Photo:  Whatcom Museum
Frances Payne Larrabee
Enriching a Community 
While men of means and influence were building the physical and political infrastructure of Fairhaven and the surrounding towns of Bellingham Bay, the women of the region were playing a significant role in the cultural enrichment of the growing community.     

Single women of limited resources and education worked in canneries, in laundries, or as cooks and domestics.  Others with greater skills and education became teachers, nurses, bookkeepers or librarians.  The married women of this era, especially wives of successful businessmen, were involved in civic and cultural activities that enriched not only their own lives but those of the community as a whole.  Notable among this group was Frances Payne Larrabee, wife of financial magnate, Charles X. Larrabee. 
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Frances Frazier Payne was born January 15, 1867, in St. Charles, Missouri to Benjamin Howard Payne and his second wife, Adelia Rosaltha Gray.  The Payne descendants claim an impressive lineage in America dating back to the arrival of Sir John Payne in Virginia sometime before 1650.

An accomplished pianist, Frances (Fannie) studied music at the Mary Institute in St. Louis and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, followed by a year of study in Berlin with Oscar Reif.

Frances Payne and C.X. Larrabee met in Boston in 1890.  They could not have been more different--he, a rugged burly outdoorsman and she a cultured, gifted pianist of diminutive stature.  They fell in love and married August 2, 1892.  She was 25, and he was 49.


On August 13, 1892, the couple moved into Larrabee’s Fairhaven Hotel where they spent more than twenty years and where all four of their children were born.
After their years at the Fairhaven Hotel, the Larrabees began building a lavish new residence on property they owned in the area now known as Edgemoor.  They hired Seattle architect, Carl Gould, to design their handsome new home, but before it was completed, C.X. Larrabee died suddenly on September 16, 1914.  Undeterred, Fannie assumed supervision of the home’s construction and extensive landscaping.  She also entered into the management ranks of her husband’s financial holdings within the Pacific Realty Company.

Frances Larrabee with her children Charles, Mary, Ben, and Ned, Fairhaven, 1908
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies at Western Washington University (Larrabee Family Papers)

Long before the death of her husband, the Larrabees were making an impact on the welfare of the community with donations of money and property.  Soon after arriving in Fairhaven, Frances was instrumental in founding the Bellingham Bay Home for Children which provided a safe shelter for homeless children.  

Married women of this era, especially women of means, contributed to the improvement of society through their involvement in religious and cultural institutions, and Frances Larrabee was an example of this phenomenon. She was active in the Presbyterian church and donated the property upon which two church buildings were erected.  She joined the Monday Club, the oldest literary club in this area and transformed it into an organization that also highlighted societal and political issues of the Progressive era.
Frances Payne Larrabee, Fairhaven, ca. 1912
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies at Western Washington University (Larrabee Family Papers)


Mrs. Larrabee was also involved in the Bellingham Woman’s Music Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Legion Auxiliary, the Twentieth Century Club and the Washington State Historical Society.  She believed in women’s suffrage and equal opportunities for women in education and in society.

According to her grandson, C.X. Larrabee, 2nd, she was brainy, prudent and skillful in business matters.  As president of her husband’s Pacific Realty Company, Mrs. Larrabee contributed land to the Washington State Parks Commission for what was to become the first State park in Washington.  

Perhaps her most enduring achievement, however, was her leadership in the establishment and growth of the local YWCA.  The current building at Maple and Forest streets was a Larrabee donation and was designed by Carl Gould, the architect of their lavish residence.


Frances Payne Larrabee died on June 11, 1941 at the age of 74 after an illness of one day.  Her death was eulogized on the front page of the Bellingham Herald.  Her gifts to the community in her commitment of time, money and personal influence for the betterment of all  local citizens were acknowledged and stand as an enduring tribute to the impressive impact of the Larrabee family.




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