An Unorthodox Woman (Part 1)

Dear Liza,

You never know what you’ll find, looking through old newspapers and city records. Yesterday, I was looking at the seven children of Aurelia and Colburn Barrell, wondering what they had been up to at the turn of the last century. I decided to start with the youngest, Lou Ellen, because she was NOT buried with the rest of the family, which always gives me a big question mark.

Lou Ellen’s headstone. She and her children are across the lane from the rest of the family….

Using my old standby, the Historic Oregonian website, I walked through every mention of Lou Ellen in the paper, trying to piece together what seems like a complicated life. I will try and give you a clear story.

Born the sixth child to Colburn and Aurelia Barrell, Lou Ellen married Richard Cornell at 19 and gave birth to 5 children over the next 7 years. Sadly, three of these children died before they were ten, leaving just two sons, Warren and Lew Elwyn. During that same time, Lou Ellen lost both her parents. I can’t even imagine how terribly sad she must have been.

Such a short life!

Maybe having all these dear ones pass away gave her a curiosity about life after death, and some time after her father’s death in 1902, she joined the Spiritualist Association. This group sees contact with the dead through seances as proof of eternal life and as a source of universal wisdom.

But for Lou Ellen, this led to her being in court, and in the newspaper, every day for months in 1908, as disagreements within the Association became lawsuits. Lou Ellen, as secretary of the Association, was ordered to produce the account books. She evaded, avoided, and even resigned her post, never giving up the records. Finally, the case was dismissed.

Lou Ellen filed for divorce from her husband Richard, the very next week, claiming cruelty and lack of support. Richard had left town already, and made no statement for the court. Her divorce was granted.

For the next six years Lou Ellen continued her work with the Women of Woodcraft, planning events and even reading her poetry at parties and meetings. In 1912, she acted in a Suffragist play put on by her former elocution teacher. She was busy and active in her community.

I will tell you more about Lou Ellen tomorrow. It is so interesting learning about our old neighbors!

Love, Grandma Judy



Author: Judy

I am a new transplant to Portland from Salinas, a small city in Central California. This is a blog about my new city.

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