Fannie Kay Bishop, a True Modern Woman
Fannie Kay Bishop is beloved figure in the history of Pendleton Woolen Mills. She was daughter to Thomas Kay and wife to Charles P. Bishop, with whom she had three sons who would open the first official Pendleton Woolen Mills in Oregon. She was also a progressive thinker who gently chided her son Clarence in 1914, “…for your own happiness I would be glad if you had a loving, capable wife…a woman that would appreciate you and be your equal in every way.”
Fannie Kay was an immigrant who came to America, the land of opportunity, at a very young age. She was born on November 29, 1857, in Shipley, Yorkshire, England, the first of ten children born to Thomas and Ann Kay. She emigrated in 1860, after her father had found work in NJ and before he came west to found the family dynasty of Pendleton Woolen Mills. Fannie characterized herself as a “true tomboy” who spent her childhood climbing trees, stilt-walking, sledding and watching Union soldiers march and drill. Fannie also accompanied her father to the mill, watching him work and learning at his knee as he managed various mills across the country.
She came to work at the old Brownsville, Oregon, mill at age fifteen, after Thomas Kay was hired to resurrect it. She was passionately interested in wool processing and manufacture, questioning her father, observing operations and eavesdropping on her father’s conversations with the mill hands he invited to the family home. “I spent all my spare time in what to me was the fascinating pursuit of learning all about the woolen mill,” she said years later.
In 1874, she began keeping company with Charles P. Bishop, the son of her school’s principal. They married in 1876 and had their first son, Clarence, in 1878. He was followed by Royal in 1881 and Chauncey in 1882. With her guidance and encouragement, these young men opened Pendleton Woolen Mills in 1909.
The correspondence between Fannie Kay Bishop in her sons, preserved nearly in full in the Pendleton archives, is full of loving encouragement, sound advice, and practical business sense. In a letter dated September 10, 1910, she wrote, “The only thing needed for any success is confidence, harmony and patience with one another. Without that there is no use to struggle on as there can be nothing but ultimate failure.”
One of the more interesting aspects of Fannie Kay Bishop’s history was her political campaign for the state legislature sometime in the early 20th century. Although women were not allowed to vote in national elections until 1920, a few progressive states passed women’s suffrage earlier; Montana in 1914, Washington in 1910 and Oregon in 1912. Fannie Kay Bishop threw her hat in the ring with the following campaign position card:
We apologize for the hard to read text, but it is as follows:
I am respectfully submitting to you my candidacy for nomination as one of the four representatives from Marion County, feeling that I can render public service that you require. My long life in Marion County is an open book, on the pages of which I have endeavored to write achievements worthy of our County and State. Your attention is respectfully called to the pamphlet containing the statements of Republican candidates for details concerning my platform. I will faithfully endeavor, when elected, to voice the expressed desire of my constituents, to advocate legislation for a businesslike consolidation of administrative branches of the State government and for tax reduction, and will favor such measures as comment themselves as being for the public welfare.
FANNIE KAY BISHOP
Fannie Kay Bishop didn’t win office in Marion County, but she was a pioneer in many ways. As a truly modern woman, her passionate participation in the political process was balanced with her call for “confidence, harmony and patience.” She’s a proud part of the Pendleton legacy.