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The White Ribbon Sisterhood

Who would believe a woman who married just days after she turned 16 to a man nearly twice her age would become a leader of the women's movement in Southern Oregon?

The mother of 10 children and pregnant with another in 1880, 42-year-old Ann Haseltine Hill Russell joined with other women activists in a campaign against demon rum.

They gathered 250 signatures on a petition demanding recently opened saloons in Ashland be closed and that the town remain "dry." But they were only partially successful.

The following year, the temperance advocates set their sights on an unlicensed saloon on Granite Street. The ladies entered the establishment and politely asked owner Frank Horsely to stop selling alcohol. Frank smiled and gave each woman a glass of something that smelled a lot like whiskey, and then he watched as the ladies walked outside and dumped his liquor in the dusty street.

An old story, attributed to no one, says that after a picket line of women in rocking chairs passed their time for a few days in front of Frank's saloon, Frank finally gave up and sold out to the ladies for $300.

By 1884, Ann Russell already had organized a local temperance society, but because of the distance between Ashland and the Women's Christian Temperance Union conventions that were being held in Northern Oregon, none of the local women were attending.

In 1886, the state organization had heard of Ann's efforts and asked her to organize a county auxiliary to the W.C.T.U. She called for a meeting on May 29 at the Ashland Baptist Church of all temperance workers who "can lend a hand."

"I was the first president when it took grit to face saloon opposition," she wrote. "Even ministers were loathe to consent to the use of their churches for temperance lectures."

She had crossed the Plains at age 14, living in Salem for a few months, before coming to Ashland in the spring of 1853.

There weren't many young ladies in the area at the time, and James Russell was drawn to Ann. She particularly liked the potatoes he brought back from his packing trips to Portland and was more than happy to help him with laundry and sewing. They married May 9, 1854.

James eventually began quarrying marble near Coleman Creek and opened a marble works on the Ashland Plaza. While he carved cemetery markers, he taught Ann how he did it.

"He taught me to cut the inscriptions on the stones," she said. "I soon became very skillful."

When a boulder crippled one of James' legs, Ann took over the business and continued it for the rest of her life.

In 1893, Ann combined her stone-cutting talent with her temperance passion by carving a marble, white-ribbon bow, the symbol of the W.C.T.U. — what the ladies called the White Ribbon Sisterhood.

Russell's marble bow was featured in the W.C.T.U. exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and then was given to the Willard House in Illinois, home of former National W.C.T.U president Frances Willard, and a museum since 1900.

Russell carved a duplicate and placed it on a parlor table in her home — "to testify for the politics of the house," she told a W.C.T.U. historian.

The duplicate ribbon now overlooks Emigrant Lake, marking the Hill-Dunn Cemetery grave of Ann Russell's youngest child, Pearl Russell Potter Wiley.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

Carved in the early 1890s by Ashland's Ann Russell, the white marble ribbon was placed on her youngest child's grave when Pearl died in 1965.