There are 2,853.03 miles between Chicago, Illinois and Anchorage, Alaska. It is a journey Cornelia Templeton Jewett Hatcher would make at least nine times during her life beginning in 1909. That year Cornelia, then known as Cornelia Templeton Jewett, was the managing editor of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union’s weekly publication, The Union Signal and the 10th president of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association (IWPA). She had been sent out west to cover the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the grounds of the University of Washington, in Seattle. While there she took the opportunity to tour Alaska and would meet Robert Lee Hatcher. (Hatcher is considered the first to file a lode gold claim on Skyscraper Mountain in what is now known as “Hatcher Pass.”) A relationship between the two developed and on March 5, 1911, the couple wed, first living in Knik, before moving to Wasilla, Alaska.
In September, 2015, the National Federation of Press Women conference was held September 9-13, in Anchorage, Alaska. While it was a week filled with programs, workshops and celebration banquets, there was also an opportunity to visit and research the Anchorage Museum’s Research Center in pursuit of the personal scrapbooks Cornelia had left and her granddaughter had graciously donated to the museum. As this is the 130th anniversary year of IWPA, Cornelia’s story had been a historical feature earlier in the year. For as much as had been revealed about her in the Association’s archives, there were many questions left unanswered about Cornelia’s earlier beginnings and death. Once in Anchorage, the connection between the Illinois Woman’s Press Association (IWPA), National Federation of Press Women (NFPW), Cornelia and the Woman’s Temperance Union (WCTU) would come full circle.
Known as an American activist for women’s rights Cornelia’s roots began on January 2, 1867 in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, her Midwestern birthplace. As a 12 year-old school girl, she began setting type after class in a small shop in Appleton, Wisconsin. By the age of 18 she regularly worked in the offices of newspapers The Expositor and The Independent in Sturgeon Bay. In 1887, she went from the proofreader’s table, to reporter, to special correspondent for newspapers in Milwaukee. Her personal notes revealed she set her last stick of type for the paper announcing her first marriage in June of 1888.
In her journal she remarked, “in the fifty years that followed, I’d crossed the Continent 29 times as a writer and lecturer on subjects of special interest to women, visiting nearly every state in the Union.” She was equally proud of having delivered her topics in “places as widely separated as Chautauqua, N.Y. and Nome, Alaska.” For 13 of those years, she spoke and continued to serve as the editor of the WCTU’s Union Signal, with “a constituency of over 500,000” at that time. It was Cornelia’s personal pledge to improve the lives of women and girls. As president of the Alaskan chapter of the WCTU from 1913 until 1924, she led the campaign for women’s rights in the state convincing the Territorial Legislature to enfranchise women in 1913. Her leadership in the Temperance Movement resulted in a dry Alaska from 1918 to 1934.
Cornelia’s scrapbooks also detailed her years after Alaska and the decision she made in 1923, to move to Long Beach, California, where her “excellent reputation” convinced the newly opened YWCA to grant her a lease to operate The Colonial Beauty Shop at 1422 East Third Street. Though in appearance it might seem a wild diversion from her previous life and activities, it would be this venture that reconnected Cornelia’s early writing career as a beauty columnist for a big Chicago daily newspaper with her intense study of cosmetics and her common-sense concerns on women’s health.
After serving as the president of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, Cornelia had been made an Honorary Member of the Association and remained a close friend to Helen Miller Malloch, the 20th president of IWPA and founder of the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW). NFPW member Louise Miller Henely loving wrote about Cornelia in the October 1946 issue of The Press Woman recognizing her journey had been a life-long commitment as a “sister who serves” noting Cornelia had also become a Soroptimist, pursuing equality, peace and goodwill internationally for women. It was noted along with Cornelia’s multitude of accomplishments she was also a Daughter of Union Veterans; a member of the Eastern Star and belonged to the American Association of University Women in Washington, D.C..
The discovery of centenary remarks Cornelia had written in tribute to American educator, temperance reformer, and women’s suffragist Frances Willard (and placed inside her scrapbook) led full circle to Cornelia’s earlier days in Chicago. She candidly explained the connection between IWPA and so many feminist leaders with connections to the founding and building of the Association. Cornelia wrote, “This assignment comes to me as a sort of divine right, for the records of our Association show that Frances Willard was present at the organizing meeting of our IWPA with all the members of THE UNION SIGNAL staff. She was the editor-in-chief of that weekly publication, then almost the only periodical devoted exclusively to the interests of the home. Mary Allen West, the managing editor, was the first president of the Association serving in that capacity for seven years. Julia Ames, an associate editor, was a founding member, and I was the managing editor when I became your president in 1909. So the tie between The Union Signal and IWPA is obviously of unusual interest.”
In a February 14, 1948, edition of The Union Signal Cornelia wrote, “The WCTU and the IWPA always walked hand in hand. When the Union Signal wanted an editor it went to the Press Club, and when the Press Club wanted a president, it went to the WCTU.” Cornelia added, “The WCTU was a forerunner of many women’s club. There is hardly an enterprise in such organizations that those women of vision who founded WCTU did not forecast.”
Notes neatly penned by a friend inside her scrapbook revealed the how and why of her death in Altus, Arkansas on May 7, 1953. “We moved to Arkansas, the only state she had never visited…her vigorous years had ended and illness came over her. Her eyesight dimmed and gradually a hardening of the arteries sentenced her to a long hospitalization.”
The Cornelia Templeton Jewett Hatcher Papers, 1867-1953 contain not only photographs, clippings, typed and hand-written accounts of her lifetime but many accolades from across the country. In tribute to her death, a final remark had been added, Cornelia “lived enough for two lifetimes.”