Last week I told you about Mary Elizabeth Schmitt, a Gooding woman who became the first female lawyer in south-central Idaho and a true pioneer in Idaho law.
But Schmitt wasn’t the only groundbreaking Idaho woman who came of age in Gooding during the first decades of the 20th century.
Myrtle Powell Enking, the daughter of an Illinois farmer, came west in 1909 looking for a better life. She landed a series of bookkeeping jobs in Gooding, where in 1911 she married the manager of the local lumberyard, William Enking. He died two years later, leaving behind a son and a 33-year-old widow.
In 1917, Myrtle was appointed Gooding County clerk.
William Enking had been a rock-ribbed Republican, but Myrtle went a different direction. She filed as a Democrat for a full term in 1918, won handily and was re-elected twice.
In 1932, Enking announced her candidacy for state treasurer — a long-shot proposition. Although there had been eight women elected to statewide office — Republicans May Scott, Belle Chamberlain, Grace Shepherd, Bernice McCoy, Ethel Redfield, Elizabeth Russum, Mabel McConnell Lyman and Myrtle Davis — they were all superintendents of public instruction. Teaching at the time was considered a woman’s job, and by the early 1930s only a handful of females had served in the Idaho Legislature.
Fourteen men, 11 of them Republicans, had held the state treasurer’s job by 1932. Today’s treasurer, Ron Crane, is the state’s chief financial officer and his most important duty is investing the state’s money. But the office has evolved over the past 80 years.
Back then, it was mostly an accountant’s job, redeeming warrants and reconciling the state’s checkbook. Politically, the position was a backwater. Although Byron Defenbach, an influential Lewiston Republican, had held the office in the late 1920s, most treasurers had been local politicians or friends of governors without aspirations of their own to higher office.
Incumbent Republican Treasurer George Barrett sought re-election in 1932, but lost badly to Enking as part of a Democratic sweep led by popular Gov. Ben Ross. Enking was Idaho’s first female state treasurer and only the second nationwide.
Enking won re-election five times, and in doing so started a trend. Five of the next six Idaho treasurers would be women, including Democrat Marjorie Ruth Moon, who served a record 24 years.
When Enking, then 65, stepped aside in favor of Moon in the 1944 election, she had served twice as long as any other state treasurer in Idaho history.
She died in 1972 at age 93.
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Last week’s column about Mary Elizabeth Schmitt contained two errors. Schmitt graduated from the University of Idaho, not the University of Colorado, and when she returned to Gooding from Nampa in 1956, it was not only to serve as a court reporter. Schmitt also opened a law practice.
Steve Crump is the Times-News Opinion editor.