Spokane Valley

The History of May Hutton


May Arkwright Hutton is probably the best-known woman's name in Spokane history. The woman suffrage leader and political activist grew up in Ohio. May Arkwright Hutton was born in Ohio in 1860. Her mother either died or disappeared when May was a very young child, and before she was 10, her father sent her to keep house for her blind paternal grandfather. She cooked his meals and took him to the political meetings he so enjoyed, where she absorbed much that would shape her adult priorities.

After two very brief marriages in Ohio, about which little is known, May Arkwright joined a group of former coal mining families, boarded the train to Idaho, and came west to the Coeur d'Alene mining area with the dream of riches promised in the Silver Valley. She first worked long hours as a saloon cook in the mining gulches of the Idaho Panhandle, including Wardner Junction (later Kellogg), where she opened her own boarding house and restaurant. She was loved and respected by the poor and downtrodden, especially the prostitutes she befriended. One of the regular diners was locomotive engineer Levi W. Hutton (1860-1928), known locally as Al, whom she met in 1887. They soon married [1887] and moved to a tiny apartment in Wallace, where May managed the restaurant of the Wallace Hotel.

Levi Hutton    May Hutton

Theirs was a classic American rags to riches story. With their combined earnings, the Huttons were able to buy a stake in the, as yet, unproductive Hercules Mine. Al worked in the mine during spare hours while May kept the meals coming. Photographs showing her in overalls with the men at the mine entrance suggest that she sometimes joined them in the manual labor. May and Al worked side by side in the muck of a mine in which they had invested, and were among the few who struck it rich.

The Huttons and their partners owned the Hercules Mine, which eventually produced enough silver and lead to make them millionaires. During the contentious 1890s, the Huttons were pro-union and champions of the underdog in the struggles between the miners and the mine owners.

Large (over 200 pounds in her prime), May was more outspoken than her quiet, genial husband, and often flamboyantly dressed. If the elite of Wallace looked down upon May Hutton, the society matrons of Spokane were even more critical of her bright colors, flowered prints, and wide-brimmed hats with roses spilling down to her shoulders. She did not fit the ideal of Victorian womanhood. Her lack of formal education and her working-class origins were apparent.

Having money gave May the opportunity to read and add to her meager three years of schooling. She became interested in politics and was instrumental in getting the vote for women in Idaho in 1896. In 1906 they moved to Spokane, where Levi diversified into real estate and May became a philanthropist, the prime mover in Eastern Washington's woman suffrage movement, and an active figure in Democratic Party politics. She entertained many of the rich and famous, including Sen. William Borah and Clarence Darrow.

May in a Tux

Part of her crusade for woman suffrage was for the benefit of working women, whom she defined as: "the laundry worker, the shop girl, the stenographer, the teacher, the working woman of every type, whose home and fireside and bread are earned by their own efforts". Many of Hutton's views, campaign strategies and her personal behavior put her at odds with other suffrage leaders, especially WESA president Emma Smith DeVoe in Seattle. Despite these differences, May Hutton and Emma DeVoe's tireless efforts succeeded in Washington State becoming the fifth state in the Union and the first state in the 20th century to give women the right to vote in 1910.

After Washington women received the vote in 1910, May Arkwright Hutton claimed to have been the first Spokane woman to register. She and another woman, Mrs. F. A. Fassett, were the first two women to serve on a Spokane County jury. She soon lobbied in Olympia for an eight-hour workday for women. In 1912, Hutton, along with three other women, were among the delegates to the State Democratic Convention in Walla Walla. She continued from there as a Washington delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, where she attracted considerable press coverage. Despite increasingly ill health, she stopped in Ohio on the way home to give speeches bolstering that state's woman suffrage efforts.

The Huttons home in Spokane had been an elegant apartment on the fourth (then top) floor of Levi Hutton's downtown Hutton Building. In July 1914, they moved to a mansion they had built, with spacious acreage, at 17th Avenue and Crestline, east of the town center. Soon realizing the land was more than they needed, they donated a large portion to the city for a park. The hospitality that had characterized their lives in the Hutton Building continued, with dinners and gatherings for large numbers of guests.

However, May did not have long to enjoy her new home nor did she live to see woman suffrage become the law of the land. Her health had been declining for some time, and she soon became seriously ill. Yet she managed to organize one more effort, Spokane Women for World Peace. She died of Bright's disease, a kidney condition, on October 6, 1915. Her death at age 55 in 1915 left an unfilled void, and an inspiring example of energy and concern for others.

The people of Spokane, rich and poor, united in mourning May Arkwright Hutton. Somewhat overshadowed in public awareness by her crusade for woman suffrage were the many charities she had supported with both time and money. Two favorites had been the Spokane Children's Home and the Florence Crittenton Home for unwed mothers.

After May's death in 1915, Levi Hutton began working toward the realization of his dream. He purchased 111 acres, enough land to function as a working farm, in the valley just east of Spokane. He then sent Spokane architect Harold C. Whitehouse (1884-1974) on a nationwide tour to research orphanage facilities. Hutton did not want his children's home to have a grim institutional character. Together he and his architect decided on the cottage plan as the best of existing options. The facility Whitehouse designed consisted of an administration building and four "cottages" -- each in reality a gracious and functional Tudor-style home able to accommodate 20 children under care of a matron or house parents.

Hutton Settlement, 1920

In late November, 1919, the first orphans arrived at the Hutton Settlement, Spokane's new children's home built and endowed by mining millionaire Levi W. Hutton (1860-1928). The opening of the home fulfilled the dream of a man who himself was an orphan, raised by uncaring relatives.

Today, Hutton Settlement has survived various challenges over the years -- threatened development and road encroachments on Settlement land, fluctuating revenues, complicated relations with the social work establishment and state regulations, difficulties in finding and keeping good residential staff, and the changing nature and needs of the children served. Because there are few full orphans today, the Hutton Settlement serves a different clientele -- children who for a variety of reasons cannot be raised by their own parents. Its beautiful buildings are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Through it all, the board and administrators have kept the Hutton Settlement true to the vision of its founder, and it continues to provide an important service to children of the region.

Hutton Settlelment today

 

excerpt from History Link.org the online encyclopedia of Washington History.


Web hyperlinks to non-DAR sites are not the responsibility of the NSDAR, the state organizations, or individual DAR chapters. Please ask permission before using any material or images from this site. Site created September 24, 2007 by Webmaster: Janet Ulbright, member of May Hutton Chapter, NSDAR.

* * * * *