Artifact of the Month
Artifact of the Month: September 2021

Unpacking Mary A. C. Gibson's Story

While developing the traveling exhibit, Alaska's Suffrage Star, State Museum staff contacted Ketchikan Museums to learn more about Mary A. C. Gibson. Hailing from Ketchikan, Gibson is believed to be the first woman to run for statewide office in Alaska. Given this accomplishment we expected to find a record of her in the Museum's archives and were surprised when our research only turned up a couple mentions of her in early city directories. With some creative investigation, a story began to unfold about her role in politics.

In 1914, only a year after women citizens in the newly formed Territory of Alaska were granted the right to vote, Gibson ran as an independent candidate for the Territorial House. At the time, Mary was a stenographer and notary public. Her platform supported women's rights and fisheries issues. Mary advocated that women be allowed to serve on juries, which became law in 1923, and to obligate a husband to financially support his wife and children. Perhaps more controversial was her denouncement of fish traps. Mary's husband was a fisherman and member of the Southeastern Alaska Fisherman's Association, where she served as secretary of the Ketchikan division. She proposed legislation to close existing fish traps and prevent future ones, discourage fish waste, and six months of residency for the right to fish Alaskan waters.

Mary's campaign was popular with fishermen and women alike. As votes were being tallied, though, she expressed outrage that some of her numbers were credited to opponent Gilbert Mann. Ultimately she did not win. It was not until 1937 that a woman, Nell Scott Chadwick, would serve on the Territorial Legislature.

Alaska's Suffrage Star will be on exhibit at the Tongass Historical Museum until Sunday September 12. The exhibit is scheduled to appear in various locations in downtown Ketchikan from September 13 - October 1 and Ketchikan High School from October 4 - October 28.

Image credit:
The Saturday Mail, 11/7/1914
Ketchikan Museums Newspaper Collection
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Gibson editorial - The Saturday Mail 11/7/1914Gibson editorial - The Saturday Mail 11/7/1914
Newspaper front page - The Saturday Mail 11/7/1914Newspaper front page - The Saturday Mail 11/7/1914