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May Arkwright Hutton: Suffrage Leader

May Arkwright Hutton

1860 – 1915

Mary “May” Arkwright Hutton was born on July 26, 1860, at Washingtonville, Ohio, a small coal mining town. At the time of May’s birth, her father, Isaac Arkwright, was married to Catherine Arkwright. Together they already had four children. Outside of his marriage, Isaac fathered May with a woman who either died or abandoned her young daughter. At the age of nine, her father removed her from school and sent her to live with her blind grandfather, where she served as his housekeeper, guide and companion. May’s grandfather was well-connected politically, and she often escorted him to numerous political meetings around town. As a result of her grandfather’s influence, May became indoctrinated at an early age to the plight of the less fortunate.

In 1883, May joined a small contingent of coal mining families from the Washingtonville area, who decided to relocate 1,800 miles across the United States to the first gold rush camp in the Coeur d’Alenes, a primitive setting called Eagle City. Here, May immediately gained employment as a cook. Within a short time the bulk of placer gold was exhausted and the rush moved approximately five miles east to a new and richer gold-bearing area named Murrayville (soon shortened to Murray). In 1884, when the population shifted from Eagle City to Murrayville, May immediately went to work for Jim Wardner, a local entrepreneur she had met during her 1883 Northern Pacific railroad trip to Idaho. Wardner had procured a saloon on the main street of Murray and set up a food counter in a back room, which May operated. During this time, she lived in a lean-to attached to the rear of the building.

By 1886, Jim Wardner had become a major player in the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mining venture, establishing Wardner Junction (later renamed Kellogg), the site of a new railroad station. Wardner influenced May’s move to that location, where she opened her own boarding house. During the spring of 1887, May met L. W. Hutton, a locomotive engineer who regularly ate at her boarding house. They married on Thanksgiving Day. A few years later, they became suddenly wealthy from their involvement in the richest silver strike of the times in the Coeur d’Alenes. Their philanthropic spirits quickly surfaced, and they became two of the greatest champions for the poor, oppressed and underprivileged in the Inland Northwest.

During the early years of their marriage, the Huttons lived in Wallace, Idaho, amidst a violent upheaval between the unions and mine owners. The Huttons were pro-union and champions of the underdog in these struggles. When the unrest turned violent in 1899, masked strikers commandeered L. W.’s train at gunpoint to haul the dynamite to blow up the concentrator mill of the non-union Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mining Company. Following the explosion, Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg sent an urgent request to President McKinley to immediately dispatch 500 regular troops to the Coeur d’Alenes. Martial law was declared, and military troops quickly and efficiently rounded up and arrested about 700 rioters, who were forced to build a stockade (known as the bull pen). L. W. was among those arrested and confined in the stockade. By relentlessly badgering the guards and the governor’s on-site representative, May was able to secure her husband’s release. This was to be a preview of May’s persuasion and tenacity.

May helped Idaho women gain the right to vote in 1896 and, in 1904, ran as a Democrat for the Idaho State Legislature. When the Huttons moved to Spokane in 1907, May became heavily involved in Washington’s suffrage movement. She wrote and lectured tirelessly, organizing and campaigning towards the 1910 state election that gave Washington women the right to vote. Upon reaching that milestone, May is claimed to have been the first Spokane woman to register to vote. She was also one of the first two women to serve on a Spokane County jury. In 1912, she attended both the state and national Democratic conventions. In addition to being one of the most politically active and famous women in the Northwest in the early 1900s, May Hutton was also one of the kindest and most ambitious. The Florence Crittenton Home for unwed mothers, the Spokane Children’s Home, and other similar charitable endeavors were recipients of May’s time and wealth.

Following a long bout with Bright’s disease (a kidney condition), on October 6, 1915, at the age of 55, May died in her home at 2206 East 17th Avenue. Al, in loving remembrance, designed her tombstone, half rough and half smooth, to signify a life half-finished.


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