Along with George W. Bush, Rebbecca Howard is one of Thurston County’s early prominent African-American residents and civic leaders. Howard was also recently honored with a mural on the south side of the building on Capitol Way in between Olympia and State that is currently home to the Bread Peddler.
Howard is most fondly remembered for her seven years when she ran a restaurant and boarding house during the early days of pioneer Olympia.
Howard was born in 1829 and moved to Olympia in 1859 from Massachusetts 30 years later. Her husband Alexander was 23 years her senior, so was in his early 50s by the time the couple came west. She began operating the Pacific House in 1860, which she sold in 1866 after six years.
Lodging and good food were especially important services in pioneer Olympia as the community asserted itself. From Ladd Allison’s historical biography of Howard:
The Pacific Restaurant quickly became very popular. Mrs. Howard was by all accounts an excellent cook, whose reputation was no doubt enhanced “by catering to the none-too-fastidious travelers whose appetites had been sharpened by an ever jolting ride.”
Howard was also known for her sharp elbows, both verbal and physical. From “Rogues, Buffoons and Statesmen,” by Gordon Newell:
(Two legislators J.D. Bagley and M.S. Griswold) words’ grew heated and they came to blows, but not for long. Aunt Becky Howard didn’t hold with such goings-on in her hotel, and she was not impressed by politicians. (When Governor Pickering, soon after his arrival, had the temerity to address her as “Aunty,” she had fixed him with a withering gaze and informed him that, to the best of her knowledge, she was not a sister of either his father or mother.) She promptly embraced Mr. Griswold and raised him from the floor a good two feet, holding him thus suspended until he lost both breath and belligerency.
After six years, her family was able to retire to a newly built house near Priest Point. Before she died in 1881 at 52 from a stroke, she continued as a prominent business woman and Olympia booster. Among her contributions to Olympia were donating more than 100 acres to the campaign to gain the railroad terminus and opening a boarding house.
Its interesting to me that she spent six years as the operator of the Pacific House, and 15 years otherwise in Olympia, doing business and promoting the town. Yet, she is mostly remembered for her years as a restaurateur and lodge owner. What she earned in reputation and money in six years at the Pacific House was well spent in her last 15 years.