By Jennifer Crooks
Emma Page, though she lived in Olympia for only a few short decades, is perhaps Olympia’s best known animal rights activist. Although blinded at the age of seven as the result of an accident, undaunted, she lived a very active life. A music teacher, author, ordained minister (First Christian Church of Olympia), she is most famous for her support of animal rights.
Emma Elizabeth Page was born July 30, 1852 in Metamore, Illinois to Reverend Andrew N. Page and Mary Ann Grove. She attended the Illinois Institute for the Blind in Jacksonsville for four years (now the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired). Later she graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelors degree in Literature and Science in 1878 and a Masters in Literature in 1879. Emma taught music from 1879 to 1888, serving as musical director of Eureka College in Illinois as well as teaching in Kansas and Missouri. Later, Emma would teach private singing and piano lessons (as well as public speaking) in Olympia.
From 1888 to 1893 Emma and her family took homestead claims near Manville, Wyoming, becoming ranchers. During her time in Wyoming Emma became active in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) as early as 1889. Although most famous for promoting abstinence from alcohol and drugs, the WCTU, which still exists, also supported other causes such as female suffrage and animal rights. Emma Page gave lectures for the WCTU around Wyoming and helped organize groups, such as one at Hat Creek in October 1892. In May 1892, when her father organized the Prohibition Party in Cheyenne she served as a delegate from her county. When her father became ill, she became the chair of the State Central Committee of the party. She was even nominated by the Prohibition Party for the State House of Representatives, but lost.
Around May 1893 Emma and her sister Mary (an architect as well as a WCTU leader) relocated to Olympia where other members of the family were living. Emma dedicated the rest of her life to WCTU work. In 1895 she was officially made a national organizer and lecturer for the group’s Department of Mercy, which promoted the rights of animals. As part of her work she organized oratorical (or speaking) “medal contests” where participants competed for awards.
However, Emma was perhaps best known as a public speaker in her own right. It was claimed that she spoke in nearly every city, town and village in Western Washington, though she spoke throughout the rest of the state as well. According to a report of the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, during 1908-1909 alone her work included 23 lectures to women’s groups on the humane treatment of animals, 25 addresses for animal rights themed oratorical medal contests, speeches at state and county conventions, and a series of academically credited lectures on humane education at Whitworth College (which was then in Tacoma).
Emma Page also promoted animal rights through the written word. She was the author of many short stories, poems, pamphlets and books on kindness to animals. Her most famous work perhaps is a textbook on kindness to animals entitled Heart Culture (San Francisco: Whitaker & Ray Company, 1897). In 1895, after lobbying efforts by the WCTU and Emma Page, the Washington State Legislature mandated that schools teach kindness to all animals (a law, with modifications, that remains in affect). The book Heart Culture taught children how to care for pets, appreciate wild animals, and how to form “Bands of Mercy” Clubs at their schools to promote what they had learned. The book was widely used in public schools, even as far away as San Jose, California. Emma Page continued to write and in 1909 she published another textbook, Humane Education (Boston: Educational Publishing Company).
On July 27, 1910, Emma Page suddenly died from what might have been a stroke. Many in the community mourned her passing, the Morning Olympian newspaper remembered her fondly as an inspiring “woman of ability and untiring effort.”
People wanted an appropriate way to honor the life of the woman who had given so much to her community. The local WCTU chapter decided to dedicate a drinking fountain in her memory. During this time period the WCTU sponsored the construction of many drinking fountains, varying from the very simple to the extremely ornate, around the country as part of their campaign against alcohol consumption and to promote sanitation. WCTU units around the state held oratorical medal contests to raise money to purchase and install the fountain for Emma Page at Sylvester Park in Olympia, near the corner of what are now Capitol Way and Legion Way. This fountain was dedicated July 29, 1912 with representatives of the state and local WCTU and Colonel C.E. Claypool standing in for the Governor.
The Sylvester Park fountain is perhaps the clearest mark that Emma Page has left in Olympia. Unfortunately, it was vandalized in 1997 but was rededicated in 2000 after repairs. Emma’s legacy for Olympia, however, is much more than concrete and stone. As an editorial in the July 30, 1910 Olympia Daily Recorder stated, “the life work of this devoted woman remains an existing influence …” that touched countless lives of people and animals.
“Local Leader of W.C.T.U. Passes Away.” Morning Olympian (Olympia, WA), Thursday, July 28, 1910, 1.
“Memory of Miss Page Honored by W.C.T.U.” Morning Olympian (Olympia, WA), Sunday, June 30, 1912, 1.
Lynn Erickson, Sylvester’s Window, 2005.