Archival Documents

Martha Louise Black fonds [graphic material, textual records]

Creation Date(s): [187-?] -1942

Physical Description:
20 cm of textual records. - ca 220 postcards. - 89 photographs. - 4 mixed media compositions. - 2 books. - ephemera

Bio Sketch / Admin History:
Martha Louise Black was born to Susan and George Munger on February 24, 1866. The Mungers were a well-off Chicago family with interests in the laundry business. Martha was educated in Indiana at St. Mary’s of Notre Dame, run by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. It was in Indiana that Martha met her first husband, Will Purdy.

Martha and Will were married in 1877. They raised two sons together, Warren and Donald. In 1899 the couple made plans to join the Klondike Gold Rush, but Will backed out, departing instead for Hawaii. Martha followed the original plan, crossing over the Chilkoot Pass with her brother in 1898. Martha and Will’s third son, Lyman, was born in Dawson City in January 1899.

After a brief visit to Chicago in 1899, Martha returned to the Klondike with her father to set up a sawmill operation, which she ran. In 1901 Martha divorced Will Purdy, marrying lawyer and placer miner, George Black, in 1904.

George Black was a staunch Conservative, and Martha became very involved in the territory’s Conservative political circles. She also cultivated her interest in the region’s flora, collecting specimens and mounting them in a manner she termed “artistic botany.” Her work on Yukon flora was recognized in 1917 when she was inducted as a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.

In 1912 George Black was appointed Commissioner of the Yukon, making Martha “First Lady” of the territory. When George resigned from the post to join the war effort in 1916, Martha accompanied her husband, youngest son and the Yukon Infantry Company to England where she administered the Yukon Comfort Fund, sponsored by Dawson’s Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE).

The Blacks returned to the Yukon in 1921 and George became the Member of Parliament (MP) for Yukon Territory. He held the seat until ill-health compelled him to retreat from political life in 1935. Martha Black ran successfully for her husband’s seat that same year, becoming the second Canadian woman to be elected as an MP. She held the seat until 1940.

Martha Black was an active member of the IODE, and a member of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Anglican Church of Canada. She was also an avid writer, publishing in the IODE magazine, Echoes, as well as in the Canadian Home Journal and the Delineator. Martha Black co-authored her biography, My Seventy Years, with Elizabeth Caily Price in 1938, and wrote Yukon Wild Flowers in 1940.

A lifelong champion of the Yukon, Martha Black was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1946, in recognition of her social and cultural contributions to the territory. Martha Black died in Whitehorse on October 31, 1957, at the age of 91.

Scope and Content:
This fonds consists of material created and collected by Martha Louise Black, including: diaries, manuscripts, artistic botany compositions, a postcard collection of primarily European sites, an autograph book, a guest book, published books, and ephemera, such as decorative albums and bridge markers. Also included in this fonds are 89 photographs, consisting largely of Victorian era studio portraits of unidentified individuals.

The manuscripts in this fonds consist of Martha Black's reminiscences of time spent in the Klondike and overseas, much of which was subsequently published in her biography, My Seventy Years. The diaries and guest book span the years 1931 to 1942, and include information about Martha Black's Ottawa years.

Accession Number(s): 1962.125.1 (DM 427), YTG 77.1.1, 77.2.20 (DM 429), 77.2.30 (DM 415), 1983.129 (DM 422), 1984.78.1 (DM 414), 1984.79, 1984.80, 1984.81 (DM 428), 1995.12.77 (DM 417), 2010.22 (DM 413), DM 130, DM 416, DM 417, DM 418, DM 419, DM 420, DM 422

Dawson City Museum is located in the Old Territorial Administration Building at 595 Fifth Avenue.
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