Her name helps to tell her story: Crystal Brilliant Snow Jenne

Posted: Wednesday, January 14, 2004

By all accounts, Crystal Snow was an extraordinary Alaskan. She was born in Sonora, Calif., in 1884. She is one of the few women included in the 1977 volume by Evangeline Atwood and Bob DeArmond, "Who's Who in Alaskan Politics," and there she merits just as many lines of biographical information as missionary and education agent Sheldon Jackson.

Crystal Snow was born into a family of adventurous performers. She was a talented child actress, dancer and soprano, and her family performed in California and Washington State from the early to mid-1800s. The family arrived in Juneau on the Olympian on April 24, 1887, when Chrystal was just three years old. She and her older brother Montgomery (Monte) are considered the first white children to cross Chilkoot Pass. They traversed that arduous trail in 1894, before that pass became famous as a route to the Klondike Gold Rush. The children were accompanying their actor parents, George T. and Anna Snow, to gold camps at Circle City in the Alaska Territory and Fortymile and Dawson in Yukon Territory. Her obituary describes the family as traveling with "a Shakespearian troupe."

The Snows performed at the opera house in Circle City from 1895 to '96, putting on shows such as "Camille" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin." They moved to a cabin across from Dawson in the autumn of 1897. George Snow kept a theater scrapbook that contains clippings about their performances and reviews, programs and other memorabilia.

Jean Murray, in "Music of the Alaska-Klondike Gold Rush," writes that the family had "a three-octave organ in tow" when they went over the Chilkoot. Murray describes George Snow as "a theater manager," responsible for building Circle's two-story opera house, "the first in Alaska." Murray also says that the family prospected on Bonanza Creek in Dawson and took out gold worth $78,000.

Another source says that when news of the gold strike at Nome reached the family, they headed there via the Yukon River, "shooting the rapids on a raft." In 1899, the family was in Seward. Here, at 15, Crystal ate her first fresh fruit - an apple that cost a dollar.

According to an April 1984 article in the Southeastern Log, the Snow family hiked over Chilkoot more than once. They "were trapped in a blizzard at the summit one winter. Having their fill of hard times on the road, the Snows finally decided to settle in Juneau."

Because of her peripatetic childhood, Snow had not attended school regularly, but was tutored by her mother. She was admitted to the eighth grade by examination. Snow attended Juneau High School, graduating in 1905 as the sole member of her class. The Log says that she then went to the Lower 48 for voice instruction, but strained her vocal chords and could not speak louder than a whisper for more than a year. "When her plans were frustrated, Snow channeled her ambition into other directions," the Log says.

Snow attended normal school and the University of California at Berkeley, earned a teaching certificate and taught school in California until returning to Alaska to teach in Douglas from 1907 to '08. During the summer of 1908, Crystal gave a concert tour of mining camps along the creeks of Alaska and the Yukon Territory with pianist Dazie Stromstadt.

From 1908 to 1916, she lived as free a life as was possible for a single woman of her era. She studied shorthand in Ohio. She worked in Vancouver as a clerk in the office of the Yukon & Southeast Alaska Publicity Bureau. She taught in Sitka, working after-hours and Saturdays at the U.S. Experimental Agricultural Station as a secretary. After teaching in the Mendenhall Valley area and in Juneau, she married Dr. Charles P. Jenne, a dentist, in 1916, and bore three children. During this period she continued to direct and participate in musical performances and church choirs.

In addition to being a performer, Snow was a talented creative writer who penned poetry and music and kept journals. Her ease with the public and her polished stage presence were valuable assets as she became prominent in Juneau history. In civic affairs, she was a member of the National Professional & Business Women's Club, the Juneau Woman's Club, the Alaska Federation of Women's Clubs, the Democratic Women's Club and various other committees and organizations.

In 1934, when her youngest child was 13, Snow became the first woman candidate to file for Alaska Territorial House of Representatives. Her campaign was unsuccessful, but she was undeterred. Two years later, she was the first woman candidate to file for Alaska Territorial Senate. She was again unsuccessful. Nevertheless, her political career continued until 1956, during which period she waged various Territorial House and Senate campaigns. Snow served as Territorial House Representative from 1941 to '44. Her political contemporaries included Anthony Dimond and E.L. "Bob" Bartlett, who often corresponded with her. In 1942, she became the first woman re-elected to an Alaska legislative seat.

If you receive mail at your home, give thanks to Jenne. She initiated house-to-house delivery during her tenure as Juneau Postmaster from 1944 to '55.

Jenne became a widow in 1938. From 1938 to 1944 she owned and operated the Forget-Me-Not Flower Shop. She died June 5, 1968, at the Pioneers Home in Sitka.

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