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Skagit River Journal

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Miss Josephine M. Bradley
Skagit County's First Superintendent of Schools

(Miss Bradley)
A photo of Miss Bradley survives. She was described as five feet five inches tall with brown hair and eyes. Contemporaries said of Miss Bradley that "she was such a sedate, dignified lady" and that she was "beyond our age." This latter statement was thought to have been made by very young teachers about sixteen to seventeen years of age who were taking teacher examinations from Miss Bradley, a member of the examining board for teachers.

By Claudia A. Lowman, M.Ed. ©2008
Skagit County's first elections
      On November 28, 1883, Governor Newell of the Territory of Washington officially approved the separation of what is now Skagit County from Whatcom County by signing into law the Creating Act. Suddenly an entire slate of new officers was needed to fill positions for the fledgling county. With that in mind, ad hoc commissioners B.H. Bruns, F.E. Gilkey and H.A. March met and designated a date for a special election to be held on the second Tuesday in January of 1884.
      Party caucus conventions conducted in December of 1883 were held at LaConner and were "unusually harmonious" probably owing to the fact that for the previous five years political energy of area Republicans and Democrats had been focused on annexing Skagit County and less so on party differences. To emphasize this point, a conference of key Republicans and Democrats preceded the conventions to negotiate putting up some candidates for office to run unopposed. Nominations for the county offices of sheriff, assessor, coroner and auditor were single-party ones with no attempt, as agreed upon, by the other party to nominate candidates.
      While some nominations were single-party, Republicans and Democrats each selected their own candidates to run for the office of Skagit County Superintendent of Schools. While still a part of Whatcom County, county commissioners set standards for the various offices. The main qualification for superintendent was a first grade teaching certification. The Republicans nominated George E. Hartson of Mount Vernon who currently held the same position for Whatcom County before annexation; the Democrats nominated Miss Josephine M. Bradley, a teacher who held the necessary certification. As the incumbent, Mr. Hartson had the advantage to be elected over Miss Bradley, a political newcomer and single woman teacher who was just twenty-one years of age.
      But here in newly formed Skagit County, this particular year was a propitious moment in time where incumbency faced women's suffrage. In 1884, and for only a few years thereafter, women in Territorial Washington had the right to vote. Women could attend party caucuses, be nominated for office and rightfully vote for candidates of their choice. This unique opportunity meant that a woman could be elected to Skagit County's highest education office — if a majority of voters would support Miss Bradley's candidacy.
      By today's travel standards, the first Skagit County campaign was conducted very primitively. Lacking bridges, paved roads, public transportation, the invention of automobiles, and small motorboats candidates sought support from voters by canvassing on foot, horseback and rowboat to distant settlements on Guemes, Fidalgo and Samish Islands and to remote locations in the upper Skagit River Valley. Campaigning that winter in 1884 must have been a very cold, arduous, and time consuming endeavor, especially for the young Miss Bradley. Finally, when the votes were cast, the following results for superintendent were returned from voting locations around the county: Mr. G.E. Hartson won 262 votes; Miss Josephine Bradley received 304 votes — a 42-vote advantage. A woman became the county's first Superintendent of Skagit County Schools.

Mary Carter's profile of Josephine
      Miss Mary Carter, a long time teacher at Anacortes High School from the mid 1920s through the mid 1950s, once wrote a report on Josephine Bradley and it is from her paper that important information and this photo of Skagit's first superintendent survives. Presumably Miss Carter presented her paper to a local women's group in Anacortes at which Mrs. Jean Lowman was present. Miss Carter and Mrs. Lowman both knew Josephine Bradley's nieces who were the daughters of Mrs. Kate Bradley Whitney, Josephine's older sister. Through her connection with the Whitneys, Miss Carter must have been given this photo of Josephine. Fortunately for interested historians, Mrs. Lowman filed both Miss Carter's faded three-page paper (typed on onionskin paper) and the black and white photo with Anacortes School Board notes. Mrs. Lowman's file was passed down two more generations after her death in 1993 and has now come to light.

Josephine Bradley's family
      Josephine Bradley, or Josie as her friends and family called her, was four months shy of her twenty-second birthday when she assumed the office of superintendent. She was born on May 11, 1862, in Callaway County, Missouri but never knew life in that state because her parents, Matilda "Josephine" (May) and Valentine Bradley left their home and property that same year with the goal of re-establishing themselves in Washington Territory.
      Valentine Bradley and Josephine May married in Livingston County, Missouri, on June 12, 1853. Within a few years of the couple's marriage, Valentine Bradley sought land grants in nearby Callaway County. He, along with several Bradley relatives, located and grew crops there and settled in to raise their families in the rural community.
      Like many of the residents of Callaway County, Valentine Bradley came from an upper Southern State — Virginia. In fact, most of Callaway County was settled by former Virginians, Kentuckians and Tennesseans who "brought slaves and slaveholding traditions with them, and quickly started cultivating crops" such as tobacco and hemp. "Callaway was one of several counties to the north and south of the Missouri River settled mostly by southerners in the early antebellum years. Given their culture and traditions, this area became known as Little Dixie and Callaway was at its heart. In 1860 slaves made up 25 percent or more of the county's population. Residents generally supported the Confederacy during the Civil War."
      The 1860 Federal Census for Callaway County, Missouri indicates that Valentine Bradley, age 30, raised tobacco. Two laborers were living in his household to help with the farm work. While there is no mention of Mr. Bradley owning slaves it seems likely that he was inclined toward Southern ways and customs
      We do not know why the Bradley family left Missouri to become pioneers in Washington; the 1860 census reveals he was doing reasonably well with real estate estimated at $2,000 and personal property of $1,000 — very favorable for the times. He was also established and connected to the area with kin as well as his own growing family that included four daughters. Josie, the fifth daughter, was born two years after the 1860 census was enumerated. These factors would have inclined the Bradleys to stay put. So, why did Valentine and Josephine Bradley suddenly pull up stakes and leave Missouri?

The Bradleys leave Missouri in 1862
      Perhaps the family's decision to leave Callaway County centered on the Civil War. Missourians were deeply split in their loyalties to the North and South. Once peaceful and law-abiding families became cautious and even fearful of friends and neighbors whose loyalties passionately differed from their own. Marauding bands of guerillas burned homes and razed farmlands of those who supported or aided the other side. Confederate Major General Sterling Price's appointment to head the notorious Missouri State Guard, which later merged into the Army of the West, is a case in point. His raids and attacks struck fear in the hearts of ordinary citizens who may have been in his swath of destruction. Who was next? Who could your family trust? Where would all this lead? In short, Missouri was a dangerous state in which to live in the early 1860's; it was not a safe place to raise families and successfully see crops to through to harvest.
      In the last half of 1862 the Bradleys left Missouri and traveled to New York, boarded a ship bound for the Isthmus of Panama, traveled overland to the Pacific Coast side of that country and boarded another ship that would eventually take them to Washington. In 1863 the family settled in the Penn's Cove area of Whidbey Island near Oak Harbor. The Territory of Washington must have seemed a safe and sane refuge compared to Missouri.
      In the coming years, three more children were born to Valentine and Josephine on Whidbey Island: Madeline "May," Arthur "Henry" and <Robert "Lee" Bradley joined older sisters Lucy E., Nancy Katherine "Kate," Mary "Constance," Margaret "Eliza," and Josephine "Josie" May Bradley. Settling on Whidbey was not the final destination, however. Nine years later, the Bradleys pulled up stakes again. The pioneering family took up new claims near the mouth of the Stillaquamish River during the period when settlers were reclaiming tidal flats for use as fertile farmlands.
      But the promise of yet another new beginning took a tragic turn. Valentine, now about forty-one years of age, died Oct. 14, 1871. This left Mrs. Matilda "Josephine" Bradley, Josie's mother and namesake, to manage for herself and bring up the children. Mrs. Bradley never married again but she managed to bring up educated, confident and responsible children to adulthood whose influence was felt in the early days of the area and, consequently, well-documented in Snohomish and Skagit history.
      As an example, in 1872 the second Bradley daughter, Kate (who later married Rienzi E. Whitney about whom much has been written in Skagit County history) became the first teacher in Snohomish's District No. 3 when it was newly organized. She conducted school in the log cabin home of Willard Sly. It is likely that Kate's small stipend eased, to an extent, the family income after Mr. Bradley's demise.
      About ten years after the death of Valentine Bradley, Mrs. Bradley moved her family to LaConner. While they were residents of LaConner, three of the younger children attended the Alden Academy, a pioneer boarding school in Anacortes. The three Bradley children who attended this early school were: Josie, May and Henry. Interestingly, some years later Kate Bradley Whitney purchased the Alden School and surrounding acreage and, after living in the school for a few years, eventually pulled it down (in 1907) and built a beautiful, spacious home on the property. That home still stands at the corner of 32nd and Heart Lake Road.

(Kate Bradley Rienzi's home)
      Photo taken by Claudia A. Lowman, May 2008, of Kate Bradley Whitney’s home at the corner of 32nd and Heart Lake Road.

      Education was important to the Bradley family. All seemed to have attended school and at least three of the daughters (Kate, Josie and May) were teachers. Kate Bradley Whitney later served on the Anacortes School Board for many years and it was in her husband’s (Rienzi E. Whitney) honor that the Whitney Elementary School (12th and M Ave) was named.

Josephine Bradley, educator and superintendent
      Under Miss Josephine Bradley's leadership, the first teacher examinations were held in LaConner on February 14, 1884. Along with Miss Bradley, the other members of the examining board included Henry McBride, who later became Governor of Washington State, and Emily Hagadorn who taught at one time at the Alden Academy, mentioned in this paper. (As a side note, Josie's youngest brother, R. Lee Bradley indicated in a biography that Mr. McBride was once his teacher when the family lived in LaConner.)
      At this first formal teacher examination the following certificates were issued to new teachers: Second class certificates: Eva Wallace, May Bradley [Josie's sister], Edith Peck and Alice Foster. Third grade certificate: Leila Turner.
      Certificates also awarded later in 1884: Miss Carrie Shumway (March 28), Mrs. Tina Hartson (April 3), Miss Mabel Peryn (May 12), and Miss Jessie Williams (June 5). On August 13 and 14, third grade certificates were issued to: Mrs. Henry Umbarger, Miss Jessie Williams, Miss Mabel Peryn, Miss Hattie Ball and Miss Lillie Wallace.
      Miss Josephine Bradley's office issued a notice of the first county educational institute in a weekly newspaper that read as follows:

      The first session of the Skagit County Teachers Institution will be held in LaConner on Aug. 7, 8 and 9, beginning at 9 a.m. Section 18 of the Washington School law provides that all teachers holding certificates shall attend the institute during the full time and participate in the work. The regular meetings for the examination of teachers, as provided in Section 25 of the school law, will be held in LaConner Aug. 13 and 14, 1884, beginning at 9 a.m.
      As an administrator, Miss Bradley demonstrated organizational skills and on-task leadership. Under her direction as Superintendent of Skagit County Schools, county teachers were trained to the highest standards of the day. The program of the first Skagit County Institute in LaConner from August 7-9, 1884, details that first three-day session as follows:

Thursday, August 7
Morning Session: 1. Opening exercises 2. Enrolling members 3. Primary reading 4. Methods of spelling
Afternoon Session: 1. Oral geography 2. Primary arithmetic 3. Primary grammar
Evening Session: 1. Music 2. Recitation 3. Address given by Professor O.P. Lee of the Territorial University

Friday, August 8
Morning Session: 1. Review questions 2. Methods of teaching history 3. Fractions, method of teaching
Afternoon Session: 1. Daily program in the school room 2. Elocution or advance reading 3. Grammar 4. Critic's report
Evening Program: 1. Music 2. Recitation 3. Address by D.J. Powell, President of Territorial University

Saturday, August 9
Morning Session: 1. School government 2. Shall corporal punishment be abolished from the school room? 3. Methods of conduction recitations 4. Critic's report
"Saturday evening exercises will consist of the elocutionary entertainment, the meetings of the institute will be held in he Public School House. All the teachers in the county are required by law to attend punctually all sessions of the institute. The general public and all who are interested are cordially invited to attend and participate in the discussion of the various questions coming before the gathering of teachers."
      Josephine Bradley, Superintendent of Skagit County, Professor L.J. Powell, Conductor of the Institute

Josephine Bradley's final months
      In December and January of 1883 and 1884 when Miss Bradley canvassed for the office of superintendent and then again when she supervised county teachers and visited schools scattered around the county, she was often exposed to the elements. Executing her duties took her over long distances, crude trails and often in rain, mostly by horseback. After a particularly arduous trip in driving rain, Josephine Bradley developed pneumonia and, in her weakened condition, contracted consumption. Consumption is what we call tuberculosis today.
      Josie Bradley held the position of Skagit County School Superintendent for less than one year. When elections were held at the regular time in the fall of 1884 Mr. G.E. Hartson, Miss Bradley's Republican opponent in January of the same year, handily won the election. He garnered 901 votes. It is not clear from An Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties which candidates ran opposed because only winners and their vote counts were listed. Did Miss Bradley run against Mr. Hartson? Probably not. Most likely Miss Bradley did not run for office again because she had fallen too ill to continue in her professional pursuits.
      In the 1800s consumption meant certain death — it was just a question of time. Josephine Bradley must have been very ill when her term was up. She died on March 27, 1885, barely a year after her initial election and only months from the conclusion of her tenure. Miss Josephine Bradley's official turn at heading up Skagit County schools lasted a mere ten months.
      The following death notice appeared in one of Washington's newspapers [newspaper not identified by Miss Mary Carter in her report, but likely a Seattle paper]:

      "Miss Josephine Bradley, late superintendent of schools in Skagit County, died of consumption at Seattle on Friday, March 27th.
      If she had survived just six more weeks, Josephine Bradley would have been twenty-three years old on her upcoming birthday on May 11, 1885.

Josephine M. Bradley's life in perspective and women's suffrage
      While Josephine Bradley lived a short life, her election as the first Superintendent of Skagit County Schools came at a particularly interesting and opportune juncture in Washington history. ". . . in 1883 both houses of the Washington Territorial Legislature passed women's suffrage. Governor William Newell signed the bill into law on November 23, 1883." This means that only five days after Governor Newell signed the suffrage bill into law, Skagit County officially came into existence. A week after Skagit County became an official entity, special county commissioners called for the county's first election to take place on January 8, 1884 — an election in which women could fully participate.
      When the party caucus conventions convened, one woman's name appeared on the whole slate of candidates for both parties — Miss Josephine M. Bradley, Democrat. To be selected to run, Miss Bradley must have attended the Democratic Party caucus in LaConner. No doubt Josephine Bradley's background played a vital role in achieving her nomination. Between the pioneering spirit of her family (which took chances by relocating to Washington and then starting over a second time in the new territory) and the modeling of her widowed mother who finished bringing up an accomplished family of eight children on her own, Josephine Bradley developed a take-charge, can-do attitude.
      Given the fact that suffrage was new to territorial Washington and general election votes are secret in their execution, there is no way to know what impact the women's vote played in Miss Bradley's election in 1884. Only forty-two votes out of a total of 566 votes cast separated the two candidates. Many people vote on party lines so perhaps her successful election was a combination of party vote combined with just enough support from women who took advantage of this moment in time. We will never know.
      You might think that putting up a woman for a Skagit County office was a sign of progressive thought in the territory, and maybe it was, to an extent. But women's right to vote only lasted a short time. In 1887 the Washington Territorial Supreme Court revoked suffrage. It was reinstated briefly in 1888 with limitations (women were denied the right to sit on juries and, as before, only White women could vote) but then suffrage was voided that same year. Winning women's' rights was a hard-fought struggle in the state's history but championed by visits from leaders in the movement by the likes of Susan B. Anthony who saw the possibilities in this state for success.
      While women's right to vote seems a natural state of affairs to those of us who followed in later generations, changes in basic human rights seldom come easy; they are perceived as threats to the status quo by those in power. Suffrage for women in Territorial Washington was given and taken away as it was challenged in various court cases. Finally in the end, after fifty years as a territory and then as a state, "Washington was the first state in the 20th century and the fifth state in the Union to enact women's suffrage. Washington women's success in 1910 helped inspire the campaign that culminated in passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, when women won the right to vote nationally."
      We don't know what Miss Josephine M. Bradley might have accomplished, had she lived beyond her early twenties. Having come from an educated, confident and pioneering family perhaps she might have challenged more of the status quo of the times. However, her personal focus was on the quality of education for students of Skagit County and probably less on championing women's rights. She was more of a doer than a mover and shaker. Still, having accomplished so much in her short life, one wonders what she might have done, given another twenty-two years of life. Certainly Miss Josephine M. Bradley's life, though significant in Skagit County history, was a life lived too short.


1.      Josephine M. Bradley, a report by Miss Mary Carter, page 1. [Return]

2.      An Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties, Published by Interstate Publishing, 1906, page 174. [Return]

3.      An Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties, page 174. [Return]

4.      Josephine M. Bradley, a report by Miss Mary Carter, from the archives of Jean Perry Lowman, page 1. [Return]

5.      Josephine M. Bradley, a report by Miss Mary Carter, page 1. [Return]

6.      An Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties, page 177. [Return]

7.      From the research of family genealogist Ruthann Dunagan posted online at the WorldConnect Project, (August 2008) [Return]

8.      Hon. R. Lee Bradley" (biography), An Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties, Published by Interstate Publishing, 1906, page 635. [Return]

9.      Marriage date and location from [Return]

10.      Wikipedia, the free online dictionary, about Callaway County, Missouri. (August 2008) [Return]

11.      Wikipedia, Callaway County, Missouri. (August 2008) [Return]

12.      Wikipedia, the free online dictionary, about Major General Sterling Price (August 2008) [Return]

13.      "Hon. R. Lee Bradley" (biography), An Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties, Published by Interstate Publishing, 1906, page 635. (And see a reprint in another Bradley story in Journal Issue 45.) [Return]

14.      1870 Federal Census report for Whidbey Island. [Return]

15.      "Hon. R. Lee Bradley" (biography), above. [Return]

16.      "Hon. R. Lee Bradley" (biography), above. [Return]

17.      Our Pioneer Ancestors of the Stillaguamish Valley and of Snohomish County, Washington, Volume I, compiled and published by the Stillaquamish Valley Genealogical Society, 1997, page 69. [Return]

18.      The Anacortes Story compiled by Dan Wollam, published by the Anacortes Museum of History and Art, Second Printing, 1975, page 21. [Return]

19.      The Anacortes Story compiled by Dan Wollam. [Return]

20.      Josephine M. Bradley, a report by Miss Mary Carter, from the archives of Jean Perry Lowman, page 1. [Return]

21.      "Hon. R. Lee Bradley" (biography), above. [Return]

22.      Josephine M. Bradley, a report by Miss Mary Carter, from the archives of Jean Perry Lowman, page 1-2. [Return]

23.      Josephine M. Bradley, a report by Miss Mary Carter, page 3. [Return]

24.      An Illustrated History of Skagit & Snohomish Counties, Published by Interstate Publishing, 1906, page 177 [Return]

25.      Josephine M. Bradley, a report by Miss Mary Carter, page 3. [Return]

26.      Josephine M. Bradley, a report by Miss Mary Carter, page 3. [Return]

27.      "The Fight for Washington Women's Suffrage, A Brief History," by Shanna Stevenson, an online WashingtonWomen's article updated on August 23, 2007 [Return]

28.      "The Fight for Washington Women's Suffrage, A Brief History," by Shanna Stevenson. [Return]

29.      "The Fight for Washington Women's Suffrage, A Brief History," by Shanna Stevenson. [Return]

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Story posted on Dec. 15, 2008, last updated March 3, 2009
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