Catharine Paine Blaine
Shortly after their marriage, the couple was assigned to a ten year appointment to the Oregon Methodist Conference. On their arrival, David and Catharine were posted to Seattle in Washington Territory.
Both Blaines regretted leaving their families, but believed they had been called to religious work. Blaine’s post in the west was as minister to the settlers of the area. The Blaines discussion about how to travel to the Northwest — via the Isthmus of Panama or overland — reflected Catharine’s desire to use the time for self-improvement and perhaps teaching.1 As a “honeymoon” tour, the trip encompassed a nearly two month voyage on the Steamer Ohio from New York, across the Isthmus of Panama and then on the steamer Panama to San Francisco. After arriving in Olympia on the barque Mary Melville, they were re-assigned to Seattle, which was “very desirous” for a minister.
Blaine preached his first sermon at Alki, now present day West Seattle, on November 27, 1853 — receiving a collection of $12.50 from a group of about 30. The Blaines went then to Seattle via canoe. There the couple stayed for three weeks with the Arthur A. and Mary Ann Boren Denny family in a two-room cabin along with the Dennys and their four children at what is now First and Marion in Seattle. The A. A. Denny family members were staunch Methodists. With other members of the Denny and Boren families, they were among the earliest American settlers to Seattle, arriving in the fall of 1851 after an overland trip on the Oregon Trail and a voyage by water from Portland, Oregon to Seattle. In 1853, after the creation of Washington Territory, Denny was elected to the first Territorial Legislature House of Representatives.
Denny introduced a proposal for woman suffrage in Washington Territory as part of the first legislative session in 1854 in Olympia. The proposal failed by one vote, presaging continued debate. Denny also introduced a petition signed by 49 residents in support of a prohibitionary liquor law.2 Whether A. A. Denny introduced these measures while influenced by the Blaines is unknown. What is known is that the Blaines, Dennys, and one other member formed the entirety of the Methodist congregation in Seattle in 1854; that the literature sent to the Blaines went through Denny’s post office, and that Denny gave the Blaines their garden plot. The ideas of the Seneca Falls convention came to Washington Territory in the person of Catharine Blaine, who remained interested in woman suffrage and Washington for the rest of her life. To learn more about the history of women’s right to vote in Washington, see WHC's suffrage information.
The Blaines found church organization slow. With only 30 houses and 20 settler families when the Blaines arrived, services were first conducted in the “Bachelor’s Hall” built by W. G. Latimer near what is now First and Cherry in Seattle. David Blaine’s preaching style was not of the highest order — even by his wife’s accounts — but he was assigned not only to Seattle but to outlying settlements. By 1854, there were 13 members in his congregation but only eight in 1855 — Blaine was paid $460 in 1854 and $273 in 1855.3 Carson Boren, an early American settler, donated land for a church and parsonage at the southeast corner of Second and Columbia in what is now the Pioneer Square Area. The Blaines, wary of going into debt, solicited funds for a new church, even from visiting ship captains.
Married ministers were in great demand because their wives’ work helped to provide for the ministers’ bread and board while also fulfilling church housekeeping and teaching duties for Sunday school. By many accounts, the Blaines brought some of the first fruit trees to Seattle, carrying seeds with them from New York and sending home for more seed on arrival.4 While they planted a garden and rented a house, they lived in a wing of the house being built for them. When it was completed, Catharine Blaine likened it to a “house in the states.” Their house was described as the only “whitewashed” house in town, where at times visitors came with rolled blankets to spend the night — a practice that shocked Catharine at first, but to which she became accustomed. Catharine also taught the first Sunday or Sabbath School in Seattle organized in April 1854 by the Blaines, Edmund Carr, Dorcas Phillips and Olivia Holgate. The school was attended by the young people of the town as well as older residents.5
As veteran “Sabbath School” teacher, Catharine Blaine also supplemented the family income through teaching a subscription school for community children in January, 1854 at the community’s request. The session lasted three months at $65.00 a month per child. One parent with two children signed for $100.00.6 She conducted the school at the Bachelor’s Hall (Latimer Building) and then later in her home after it was completed in 1855. Thus she became Seattle’s first teacher to Mary, Susan, and Eliza Mercer, Laura, Olive and Virginia Bell, Ursula and George McConaha, William Smith, Hulda Phillips, Rebecca Horton, Robie [Ruby] Willard and Louisa (Kate) and Nora Denny — 14 in all who used McGuffey’s Reader, Mitchell’s Geography, and Davis’ Arithmetic as school books.7 Notably Nora Denny and Rebecca Horton and were among the students at the University of the Territory of Washington in 1862.8 Blaine conducted the second session of school in 1855 in her home, taking care of household duties as well, except on Mondays when school closed for washday. Reverend Blaine also added to family income as the deputy County Auditor, recording property transactions in the new King County. With a salary paid in advance in the East, the Blaines arrived with $350 to invest. By one account, Blaine invested $200.00 in Henry Yesler’s sawmill, the first in Seattle.9 The Blaines also wrote home to family members about investment opportunities in Seattle.
In their letters, the Blaines shared their feeling of loss of family and friends. They stayed connected to their home through letters and through the Methodist and New York papers delivered to them in Seattle. Among them were The Seneca County Courier, for which David Blaine wrote intermittent articles about Seattle, and The Lily, the reform newspaper edited by Amelia Bloomer, which advocated education for women, marriage law reform, and temperance.10
The Blaines conveyed information about the newly forming government of the territory in their letters to family. When a law was passed to allow the male children of American settlers and Native women to vote, Catharine Blaine chronicled her reaction: “A question immediately arose in my mind as to whether women ought to congratulate ourselves that we were not associated politically with such a set or whether we ought to feel aggrieved that the highest privilege that can be conferred on citizens should be proffered to the most degraded and abandoned race possible to be imagined and withheld from us.”11 This reaction echoed a grievance in the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments: “He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners.” Blaine also decried the first territorial legislature’s failure to enact the Maine law regulating the production and sale of liquor, as New York State had in the same year 1854.
The Blaines excoriated the behavior and manners of Native Americans and non-Native men who lived with or married Indian women.12 After a Native American woman committed suicide because she was unhappy with her white partner, leaving two young children, Reverend Blaine refused to preside at her burial because they were not married.13 Their families in the East expressed disapproval of their lack of Christian sympathy for the Native Americans. Reverend Blaine responded, “Once we could have hoped to do them good, but alas, they are almost undoubtedly beyond our reach.”14 The Blaines were no less critical of the “backwoodsmen” who lived in the area who were immune to their ministry and made the “Sabbath as common as any day.”15
Catharine kept busy with housewifely duties, describing their garden and farm animals and foods she cooked or preserved. Her time in Seattle was not easy, she said of it, “A woman who cannot endure almost as much as a horse has no business here . . .”16 Catharine was not complimentary about the housekeeping of some of the church members. Likewise, Catharine bemoaned the deportment of the parishioners when the church was dedicated in May, 1855 — they left muddy footprints and mothers let their children climb on the seats, she said.17 The Blaines felt they needed to set an example for Seattle settlers, but as a young woman, Catharine Blaine was especially hungry for news of fashions from Seneca Falls — inquiring about the proper length of a “frill” or the kind of sleeves that were in vogue. Only one woman, Mrs. Captain James Alden, Jr. who accompanied her husband on a U.S. Naval Survey ship, the Active to Seattle, was a “true lady” in Catharine’s view, with a well-furnished cabin and all the comforts of home.18
Catharine gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son, on January 20, 1856 at a difficult time. On January 26, 1856, area tribes attacked Seattle during the Puget Sound Indian War. The U.S. Sloop of War Decatur, anchored in the bay, provided military support. While Reverend Blaine allowed the church to be used for defense, Blaine and her baby were carried in a rocking chair out to the ship. Other settlers stayed in blockhouses in Seattle. Catharine and her baby went back and forth from the Decatur to Seattle in a small boat for over a month. However the Methodist Church posted the family to Portland, Oregon by March, 1856. In their sudden departure due to the Indian conflict, they packed a letter in Seattle that they finished in Portland weeks later. Selling their cows and some furniture, they left the rest in the house, which they rented for $100 a year. Later reminiscences by Catharine Blaine (A Frontier Sketch) and by a contemporary, Thomas Prosch, (David E. Blaine and Catharine P. Blaine) provide accounts of the period. A University of Washington master’s thesis on early education in Seattle by Ray Octave Malo, Junior, The Life of Catharine P. Blaine: First School Teacher in Seattle is a source for her work during the time. Other reminiscences by Arthur and Mary Ann Boren Denny granddaughters Sophie Frye Bass, in When Seattle Was a Village and Pig-Tail Days and Roberta Frye Watt, in Four Wagons West, relate incidents from the Blaine’s period in Seattle.
Commodore T. S. Phelps' drawing of Seattle, January 1856. The drawing marks the location of the Methodist Church (at left). Museum of History and Industry.