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Sep132013

Revealing the Story in History...

Chase Going Woodhouse, U.S. Congresswoman

 

by Vanessa Winn

While researching my novel The Chief Factor’s Daughter, I learned that a granddaughter of my main character became a U. S. Congresswoman.  Canadian-born, she was the first Democrat woman to represent Connecticut.  Intriguingly, I discovered recently that this distinguished politician and feminist, Chase Going Woodhouse, lived with, and was inspired by, her maternal grandmother.  Apparently Margaret Work, my book’s heroine, had another story later in life.

Born in Victoria, B.C. in 1890, Chase’s earliest memories included looking out her bedroom window to see “Indians” waiting for help from “Granny” with issues such as justice and housing.  Margaret’s role as an advocate for First Nations people followed closely the footsteps of her Métis mother, Josette Work, who helped to end slavery among the north coast tribes, and who at her death was recognized by the legislature for her “many good deeds” as an honoured pioneer.[i]

Public service was a natural choice for Chase.  She came from a family tradition of political activity, beginning with great-grandfather John Work, a Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and a member of Vancouver Island’s Legislative Council.  Others served, at all levels of government.  As Chase grew up, her youngest great-uncle, Edward Gawler Prior, was Premier of B.C.

Of course, in this era women were barred from public office.  Woodhouse recounted her grandmother Margaret taking her to elections, where she voiced her anger as an unrepresented taxpayer to the men at the polls.  Afterwards she would tell young Chase, “But you will have the vote.” [ii] Indeed she would, and a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Chase’s father moved the family to the U.S. by the time she graduated from high school.  However, with her parents’ encouragement, she returned to Canada to study at McGill University, where she was one of the first women to receive a Masters Degree in Economics in 1913.  Against societal expectations, she persevered with doctoral work at the Universities of Berlin and Chicago. 

Following her mother’s teaching profession, Chase Going Woodhouse taught at the college and university level.  After serving in significant government appointments, her desire for socio-economic change for women propelled her to seek office.  She was elected to Congress in 1945, and subsequently re-elected for a second term.  In between, she held the fascinating post-war appointment of economic advisor to the Allied Military Governor of Germany – a long way from her roots in Victoria.  Yet, like her grandmothers and mother before her, Woodhouse proved her endurance at the forefront of change.  Fittingly, she named her only daughter Margaret.

©Vanessa Winn


[i] British Colonist, January 31 & February 1, 1896.

[ii] Brooks, Andree.  New York Times, May 10, 1981.

See more info and reviews of Vanessa's book, The Chief Factor's Daughter

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Reader Comments (5)

That is totally cool! I learned about John Work when we hiked a trail at Mount Work a few years ago... then I saw your book (which I still have to pick up) but I'm attempting to write my own historical fiction novel about a Metis woman right now, so I find similar stories fascinating. That so cool you got to meet her granddaughter. Thanks for sharing! :)

September 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBonnie Way

Thanks for the feedback, Bonnie!

The Work family are remembered locally in several place names, including Hillside Avenue (for their estate).

Just to clarify, I did not meet Chase Going Woodhouse. The quote cited is from an interview late in her life, only a few years before she died. I was thrilled to read Margaret's words through her granddaughter's recollections.

Good luck with your historical novel -- they're a great way to learn about history!

September 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa Winn

Vanessa, sounds to me like you have another book to write! Looking forward to it. Ramona

September 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRamona Reynolds

Vanessa, Is there a way I can contact you personally? Chase Woodhouse is my great grandmother, and I would love to talk more with you about what youve discovered about my familys history!!

October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJasmine Morgan

Thanks, Ramona! I'm approaching the end of another manuscript set in the 1860s...

Sorry, Jasmine, I've just seen your comment. (Forgot to check the 'notify me' option.) Please contact me through my website (linked above). How wonderful that a descendant found this blog! I look forward to hearing from you again.

December 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa Winn

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