Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ernestine "Nan" Coughran Strandborg, 1876-1966
By Ali Zaidi, undergraduate student, University of Maryland, College Park
Ernestine "Nan" Coughran was born on October 17, 1876 in Mariposa County, California. In her twenties, she worked as a journalist in San Francisco, Butte, Honolulu and Seattle. At age 31, she married William Peter Strandborg in Portland, Oregon. Their January 26, 1907 wedding was attended by Dr. Elsie Patton, Nan's sister Miss Lucile Coughran, and J.J. Harrison who worked for the Evening Telegram. At the time of their wedding, Nan listed her occupation as "newspaper writer" and William listed his occupation as "newspaper man." The couple likely met through work on the Seattle Star newspaper. According to Bureau of Land Management records, Nan was granted a land patent in Douglas County, Oregon, in 1909.
Nan Strandborg was a suffrage advocate who used her journalism and publicity skills to help facilitate the passage of a state amendment in 1912. As a member of the Portland Women's Club, she joined a seven-person campaign committee for equal suffrage organized after hearing a rousing speech renowned suffragist Abigail Scott Duniway. The committee was led by Sara Evans, Grace Watt Ross, and Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, but they wisely picked Nan Strandborg to head up press and publicity. When the committee established a headquarters in the Rothchild building, they received free furnishings from a supportive local business. Other department stores in the area pledged their support for the cause through window displays and advertisements. They also ordered ten thousand buttons for supporters of their cause. ("Women Urge Suffrage"). Nan took on the role of executive secretary of the committee, putting out press releases about the suffrage campaign twice a week, making sure that newspapers throughout the state were aware of new developments (Jensen, "Neither Head Nor Tail to the Campaign"). Historian Kimberly Jensen's research has uncovered that Nan Strandborg wrote to Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy over thirty years after the 1912 campaign, remembering Lovejoy as "our star speaker and chief money-raiser" and referring to herself as "the one who chased after you with the handkerchiefs, parasol, pocket-books, and other little impediments you were always leaving behind in the mad rush to luncheon clubs and anywhere else we could line you up for a platform blast!" (qtd. in Oregon's Doctor to the World, 104). In Nan's mind, it was Lovejoy's oratorical skills coupled with her willingness to perform traditional femininity (which she believed contrasted strongly with more established suffragists like Duniway) that ultimately persuaded men voters in Oregon to adopt the suffrage amendment in November 1912. Though she was often behind-the-scenes, it is clear that Nan's advertising and publicity prowess was instrumental in gaining support for the campaign.
After the 1912 campaign, Nan remained in the public eye through her work in publicity. In 1913, she served as a judge of parade floats and motorcycles in the Rose Festival Parade, which drew up to 30,000 people from Oregon and surrounding states. She was active in the Portland Women's Ad Club and was part of a delegation that traveled to San Diego for a convention of Pacific Coast advertising clubs. Nan appears to have spent the rest of her career in Portland, where she lived until her death on June 15, 1966 at the age of 89.
Biographical information was gathered via census data, marriage license, city directories, and death certificate using Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest. Note that Ernestine Coughran Strandborg's name was often misspelled, and she regularly used her nickname, Nan. Information about her land patent is available here: https://thelandpatents.com/owners/865656. Researchers should visit the University of Oregon's Historical Oregon Newspaper database (https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/), 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, were particularly instructive for this bio-sketch: "Ernestine Coughran now Mrs. Strandborg," The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 8 February 1907. Library of Congress Chronicling America; "Women Urge Suffrage," Oregonian 24 February 1912; "Suffrage Forces Divide," Portland Evening Telegram, 16 March 1912; "30,000 Expected at Rose Festival," Morning Oregonian, 7 June 1913. As noted, Kimberly Jensen's scholarship on Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy is very useful for understanding this moment in Oregon Suffrage History. See " 'Neither Head Nor Tail to the Campaign:' Esther Pohl Lovejoy and the Oregon Woman Suffrage Victory of 1912," Oregon History Quarterly 108.3 (2007): 350-383; Oregon's Doctor to the World: Esther Pohl Lovejoy and a Life in Activism (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012).