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 centennial Herald Masthead 
  home > news > centennial front > Monday, October 20, 2003 

Marion Krabbe recalls a more gracious age
Marion Cowell, later Marion Krabbe, was 4 years old when this postcard photograph was shot in 1909. COURTESY MARION KRABBE

Marion Krabbe, who was born in Bellingham in 1905, says life in the city didn't change much until the '60s and '70s. COURTESY MARION KRABBE

Marion Krabbe loved teaching, but loved her husband even more.

"When we were married in 1936, I had to give up my teaching career, because in those days women weren't allowed to remain in full-time teaching if they got married," she said. "The feeling was that women couldn't be both teachers and homemakers and do both jobs well."

Krabbe, who was born in Bellingham in 1905, can go a lot further back than 1936 in vivid memory. At age 97, she clearly remembers the feelings and adventures she had as a little girl. A couple of years ago, she began to write them down and produced a charming volume of several thousand words.

"Sometimes, I'd wake up in the middle of the night and a thought would come to me," she said, referring to memories from about 90 years ago. "I would tell myself, 'Put that in!' and turn on the light and write about it."

Krabbe, the former Marion Cowell, remembers when folks raised chickens in her neighborhood on Ellis Street, just south of Alabama Street, less than a mile from downtown. It was one of five houses she lived in around town.

She recalls when people attended church only in their "Sunday best," and when sartorial dignity carried over to visits to movies and restaurants.

Excerpts from Marion Krabbe's book

"Quite often one of my grownup cousins would come to our house in the evenings. She had a beau, which is what they called boyfriends in those days, and he came with her. After refreshment with us they would go sit on the couch in the parlor and spoon. I asked Mama, 'What is spoon?' She said it meant they hugged and kissed. It was all right because they were engaged to be married. I was very curious and wanted to watch, so I snuck up the back stars and crept down the front ones so I could look through the stair posts. However, I got caught."

"Papa was very particular about his appearance. He was considered to be a handsome man. He had been losing his hair, so he had what they called a toupee, a hairpiece. (When he was hit by a woman just learning to drive but saved himself by throwing himself under the car) the toupee fell off onto the street. Also, his head bled. When the men found him lying there with his hair off and his head bleeding, he heard the woman say, 'Oh, how terrible! I have scalped him!' It wasn't serious, and he was up and about in a few days."

"People dressed up when they went places," she said. "I remember how the owners and managers of our department stores would walk the floor, helping customers. Now you have trouble even finding a clerk."

She recalls a much more gracious age while she was growing up and working as an elementary school teacher. She put her finger on why longtime residents often are discomfited by the dramatic changes in Whatcom County over the past several decades.

"The thing about Bellingham is, the town stayed essentially the same way for a long time," she said. "Bellingham had a lovely downtown, with many wonderful stores and theaters. It didn't really begin to change much until the 1960s and '70s."

No regrets

A conversation with Krabbe is filled with a mixture of memories and laughter, often at herself.

"I'll never forget when I applied for Social Security and a longtime friend, Jack Mullen, had to come up from Seattle and swear that my age was correct to be eligible," she said. "He was born at St. Luke's Hospital the same time I was. You see, I was 30 when I married my husband, Mogens Krabbe. But I thought 30 seemed so old to get married, so I put down 29 on our marriage license!"

Krabbe said she had no regrets about giving up her teaching career.

"I had 25 years of a wonderful marriage, until my husband passed away suddenly in 1961," she said. "He was one of those Danish men, a native of Denmark, and he felt the woman should make a good home for her husband. That's the way it was in those days."

Mogens Krabbe, for many years the manager of Olympic-Portland Cement Co., served on the Bellingham City Council in the early '50s.

"When someone asked him to consider running for mayor," she said, "he responded, 'How can I be mayor and run a cement plant?'"

Students respectful

Krabbe graduated from Whatcom High School in 1924 and spent the next two years earning a teaching certificate from Bellingham Normal School, which evolved into Western Washington University. One of her favorite teachers was Ed Arntzen, for whom Arntzen Hall is named.

She taught a year in Lynden and a year in Anacortes before taking advantage of the chance to come back to Bellingham, which she never wanted to leave.

"I taught third grade for seven years at Washington School, the elementary school I attended," said Krabbe, referring to the school where the Washington Square apartments are now located.

Krabbe recalled how she felt her students were usually well-behaved and respectful. In her view, that was largely because so few families then had both parents working.

"It was unusual to have a mother working in those days," she said. "But we women didn't stay home sucking our thumbs! We were involved in all sorts of clubs, charities and volunteer activities."

She had large classes, 32 to 42 students, but said she adjusted.

"Our feeling was that the children were there, so you taught them."

Krabbe worked briefly as a substitute after her marriage. Later, she filled in at the college's library when needed.

"I substituted for about a year to help out after I was married, and I made $5.50 a day," she said. "I thought I was rich!

"We had our share of rich people in Bellingham in those days, but even the people in the lower-income brackets could afford to buy a home," she said. "It was a wonderful place."

- Michelle Nolan

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