Polk County Observer
Monmouth, Polk County, Or.
The Polk County Observer was first published in Monmouth, Oregon, in the fall of 1888. The original owners, Charles Doughty and George Snyder, moved the operation to Dallas, Oregon shortly thereafter. Snyder left the paper a few months later in January 1889, his place being filled by Carey Hayter, who would also buy out Doughty and remain until 1910. Between 1910 and 1924, several owners and editors shuffled through Dallas working on the Observer. In 1924, Earle Richardson, who had worked on the Elgin Recorder [LCCN: sn85042442] in Eastern Oregon, took over publication. In 1927, he consolidated the paper with the Polk County Itemizer [LCCN: sn94049693], forming the Polk County Itemizer-Observer [LCCN: sn96088083].
The Observer was engaged in politics, supporting Republican candidates and policies. An 1894 article covered the Republican state convention, expressing confidence in the selection of candidates and the potential for victory in upcoming elections. The article observed, “The people who have watched the effect of the democratic policy upon the industrial and financial condition of the country everywhere are anxious to return to republican rule and prosperity.” According to the Observer, the Democratic Party could only express a “forlorn hope” for success in Oregon.
The paper was generally supportive of women’s suffrage and lamented the fact that women could not actually vote to support the measure in Oregon, which was denied by the state’s male electorate in 1883, 1900, 1908, and 1910. During the 1908 campaign, the Observer directed the male population to act as proxies for a “wife, mother, sister, or some other voter’s sister and thus give expression as nearly as possible to the sentiment of the women of Oregon.” Noting that not all women supported equal suffrage, the paper hoped that by voting on behalf of their women acquaintances, men could accurately mirror the opinion of the female population. In 1914, the editors criticized President Wilson for not developing a clear position on equal suffrage, choosing instead to adhere to a strategy of deliberate ambiguity on the matter.
Other criticisms of Wilson appeared two years later. Gifford Pinchot, the well-known conservationist and former chief of the U.S. Forest Service, submitted a letter to the Observer in 1916 that criticized the President for failing to take conservation seriously. According to Pinchot, the Wilson administration stood “with the special interests against the people” on matters of public ownership of natural resources, going so far as to leave the Grand Canyon “open to individual appropriation.”
Other news included coverage of a planned textbook change in Oregon schools, state prohibition of alcohol, which the Observer did not support, and more trivial reports of local activity, providing brief notes such as “The farmers are all busy.” Advertisements in the Polk County Observer varied from the Elkins Hotel and Vaughn and Hillard Horse-Shoeing, to hardware stores and Royal Baking Powder, to name a few. Even secret societies advertised on the paper’s front page for several issues, a small irony illustrating the importance of public exposure to the success of businesses as well as secret lodges in small communities.
Prepared with reference to:
Turnbull, George S. History of Oregon Newspapers. Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1939.
-- Written by Daniel Rinn