Islands' Sounder


Historic women of Orcas Island

October 23, 2013 · Updated 2:55 PM

Nellie Milton / Contributed photo


Special to the Sounder

Who are Orcas Island’s most historic women, born at least 100 years ago?

Would you choose Dr. Agnes Harrison, who delivered hundreds of babies here?  Bea Cook, who brought our library from the tiny Madrona Club collection to a resource worthy of our community?

My own favorite candidates are Helen Loggie and Nellie Milton.

Loggie (1895-1976) was reared in Bellingham, where her father reputedly owned the world’s largest cedar mill.  This not only ensured that “Miss Loggie” didn’t need to spend time flogging her work, but also influenced the nature of her art.

Internationally known for the trees she drew and etched with enormous skill, her career was marked by eight major one-person exhibitions from 1938-1993, in such venues as the 1937 Paris Exposition; Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.; Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; Whitney, New York; Library of Congress; and the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers, London.

In 1914, Loggie entered Smith College, but dropped out to attend the Art Students League in New York, where she acquired a lifelong professional mentor, the etcher John Taylor Arms.

Around 1927, she returned to Bellingham, to begin an intensive time of etching and printmaking.  The next year, she bought property near Eastsound.  She sketched outdoors in the summers, translating her drawings into etchings in the winters.

Loggie knew how to present herself. In a 1939 review of her Seattle Art Museum exhibit, a critic praised her work, but appreciated her as well: “Miss Loggie ... is tall, slim, statuesque and golden-haired. For last evening’s preview, she wore a black crepe dinner gown with gold-braided jacket and a spray of purple orchids.”

By contrast, our second historic lady, Nellie Sweeney Milton (1890-1972) usually wore a light blue or tan cardigan sweater with things in the pockets so the sweater hung unevenly. Still, as teacher and executive for nearly 30 years here, she encouraged generations of students.

Her influence on school standards was huge: four years of Latin, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry helped one student to win a four-year scholarship to Radcliffe College.

Milton’s father, Steven Sweeney, settled early on Orcas near Grindstone Bay, but moved his family to San Juan Island in 1885. Two years later, trying to take a load of cattle through Deception Pass, the vessel capsized, drowning passengers, beasts and himself.

Without a male breadwinner, Nellie had to pitch in. She began teaching at 18 in the Mitchell Bay School on San Juan. She attended the University of Washington to become fully accredited as teacher, principal and superintendent.

Although her family couldn’t afford a piano, she grew up to play for social activities, give lessons, and spend her own money on musical instruments to start a school band.

Although Milton’s work resulted in the then brand-new school building’s 1950 dedication as the Nellie S. Milton School, many of her records, sadly, were burned after her 1948 retirement.  If you have any information about her life, call me at 376-3394 or Clark McAbee at 376-4849.


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