Rebecca Mitchell is one of the real people featured in my historical fiction novel Cat’s Café who did live and work in Eagle Rock and influence the warp and weft of life not only in Idaho but throughout the West and, ultimately, the entire United States.
Born in 1832 in Macoupin County, Illinois, 60 miles south of the state Capitol, Springfield, Mitchell’s family was highly religious and Rebecca grew to seek a life of service and evangelism in the Christian church. She studied in Chicago to become a Baptist missionary only to be advised she couldn’t be a missionary because she was a woman. “No” was not her final decision. By then known as Mrs. Mitchell, Rebecca and her daughter Bess arrived in Eagle Rock on a Utah & Northern passenger train in June of 1882. She set to work establishing the first school, the first Sunday school, the first church and the first library and, later, the “Idaho Falls” chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement in Eagle Rock.
Mrs. Mitchell also became an outspoken supporter of women’s rights. In her later years, she traveled extensively to speak at state and national conventions about the importance of this movement. Once Idaho became a state, she spent time in Boise, Idaho, the new state Capitol, advocating for reform laws supporting women’s suffrage.
From “Second Stories Revisited,” compiled by Cheryl A. Cox, “…the forty-year-old Rebecca Mitchell, a tenacious little woman who has been described by local historians as a small tornado, worked hard, dedicated herself to her mission, and made herself an important part of the community.” Her strident push for women’s rights can be better understood by a statement found in Elon Todd Wood’s blog about Rebecca. Widowed at an early age, she was appalled at the treatment she was subjected to by the government. “According to the law of the state [of Illinois in the mid 1850s], the Court appointed appraisers, who came into my house, overhauled trunks, drawers and closets, putting a price on my own goods which I had brought from my father’s house, with one exception, my Bible and hymn book, which they handed me, saying, ”These are exempted by law.” Thus I had to buy back that which was my own by personal right. But if I had died, my husband would have gone on in full possession of all the property, to use or to keep as he liked regardless of the rights of the children. This unjust discrimination of the law against women, seeing that they were not consulted at birth, having no choice as to sex, color or country, was to me a violation of the sacred rights of self-government and the oneness of the marriage relation as taught in the Bible.”
In the Eagle Rock Trilogy, beginning with Cat’s Cafe, I attempt to describe how she might have conducted herself as she accomplished the many ambitious projects she completed while in Eagle Rock, and how she ultimately affected the citizens in Eagle Rock and set the stage for her later accomplishments in the woman’s suffrage movement in Idaho.
At the time of her death, the Chicago Tribune wrote, “no more popular man or woman could be found in the state of Idaho.”
Additional note from the Idaho State Archives special exhibit on Women’s Suffrage: