Miss M. Louise Hunt, Assistant Librarian
April 1918 / Portland, Oregon
Elanor Catharine (Kit) Hunt on left, with sister, Marietta Louise Hunt – circa 1886
Photo courtesy of Polly Carmichael
Marietta Louise Hunt was born in Portland, Maine in 1876. She lived in 1880 at 22 Beckett St., now O’Brien St. She was born to George Albert Hunt [from Unity, Me] and Annie Rebecca Roberts [Saco St., Westbrook, Me.] She had two older brothers, Edward Marshall Hunt and William Payson Hunt. She also had a sister named Anne Roberts Hunt [Mrs. Frances] Fassett who lived in Washington State. There was also a brother named George Fessenden Hunt. George A. Hunt ran a dry goods business with the same name on Commercial Street, near the bottom of Moulton Street in Portland. Marietta Louise Hunt graduated from Portland High School in 1894 as a classmate of Governor Percival Baxter’s. According to the records from Drexel Library School, she may have taught at Portland High School for two years. She graduated from Drexel Library School, Pennsylvania in 1901.
I have been a genealogist for 34 years and often wondered what happened to the Hunt’s of Portland/Falmouth, Maine. (M.) Louise Hunt was a first cousin to my great grandfather. She used her middle name as there were many women named Marietta in the family. It was not until I discovered more details of her life did I know that she died the year that I was born, 1960. I found this info through the diary transcriptions left by William Roberts, her uncle. One entry in 1913 stated that M. Louise Hunt was on a visit from Portland, OR.
I performed a search on the Internet search engine, Google, using M. Louise Hunt and Portland, Oregon. Much to my surprise, a web page from the Oregon Historical Society popped up onto my screen. Captivated by this fascinating find, I read to find that she had lost her job in 1918 for a ‘crime’ that she committed. She finally resigned after public outcry and hysteria fueled by her refusal to participate in the purchase of Liberty Bonds, which helped to fund World War 1. The position she held as Assistant Librarian, under Miss Isom, paid $175.00 per month, a substantial income for that time period. Immediately, I contacted the Oregon Historical Society which was eager to assist me in my quest for more information. I asked about newspapers as I had to have copies of anything regarding the whole ordeal. I was not prepared at the amount of info. I would receive. There were two newspapers and they both carried articles everyday regarding the story for about eight days. I even have an editorial cartoon about the incident. Also included was a very long article in the Oregon Historical Society’s Quarterly, dated 1970 entitled, “The Conscientious Objector”.
Interestingly enough, I checked the month of April’s newspapers for Portland, Maine after she returned to Maine, only a week later and there was NO mention of the ordeal. The newspaper pages were filled with advertisements reminding readers of their obligation to support the War by their purchase of Liberty Bonds. I also read a short write-up about a man who was tarred and feathered in Michigan as a result of his refusal to purchase Liberty Bonds. The country had four Liberty Bond Campaigns, two in 1917 and two in 1918. At this time in History, there was overwhelming pressure to remain loyal to government and to become active with the War Effort. One of the largest efforts on the home front was to ‘Sell’ the War to Americans, through public advertisements, speeches and public art. There were many relief organizations and the War Bonds helped support those, including the American Red Cross. It was a time of great patriotism which swept across the Nation. Liberty Temples were built in some cities as a place to support the need for the marketing of the War.
‘Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America’ written by Sara M. Evans is filled with information from that time period. The book explained how Socialists, Radicals and Pacifists, all who opposed the war suffered unprecedented loss of civil liberties as well as freedom of speech. There were many who were incarcerated. [See Montana Sedition Project]. Susan B. Anthony’s successor, Carrie Chapman Catt, believed the Women’s movement would risk a great deal by opposing the War, so she asked that they diligently for Suffrage and also the War relief. This group supported a hospital in France, knitted socks for the soldiers and collected canned goods. They joined efforts with the Red Cross and they participated in the Liberty Bond Campaigns by purchasing them. I found this particularly of interest since M. Louise Hunt was a single woman, as many were in my family at that time; she was alone in her outspoken opposition at the Central Library. Only one person on the Library Board voted to terminate her. The rest supported her right to not participate in the Liberty Bond Campaign.
The book by Sara M. Evans stated that nearly half of all college educated women in the late nineteenth century never married. Women had greater opportunity than before to be self sustaining. Economic Independence was an option for many educated women and many chose that route.
A brief summary of events that week in April 1918 was that a Librarian, an employee on the public payroll, was forced to resign from her position as a response to public pressure towards the Library Board. There was a meeting to discuss the incident where Miss Hunt had been approached by Mr. William Bryon, Special Agent from the U.S. Dept. of Justice, and President W.B. Ayer from the Portland Library Association at the library. This matter came to light when Mr. Locke of Lang & Co. and Mr. Wilson of Hartman & Thompson were detailed by the Liberty Loan executives to ascertain why Miss Hunt had failed to subscribe to any of the Liberty Bond issues. The Following Incident transpired after Liberty loan fellows reported the incident to the Liberty Temple. The Head Librarian, Miss Isom, referred all questions to be directed towards Miss Hunt regarding her refusal to participate in the Liberty Bond Campaigns. In Miss Hunt’s office, she was interrogated by the legal firms mentioned above. Questioned why she had not participated in the 1st and 2nd campaigns, she replied that she was ill. Asked about the 3rd campaign, she replied that she did not believe in war and refused to support it. She was then interrogated about her citizenship. She answered that she came from Portland, Maine. She was asked if she did not think it was every citizen’s duty to support the War and keep our Army in France to defend her freedom. Her response was that she did not think she put patriotism above her personal feelings and that she had spoken to her attorney, Richard Montague who advised her that she was not obligated to buy Liberty Bonds. She then asked her interrogators if they were trying to coerce her into buying Bonds. They denied coercing her but they replied that it was every citizen’s duty to support the War. The Government was only asking for a loan from her at a good rate of interest. Her reply was that the rate of 4 ½ %, that some people were subscribing to the Bonds for the sole purpose of a business investment rather than a patriotic one. She was asked if she knew what the Huns were doing in France and Belgium, the cruelties they practiced with women being ravished and did she not think she should protect OUR BOYS who were fighting to protect her?
Her reply was that she was willing to suffer anything rather than buy a Bond… and if the Government wanted it, they could come and take it. She would never give them any money or loan them any voluntarily. When the incident was reported to Liberty Temple, the U.S. District Attorney, Bert Haney, was notified.
Haney’s reply was written in the newspaper.(4.12.1918)” You can quote me directly as saying emphatically that no person with such unloyal and unpatriotic tendencies, as the woman in question, should be permitted to hold a public office, irrespective of whether he is in his legal rights or not.” Mayor Baker said, “The library board must act quickly to clear the stain from the name of otherwise a loyal State.” The library held an initial meeting to deal with the serious charge against Miss Hunt. The board’s vote was 14-1, with the majority voting to support her right to refuse the purchase of Liberty Bonds. One person, Mr. Woodward, wanted her terminated from her job. Mr. W. B. Ayer, president of the library board claimed he had a conversation with Miss Isom regarding Miss Hunt. Miss Isom stated that she never heard Miss Hunt utter any disloyal or unpatriotic sentiments. She was highly efficient and this was the first complaint against her. When the public outcry became so great, various meetings were held around the city, in support of termination from her position. As a result, the Liberty Loan Committee pressured the Central Library to hold another vote. The meeting was chaos with accusations flying around the room. In the end, Miss Hunt handed in her resignation as she did not want the Library to suffer the consequences of her actions. She had great respect for that Institution and what it represented to the Community.
To give an example of the public outcry, one meeting was held which was largely attended by Men of wealth and stature. It was unanimous that steps should be taken immediately to oust Miss Hunt from her position. The paper reported one banker as saying, “If the Library officials refuse to take action, I am in favor of taking legislative or other action to Deprive the Institution of any financial support by taxpayers.” Liberty Loan Headquarters received many calls and complaints, in person, regarding her refusal to buy Bonds.
Some folks wondered how she could be a Conscientious Objector and still be on the government payroll. One article stated that the place for Miss Hunt to hold her beliefs were in the privacy of her closet. Upon further reading, I have found that some of our Country’s learning institutions even stopped teaching German during this period in time. Supporting the War was a moral issue. One newspaper article mentioned that she was a native of Maine and she had an unyielding and tenacious New England conscience and was most offensively UN-American. Some felt that she could not go anywhere, that she would be known and her record would follow her. She left Oregon forever but did secure employment at a library in Michigan and later retired from a library in Racine, Wisconsin in 1940.
The last few articles from the Oregon newspapers that week were filled with terrible comments about her. One columnist wrote,”What patriotism is in normal Americans is, in Miss Hunt, a perfect vacuum.” The journalism reflected opinion rather than fact that week. She was compared to “A Man without a Country” and some felt she was guilty of treason.
One newspaper dated April 16th, 1918 stated that, “By tending her resignation at once, the assistant librarian rescued the library board from a very unpleasant and uncomfortable situation. In taking her leave, Miss Hunt praised the library board for its ‘brave stand for freedom of conscience’. Miss Hunt having separated herself from public service, the incident, so far as she is concerned, may be considered closed. The library is under severe criticism in most quarters-for refusing to reverse or modify its ‘brave stand for freedom of conscience’. It was also written that all involved from board members to well respected community members all acted in what they believed to be sound principles of political freedom.
The Hunt incident incited a series of events where every public servant’s patriotism was questionable. It became a’ witch hunt’ of sorts. The County Commissioner’s office planned to have all public employees demonstrate their 100% allegiance to ‘Uncle Sam’. The Oregon Journal (April 18th, 1918) reported that, “It was gratifying and reassuring to witness the intensified spirit of almost universal loyalty and Americanism that has been displayed in Portland in the library case” In the end, Miss Hunt continued to travel and was very independent. Her obituary of Oct.1960, revealed no mention of her troubles in Portland, Oregon that year in 1918, but rather her academic accomplishments and her love of travel, having visited Europe several times. I cannot help but wonder what sort of headlines she would make today, if any at all. Portland, Maine was the home to such a woman of interest, and to think it was a marvelous discovery with the use of the Internet. I also contacted the Central Library and was sent a brief note explaining they had no information for me. That was a disappointment . Recently, I found that she is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Portland, Maine.
Sources include the newspapers of Portland Oregon [The Evening Telegram/The Morning Oregonian /Oregon Journal] from the week of April 13th, 1918. Oregon Historical Society Quarterly, Sept. 1970, vol.212 pages 212-245 also ‘Born for Liberty’ by Sara Evans and lastly Portland, Maine newspaper [April 18th, 1918 edition]
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