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Prior to the organization of a Sitka chapter of the DAR in 1903, another historical figure connected with that organization visited Sitka.
one of the founders of the Daughters of the American Revolution spent time in Sitka in 1888 teaching in the Public School.
“I have forty pupils” she wrote, “I have three Jews, three Catholics, thirteen Americans, and the rest Russians.” In fact, all of her students were Americans.
Mary Desha was born in 1850 in Lexington, Kentucky. Her father was a physician, her grandfather a Kentucky governor. In 1888, she was given the opportunity to come to Sitka to teach in the public school here. She stayed with Governor A.W. Swineford and his wife, arriving in September, 1888.
During her short stay in Sitka, there are only two notices in the local paper, The Alaskan, that mention her name. The first lists her as a guest at a reception given by the Swinefords for the U.S.S. Pinta and U.S.S. Thetis in October; the second is a notice that she helped distribute Christmas presents to the students of Public School no. 1 in December. Unhappy with the people she met in Sitka, she left, returning to the states by January 1889.
One of the conflicts Miss Desha became involved in while in Sitka concerned corporal punishment. When she whipped a student, his father and others went to the school board to complain. This didn’t appear in the newspaper, but in January 1889 this short announcement appeared:
“The Board of Education of Alaska has abolished flogging in the public school. This is a green laurel in the frosty crown of our northerly sister that will distinguish her as a leader in humanitariansm. Flogging school children is a relic of barbarism that caste a sad reflection upon our boasted civilization and scientific achievements.—Tacoma Ledger.”
A women’s rights activist, Miss Desha enjoyed the freedoms she found for women in Alaska, though, as one biographer notes, “she had difficulty extending these rights to people of other races.”
In 1890 the Sons of the American Revolution voted to exclude women from their organization. Mary Desha, along with Eugenia Washington, Ellen Hardin Wadsworth and Mary Smith Lockwood organized the Daughters of the American Revolution, officially incorporated in 1891.