Walking around Portland, we always learn something new. This past Saturday, on our way to see a new pedestrian bridge get installed, we passed the DaVinci Middle School, in the old, classy Irvington/Kerns neighborhood. This school has been here since 1928, and used to be called the Girls Polytechnic High School. The name was changed to Madison High School, then to Da Vinci.
In front of the school is a giant magnolia tree and flower beds with an oval brass memorial. We stopped to see what it was about.
The words say “These rose beds and memorial tree are affectionately dedicated to the memory of Betty Jane Harding, 1923 to 1943, who as princess from Girls Polytechnic High School became Queen of the Rose Festival and so graciously reigned in the year nineteen hundred forty one.”
I was curious, and a little sad. Being elected Rose Queen, this young woman had obviously been smart, pretty, and active in her community. Why had she only lived twenty years?
I returned to my old friend, The Historic Oregonian newspaper, via the Multnomah County Library website. Looking in the newspapers from 1941, I found lots of articles about Betty Jane and her fellow Rose Princesses.
One girl was chosen from each of the 9 public high schools in town (at the time, there are 12 now), and one was chosen as Queen. I am not sure what the criteria were.
Miss Harding, as Rose Queen Betty Jane I, had all sorts of civic duties. She spoke with girls’ groups, posed with celebrities, and encouraged girls to always do their best. She traveled to meet other make-believe Royalty, like King Borealis of St. Paul, Minnesota, to smile for the cameras.
But all this publicity had a real benefit, as well. Betty Jane earned a full scholarship to The University of Oregon, down in Eugene. She pledged to the Pi Beta Phi Sorority and began studying Art.
Betty Jane became ill in 1943 and came back to Portland, where there was better medical care and to be closer to her family. She had surgery for her liver trouble, but sadly, did not recover.
Betty Jane is buried in the Lincoln Memorial Park, which is a few miles south of here. At her funeral, her fellow princesses walked as an honor guard and volunteer Rosarians acted as pallbearers. Everyone who had admired Betty Jane as Rose queen was saddened by her early death.
I guess if I insist on learning new things, some of them are going to be sad. But I am happy to know more about the folks who have lived, and died, in this city.