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ani, glitter

Mother's Fascination with the Rose Festival Court

I never figured out what my sainted mother saw in the annual late-spring contest to pick a Rose Festival queen from among the girls at Portland's high schools. Maybe she followed the voting and the elaborate announcements as closely as she did because it was her one connection to the frivolous outside world. As a housewife in the most traditional sense -- dedicated to a meat-and-potatoes husband and two sons (the sons often fighting for the larger portion of apple pie at dinner) -- she found the selections process each year a pleasant (if uncharacteristic) diversion.

The Rose Festival dates to 1907, and for most of those years it has featured a Queen and her court. (Though from 1908 until 1913 there was a king [Rex Oregonus] who reigned, according to Percy Maddux in his "City on the Willamette" - Binfords & Mort, Portland, 1952.)

It was in 1930 that the practice of picking Princesses and a Queen took hold...

As each school (on successive days), picked a beaming beauty, the Portland papers (there were three of them then -- and we took the Oregon Journal) ran a huge front-page halftone in black and white. (There was no color printing in the papers except in the Sunday comics.) The photo appeared with a long feature story, written with breathless admiration.

Mother carefully cut out the pictures and stories as they appeared and kept them on top of the radio to check from time to time -- especially on the night when the girls appeared at an event that was broadcast on radio to answer the usual questions (about solving pressing social and economic problems). Which Princess would be named Queen? It was a big night for Mother as she listened. (TV in the Portland area was still a decade or two away.)

She would have been bemused at the later criticism of this contest, the change from "princess" to "ambassador" (or "representative") -- at least this year we are back to the more honest 'princess' again -- and the relegating of winners to cramped space on inside pages. She didn't consider herself one to turn heads, even in her younger days. Even so, she did consider the gift of beauty as no less worthy than the gifts of intelligence, athletic ability -- and even child-raising savvy or prowess in the kitchen.

~Roy Paul Nelson (of Durham, Oregon)