An Unorthodox Woman (Part 2)

Dear Liza,

Today we continue the life of Lou Ellen Barrell Cornell. Born in 1891, the youngest of seven children to Oregon pioneers Aurelia and Colburn Barrell, she married (and later divorced) Richard Cornell. She buried three of her five children, was prominently mentioned in a very public trial involving the Spiritualist Association, and was active in a popular benevolent group, the Women of Woodcraft.

In 1912 Lou Ellen started a campaign to save her father’s legacy, the Lone Fir Cemetery. In the 70 years since he had founded it, the place had been carelessly used and not maintained. Blackberry brambles covered the stones and the unmaintained graves were sunken and dangerous. There had even been a effort by the city to remove it. Over the next 16 years, Lou Ellen not only made sure the cemetery would remain where it was, but succeeded in getting taxes passed to pay for its maintenance.

One of the thousands of headstones unearthed and repaired in 1928

In 1917, at the age of 25, her eldest son Warren went off to fight in World War I, becoming an Army corporal while fighting in France. He returned safely, living a long life until 1947. That same year, a volume of Lou Ellen’s verse, called “Thorns and Roses” was published, available by contacting the author at her home, 802 East Yamhill Street. Her verse was well-reviewed, having a “fine religious feeling”. I have not been able to find any of the poems, but I am still looking!

Warren’s headstone

A few years later, when her sons were 28 and 22, Lou Ellen got married a second time to Edgar W. Philips. The wedding was written up on the Society page, though no information is given about the groom except that he was a native Portlander returning to town after an absence of 15 years. After the wedding, Lou Ellen remained active in the Women of Woodcraft and the Spiritualist Association, and continued writing poetry.

That same year she began giving lectures for the Spiritualist Association, such as “Is Spiritualism a Religion?” and “The Spirit of Freedom”, under the name Mrs. L.E. Philips. During this time, except for one small mention, her husband, Edgar Philips, was not visible. This isn’t necessarily suspicious. He is simply not mentioned in the paper.

In 1926, her son Lew Elwyn was divorced from his first wife, and he and their three children moved in with Lou Ellen, just blocks from where I live now in Southeast Portland. I imagine this brought lots of joy, but also a lot more work into her life. Three kids in the house to look after, cook and clean for, is a whole new layer of chores.

Lou Ellen passed away in 1931 at the young age of 59. Her son Lew moved to Beaverton and his children went back to live with their mother. Lou Ellen had been active in Women of Woodcraft until just a few months before her death. She is buried in Lone Fir, surrounded by her children, just across the lane from her parents and siblings.

The weird part, and the part that had me reading all my research over again, was that her obituary does not mention her divorce from Mr. Cornell or her second marriage. It tells of her drive to save the Lone Fir Cemetery, but not her interest in Spiritualism or her poetry.

My guess is that the obituary was provided by the family, and maybe her sons and siblings didn’t want the public to remember the lawsuits, the divorce or the remarriage, but simply the dutiful life of a mother and daughter, a woman who served her family and community. Still, I am glad to be able to learn more.

Life is always interesting, even folks who lived long ago.

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.

2 thoughts on “An Unorthodox Woman (Part 2)”

    1. Yep. I have met so many delightful, complicated folks here in Lone Fir Cemetery. The Chinese herbalist from 1900s and his Caucasian wife, for example. She is buried, along with her mother and uncle, their son and daughter, and the daughter’s husband, all together. Dr. Wo has no marker, and we have no way of knowing where he is. Chinese hate went deep and wide in Portland. The good Dr. was published, very popular, had a thriving business, and donated to local charities. But no decent burial for him!
      People… Sometimes, real stinkers.

      Sent from my iPad

      Like

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