Laura Cattron Harris


A photo of Laura Harris that was originally published in The Morning Oregonian, 1903.

Laura Cattron was born in Carlton, Oregon on September 20, 1855. She moved to Monmouth with her family when she was five. In 1869, at age 14, she earned her teaching certificate from Christian College. She taught school in Monmouth until she married Dr. T.W. Harris at age 17. She lived in Albany and finally settled in Eugene in 1884.

While at Christian College, Harris was a member of the Hesperian Literary Society, as well as piano student.

Harris worked with her husband in a medical office for 18 years until their separation. She was the first woman in the Willamette Valley to specialize in women's health and advocated for improving women’s health.

Her advocacy for women’s suffrage lead to a lawsuit against election judges who prevented her from voting in an 1897 school election. Harris sued Sherwood Burr, one of the election judges, for not upholding the 1878 amended law that stated “any citizen of this State shall be entitled to vote at a school meeting who is twenty-one years of age, and has resided in the district thirty days immediately preceding the meeting, and who has property in the district upon which he or she pays a tax.”

In 1898, the case moved to the Oregon Supreme Court. Oregon Chief Justice Charles Edwin Wolverton, also educated at Christian College, ruled in her favor nearly a year later, deeming it legal for women to vote in school elections. In his opinion brief he affirmed Laura Harris’s right to vote for Lane County school director, and provided a long history of school voting decisions. He stated that the framers of Oregon Statehood could imagine women as voters: “Under the Oregon territorial law of 1855 every inhabitant above the age of 21, without regard to sex [who met residence and taxpaying requirements] was declared to be a legal voter at school meetings.” Women in Oregon did not achieve full suffrage until 1912.

Harris was active member of many Eugene establishments, including being: a charter and life member of the Evangeline chapter of Eastern Star, a member of the First Christian Church, Lewis and Clark Club, Ladies of the Elks, and an honorary member of the Quota Club.

The Oregonian Journal’s obituary for Laura Cattron Harris stated, “She long was active in civic affairs, and took a leading role in the early day campaign to win the vote for women in school elections.”

Her son, Lawrence T. Harris, mirrored his mother’s charge for civic responsibility and the law, becoming a lawyer, circuit court judge and speaker of the House of Representatives. Harris died on September 2, 1955, only 18 days before her 100th birthday, leaving a long legacy of better rights for women in Oregon.