenager, Imogene suffered terrible loss when her mother died in 1876. Yet by the age of 20, she was independent and in the employ of Lizzie Rolleston, the proprietor of a millinery in Portage, Wisconsin. Here she began to acquire the skills that would enable her success as a businesswoman later in life. She also met in Portage Daniel Webster Bath of Lansingburg, Illinois. There were married in Madison, Wisconsin on May 15, 1882.
Daniel was a burgeoning printer, editor, and publisher, and their frequent relocations were the result of his ongoing search for the next community newspaper. In 1885, the Baths moved from Portage to Milbank, Dakota Territory where Imogene bore their first son, Irving Stuart Bath; by 1888, they had moved to Luverne, Wisconsin where their second child, Grace Monemia Bath, was born; and by 1892, they were living in Sioux City, Iowa.
Daniel's inability to stay in any one place for an extended period must have been a source of frustration for Imogene. Just when she might have thought they may be getting settled, they would pack up the house again. In 1893, the Baths left Sioux City for St. Louis Park, Wisconsin. Two years later, Daniel sold that newspaper to buy one at Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota, where Gerald Horton Bath, their last child, was born. By 1898, the family had moved to Melrose, Wisconsin and in 1903 to Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.
It seems Imogene was finally able to establish more longer-lasting associations in Sleepy Eye. In 1903, she was "exalted" to a position in the Rathbone Sisters, an auxiliary to the Knights of Pythias (a fraternal order based on a Greek myth emphasizing friendship). She was also recognized as prominent in Sleepy Eye's literary and musical circles. Unfortunately, the friendships and esteem she had found were short-lived. Just one year later, the Baths relocated again, this time to Hillsboro, Oregon (about 20 miles west of Portland) where Daniel became editor of the Hillsboro Independent.
Imogene was quickly recognized in Hillsboro for her leadership and support of a woman's right to vote. In March 1905, she was elected president of the Political Study Club of the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association, and in 1906 she was elected state auditor of the association, a position she held for several years. And, as a resident of Hillsboro, she was also elected the association's 13th Vice President in Washington County.
Imogene became a businesswoman in early 1907 when she transformed her passion for creating distinctive hats into reality by opening her own millinery in Hillsboro. She was also able to acquire and manage a ladies' furnishing goods store (today known as women's accessories). Yet, soon after being recognized in 1908 as one of Portland's "prominent women," the Baths moved 125 miles south, this time to Cottage Grove, Oregon (near Eugene) where she continued to hold the position of Third Auditor of the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association. By 1910, however, they were back in Hillsboro where Daniel was confined to home because of illness.
Her role as caregiver does not seem to have curtailed Imogene's suffrage activities. Elected association vice president of Yamhill County (immediately southwest of Washington County) in 1910, Imogene was serving under the leadership of president Abigail Scott Duniway, the "pioneer woman suffragist of the Great Northwest" who had been fighting for the Oregon vote since the early 1870s. Imogene joined Mrs. Duniway on a trip to the state capital of Salem to file a petition with the Oregon Secretary of State to add the cause of suffrage to the upcoming June ballot. Having first been voted on in 1884, 1910 would mark the fourth time the men of the state would decide the issue of a woman's right to vote (and it would take a total of six ballot appearances before "the mother-half of the people of Oregon" would finally won their rights in 1912).
By 1911, Daniel was back to work, this time as an editor in nearby North Plains. The following year, Imogene announced the opening of a new millinery shop in Hillsboro while continuing her work in the suffrage movement. As a member of a special executive committee of the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association that was called by Mrs. Duniway to meet in Portland in March 1912, Imogene helped plan the final campaign leading up to the November election of that year. Because the women sensed victory was imminent, the association planned to dissolve immediately thereafter.
It seems, however, that Daniel's relentless search for the next opportunity in newspaper publishing may have prevented Imogene from attending the victory celebration once the votes were tallied. In late 1912, the Baths left Imogene's new millinery business behind and relocated first to Corvallis, Oregon (about 80 miles south of Portland) then soon after to Tacoma, Washington, a state where women had won the right to vote in 1910.
With her work for suffrage now complete, Imogene's leadership was immediately recognized in Washington where she was elected First Vice President of the Tacoma Chapter of the American Woman's League for 1912 to 1914. She also announced in local papers in 1914 the opening of the Imogene Bath Millinery Parlors on the corner of 11th and Tacoma Avenue. As an active member of the Tacoma Business Women's Club, over the next few years she sold tickets for a concert fundraiser supporting the construction of a new Business Women's clubhouse, announced she would be opening late on election day so that her millinery staff had time to vote, and contributed a recipe to the "New Economy Cookbook, Every Recipe Tested," published by the Tacoma clubwomen to raise funds for clubhouse equipment.
Then, after a brief stay as lodgers in Seattle, the Baths returned to Corvallis in the spring of 1920 where Imogene soon opened a new millinery shop on the second floor of the First National Bank building. Traveling between Portland and Seattle to visit relatives and purchase millinery stock, she was able to add dressmaking to her store's list of offerings in 1921. Then in February 1922, she was hired as the manager of the Millinery Department on the balcony of the Whitham's Ladies' Cash Store in Corvallis, described as "one of the finest Millinery Departments this city has ever had." Imogene was recognized for having "established herself in this community as an artist in hat creation." One year later, Imogene moved her millinery department to the mezzanine of the new J. H. Harris store at Third and Madison Streets in Corvallis.
Throughout the 1920s, Imogene remained active in civic activities. In association with the Oregon State Federation of Women's Clubs, she helped organize the annual Corvallis Woman's Club New Year's party, open to both club women and teachers of the city. She also supported the Red Cross shop by donating several items from her Imogene Bath line of hats. In 1927, she was a delegate to the State Convention of Business Women in Salem, as well as a delegate representing the Corvallis Business and Professional Women's Club at the national convention in Oakland, California. After being honored for being the oldest member of the Corvallis club (and recognized for having also previously been a member in Tacoma), Imogene was elected chair of the club's Division 3. During their time in the Corvallis area, the Baths would own two homes that are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places: the D.W. and Maude Rife House and Garage in Philomath, Oregon (about 6 miles west of Corvallis), constructed circa 1914, dates of Bath ownership unknown; and the Barbara Kehl House in Corvallis, constructed circa 1910, and owned by the Baths from 1920.
The news of Imogene's sudden passing was announced on the front page of the Corvallis-Gazette Times on August 1, 1929. She had recently been recovering from heart-related ailments and was in the process of closing her millinery department at the J. H. Harris store. Her obituary notes she had been a member of the Presbyterian Church, and an active worker in the Business and Professional Women's Club and the St. Mary's Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star (a body of the Masons open to both men and women). Moreover, that Imogene had been "quite generally known over Corvallis." She is buried in River View Cemetery in Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon.
Despite her wanderings from one community to the next, Imogene persisted in making a difference throughout her life. In Ida Husted Harper's The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume VI, Imogene is noted to be "one of the women outside of Portland who put their shoulder to the wheel," an apt description for this wayfarer who helped advance the cause of suffrage in the state of Oregon and afterwards, and who became a shining example for businesswomen in their new world of expanded rights.
1.Bath Family Tree. Available at Ancestry.com .
2.Caya Family Tree. Available at Ancestry.com .
3.Portage Daily Register (Portage, Wisconsin), April 21, 1923. Available at Newspapers.com .
4.Portage Daily Register (Portage, Wisconsin), May 24, 1907. Available at Newspapers.com .
5.The Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota), October 31, 1885. Available at Newspapers.com .
6.The Worthington Advance (Worthington, Minnesota), July 5, 1888. Available at Newspapers.com .
7.Portage Daily Democrat (Portage, Wisconsin), July 12, 1892. Available at Newspapers.com .
8.Portage Daily Democrat (Portage, Wisconsin), August 14, 1893. Portage Daily Democrat (Portage, Wisconsin), July 12, 1892. Available at Newspapers.com .
9.Portage Daily Democrat (Portage, Wisconsin), August 14, 1893. Portage Daily Democrat (Portage, Wisconsin), July 12, 1892. Available at Newspapers.com .
10.Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905, for 1895. Available at Ancestry.com .
11.Portage Daily Democrat (Portage, Wisconsin), May 8, 1895. Available at Newspapers.com .
12.The Representative (Fox Lake, Wisconsin), September 6, 1895. Available at Newspapers.com .
13.The Representative (Fox Lake, Wisconsin), February 11, 1898. Available at Newspapers.com .
14.United States Federal Census, 1900, Melrose, Stearns County, Wisconsin. Available at Ancestry.com .
15.Portage Daily Democrat (Portage, Wisconsin), April 25, 1903. Available at Newspapers.com .
16.Portage Daily Democrat (Portage, Wisconsin), December 28, 1903. Available at Newspapers.com .
17.History. The Pythians: The Order of the Knights of Pythias. Available at Pythias.org.
18.Hillsboro Independent, (Hillsboro, Oregon), March 31, 1905. Available at NewspaperArchive.com .
19.Hillsboro Independent, (Hillsboro, Oregon), March 31, 1905. Available at NewspaperArchive.com .
20.Portage Daily Democrat (Portage, Wisconsin), March 31, 1905. Available at Newspapers.com .
21.United States Federal Census, 1910, Hillsboro, Washington County, Oregon. Available at Ancestry.com .
22.Duniway AS. Path Breaking: An Autobiographical History of the Equal Suffrage Movement in Pacific Coast States. Portland, Oregon: James, Kearns & Abbott Co., 1914. Available at Google Books.
23.The Representative (Fox Lake, Wisconsin), June 16, 1905. Available at Newspapers.com .
24.Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon), January 16, 1908. Available at Newspapers.com .
25.The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Oregon), March 31, 1908. Available at Newspapers.com .
26.Oregon Secretary of State. Woman Suffrage Centennial Exhibit. Available at the Oregon Secretary of State.
27.East Oregonian (Pendleton, Oregon), April 10, 1908. Available at Newspapers.com .
28.The Representative (Fox Lake, Wisconsin), August 7, 1908. Available at Newspapers.com .
29.The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Oregon), September 27, 1908. Available at Newspapers.com .
30.The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Oregon), April 3, 1911. Available at Newspapers.com .
31.Oregon Journal, March 9, 1912. Available at the Deschutes County Historical Society.
32.The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Oregon), June 30, 1912. Available at Newspapers.com .
33.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), January 15, 1914. Available at Newspapers.com .
34.Clara Watson Elsom Scrapbook Album. "Choose New Officers." June 15, 1913 (newspaper not identified). Available at the Washington State Library, PrimarilyWashington.org.
35.The Tacoma Times (Tacoma, Washington), March 2, 1914. Available at NewspaperArchive.com .
36.The Tacoma Times (Tacoma, Washington), January 27, 1916. Available at NewspaperArchive.com .
37.The Tacoma Times (Tacoma, Washington), September 29, 1916. Available at NewspaperArchive.com .
38.The Tacoma Times (Tacoma, Washington), January 5, 1917. Available at NewspaperArchive.com .
39.The Tacoma Times (Tacoma, Washington), September 3, 1917. Available at NewspaperArchive.com .
40.United States Federal Census, 1920, Seattle, King County, Washington. Available at Ancestry.com .
41.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), March 16, 1920. Available at Newspapers.com .
42.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), April 20, 1920. Available at Newspapers.com .
43.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), February 8, 1921. Available at Newspapers.com .
44.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), February 25, 1921. Available at Newspapers.com .
45.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), February 26, 1922. Available at Newspapers.com .
46.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), March 6, 1923. Available at Newspapers.com .
47.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), January 1, 1923. Available at Newspapers.com .
48.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), April 25, 1923. Available at Newspapers.com .
49.Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon), May 12, 1927. Available at Newspapers.com .
50.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), September 13, 1927. Available at Newspapers.com .
51.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), March 31, 1928. Available at Newspapers.com .
52.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), July 14, 1928. Available at Newspapers.com .
53.National Park Service, Federal Register of Historic Places, Avery-Helm Historic District, Corvallis, Oregon, December 22, 1999. Available at the National Parks Gallery, National Park Service.
54.Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, Oregon), August 1, 1929. Available at Newspapers.com .
55.Our History - Order of the Eastern Star. Available at the General Grand Chapter Order of the Eastern Star®.
56.Imogene G. Bath (1862 to 1929), River View Cemetery. Available at Find-a-Grave Memorials.
57.Harper IH (editor). The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume VI. J.J. Little & Ives Company, New York, New York, 1922. [LINK]
Imogene Gertrude Bath, First Vice President of the American Woman's League, Tacoma, Washington, June 15, 1913. Image from the Scrapbook of Clara Watson Elsom, October 22, 1908 to August 27, 1938, available at PrimarilyWashington.org (Washington State Library, Washington State Archives, and Legacy Washington), Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).