5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: Ella Higginson

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ challenge, “Can you name five women artists?” the Whatcom Museum is continuing the tradition it started last year and highlighting five female artists whose work is featured in our collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month. Follow us on social media and share our posts with your followers, or tell us your favorite women artists. Don’t forget to tag your posts #5WomenArtists.

Artist #1: Ella Higginson

Whatcom Museum #1968.24.208

Ella Higginson was a prominent Bellingham author whose books, essays, and poems are regarded as iconic to early Pacific Northwest literature. Her writing, which detailed the vast wilderness landscapes and inherent beauty of the region, introduced many readers to the Pacific Northwest for the first time.

Higginson was born in Council Grove, Kansas, however her family soon afterwards moved to Oregon. As a young girl, Higginson showed a talent for the written word. When she was 14, she published her first piece of work and by her late teens her work was being published in newspapers around Portland.

In 1885 she married Russell C. Higginson, and in 1888 they moved to Bellingham. Soon after they moved, Higginson began to make a new literary life for herself. In 1889 some of her poetry was published in national magazines such as Collier’s Once a Week and Harper’s Magazine.

Her career really started to take off in 1894 when she won McClure’s Magazine’s writing contest for her short story, “The Takin’ In of Old Mis’ Lane.”

Following the contest, Higginson released multiple books of poetry and continued to write until her declining health slowed her down. Some of Higginson’s most significant works include A Bunch of Western Clover (1984), When the Birds Go North Again (1902), Mariella of Out West (1902), and The Vanishing Race and Other Poems (1911). 

In 1931, the Washington State chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs named Higginson the first honorary poet laureate of Washington State, securing her legacy in Northwest literary history.

Outside of her literary accomplishments, Higginson was a strong supporter of the arts, education, and women’s rights. Through her efforts, she helped establish the city’s first library. She also helped elect the first woman to the Washington State House of Representatives, Frances Axtell.

While Higginson’s fame and many contributions to the literary world may not be as well known nationally, her impact on the Bellingham community is still felt by many people today, and distinguishes her as one of Bellingham’s most successful female literary artists.

 

Four-Leaf Clover

I know a place where the sun is like gold,

And the cherry blooms burst with snow,

And down underneath is the loveliest nook,

Where the four-leaf clovers grow.

One leaf is for hope, and one is for faith,

And one is for love, you know,

And God put another in for luck—

If you search, you will find where they grow.

But you must have hope, and you must have faith,

You must love and be strong – and so—

If you work, if you wait, you will find the place

Where the four-leaf clovers grow.

 

Published in When the Birds Go North Again (The Macmillan Company, 1898). It is in the public domain.

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