More Than The Last Mayor of Hammond

Janet Stevenson is pictured from the dust-jacket of her novel, "Weep No More,"?in 1957.

Janet Stevenson spent her life in big cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, but when she moved to the North Coast in 1965, she knew she was home.

When she died at 96 on June 9, 2009, she had spent 44 years living in Clatsop County and had been Mayor of Hammond from 1986 to 1994.

Born Janet Marshall in Chicago Feb. 4, 1913, she spent more than 60 years as a writer and educator. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College with a master's degree in theater arts from Yale, Stevenson was the author of more than a dozen books on history, biography and historical fiction. The most recent was "The Slope," about Bethenia Owens-Adair, a 19th-century feminist who lived in Astoria and was the first woman doctor in Oregon.

Stevenson discussed "The Slope" in March, when she was the featured speaker at a meeting of the American Association of University Women in Astoria to celebrate Women's History Month. At age 96, less than three months before her death, Stevenson was frail, but her spirit was undiminished as she spoke about her book and the experiences of her long life.

Ahead of her time, Stevenson was already combining family and career in the 1940s and 50s, struggling to find time for her own writing while raising two young sons, helping her playwright husband and teaching at the University of Southern California.

A brief biography by Stevenson's dear friend Dianne Heintz as background for the AAUW program described her as "an activist, playwright, mother, sailor, historian, novelist, teacher, mentor" who wrote "plays and radio scripts, novels, screenplays, magazine articles, essays and biographies." Civil rights, peace, the women's movement and the environment were the themes and topics that ran through her body of work, Heintz wrote.

Besides her writing and political involvement, Stevenson enjoyed sports and outdoor activities. Her family said she loved tennis, camping, skin diving, sailing and mushroom hunting in her younger years. She was also a gardener and a cook and enjoyed knitting. She continued to work crossword puzzles entertain friends and play with her cat until the end of her long life.

Stevenson came to Clatsop County in 1965, after marrying Benson Rotstein, who took a job as a teacher at Astoria High School. He died in a boating accident on the Columbia River five years later. Her first husband was Philip Stevenson, a screenwriter and playwright whom she married in 1939 and divorced in 1964. The couple had two sons, Joseph and Marshall Stevenson.

On hearing the news of her death, Warrenton Mayor Gil Gramson called for a moment of silence at the City Commission meeting for Stevenson, who was the last mayor of Hammond before it was annexed into the city of Warrenton.

There could still be another chapter in Stevenson's life. Heintz said earlier that her time as mayor inspired her last book, "The Last Town in Oregon," which was to be published after her death.

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