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A persistent pioneer, Crystal Brilliant Snow Jenne was an extraordinary Alaskan. Her name helps to tell her story.
Crystal Snow Jenne was born on May 30, 1884, in Sonora, California. In 1887, when only three years old, she emigrated to the Alaska Territory with her parents, who worked as a troupe of actors entertaining Alaska’s gold miners. When her father joined the Klondike Gold Rush, the family moved to Circle City, where her father built an opera house. At one point, Jenne’s father discovered gold, so the family moved to Seattle, Washington. Unfortunately, her father lost his investments, and so the Snows returned to the Alaska Territory.
For a number of years, Jenne’s mother tutored her, but the child was ten years old before she was enrolled in school for the first time. She attended an Alaskan mission school, where she learned “singing, praying, and knitting.” When the family moved to Juneau, Jenne was sixteen. Despite her age, she was placed in a fifth grade class. Being behind in formal education did not stop Jenne from achieving. She graduated from Juneau High School in 1905 at the age of twenty-one, the only member of her class.
Following her high school graduation, Jenne enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in music. She also earned a teaching certificate. After her college graduation, Jenne taught in Paso Robles, California. Alaska’s history abounds in stories about lionhearted pioneers who were also chalkboard champions. From 1907 to 1908, Jenne taught school in Douglas, Alaska. A talented musician, Jenne performed concerts for gold miners in the Alaska and Yukon Territories when she was not in the classroom.
Always thirsty for knowledge, the venturesome teacher attended the Spencerian Commercial School in Cleveland, Ohio, where she studied business and shorthand. Following her graduation from business school, Jenne returned to Alaska, where she continued her career in education, teaching in Skagway, Sitka, and the Mendenhall Valley, and also at her alma mater, Juneau High School.
In 1916, she married Dr. Charles Percival Jenne, a Juneau dentist, and the couple had three children. Even after she started her family, Crystal continued to teach and give concerts. In 1923, she performed her mother’s composition, Alaska and the U.S.A., for President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence Harding, during their visit to Juneau.
Charles Jenne passed away in 1938.
From 1938 to 1944 Jenne owned and operated the Forget-Me-Not Flower Shop. She was a talented creative writer who penned poetry (publishing a volume of historical poetry) and music and kept journals. Meanwhile, she pursued community activities, participating in church choirs, and continuing with her teaching career.
Her ease with the public and her polished stage presence were valuable assets as she became prominent in Juneau history. In 1934 Crystal Brilliant Snow Jenne was the first woman to run for the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives in the Alaska Territory. Her campaign was unsuccessful; but in 1940 Jenne ran for the house again, and became the second woman elected to the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives. Jenne was a Democrat, and served in the first Division of House of Representatives, which included Juneau (16 members). She served with such political contemporaries as Territorial Senators Anthony Diamond, and E.L. Bob Bartlett, and a young representative from Valdez named William Egan. She was chairman of the Engrossment and Enrollment Committee, and served on several other committees (Banking and Corporations; Education, Public Health, Quarantine and Morals; Printing and Purchasing; and Territorial Institutions Committees). Jenne sponsored or cosponsored a number of bills during her first term. Sample Legislation Sponsored: HB 39 – creating a home for destitute women – passed without the Governor’s signature; HB 78 – requiring registration of nurses in the territory, and creating a nurses examination board – passed; HB 85 – (cosponsored) provision to build a territorial building – did not pass; HB 11O – appropriating $6,000 for an addition to the Skagway school building (where she once taught) – did not pass.
In 1942, she was the first woman re-elected to the Territorial Legislature. She was chairman of the Labor, Capital and Immigration Committee, and served several other committees ( Election Laws and Mileage, Rules Committees, and Committee on Committees). Jenne sponsored or cosponsored a number of bills during her second term. Sample Legislation Sponsored: HB 22 – requiring a doctor’s certificate declaring freedom from infectious and venereal diseases, epilepsy, insanity and drug or alcohol addiction before a marriage license can be issued-passed the House, died in the Senate; HB 42 – requiring employers to provide short term disability compensation and medical assistance to injured workers (an early form of Workers Compensation) – did not pass; HB 62 – (Sponsored by request) a bill that forbid the consumption of hard liquor on the premises where it was sold (bars) – did not pass.
In 1944 she became the first woman ever nominated for a seat in the Alaska Territorial Senate; withdrawing to become the Juneau Postmistress. She was appointed to the postmaster position by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Jenne advanced public knowledge about postal service in the Juneau area during her tenure as Postmaster by participating in local radio programs which alerted Juneau residents to Post Office special mailing policies and procedures. House-to-house city delivery was initiated during her tenure.
In 1956, she resigned as Postmistress and ran for the Senate again, but was defeated.
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.
Throughout her life, Jenne was interested in serving her community and promoting women as instruments of change. She spoke often to local and national clubs on the role of women in the political arena. A quote contributed to Crystal: “When you cease to grow you become like a potato…I will never be a potato.” And she certainly was not. Her active life spanned the ages of 3 to 72 years of age. She was and continues to be an inspiration to women. Crystal passed away at the Sitka Pioneer home in 1968 at the age 84.
Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/1eP6dqANIng