Cornelia Cook Menefee Biographical Information

Cornelia Cook, later Cornelia Cook Menefee, 1889-1983


November 16, 1889. She was born in the Cook family home at 11th and Yamhill Streets Portland, Oregon.


Conelia's father was James W. Cook. He wan born in New Jersey in 1833. He was in the salmon packing business. The cannery was at Clifton, on the Orgon side of the Columbia River, between Portland and Astoria. It was the first fish cannery in Oregon.

James W. Cook was a successful business man. He arrived in Portland when he was in his early twenties with five dollars in his pocket. When he died at the age of 80 he left an estate of $1,078,258.47

Cornelia's mother was Ianthe (Cully) Miller Cook. She was born in Jacksonville, Oregon in 1852, the first white girl to be born in Southern Oregon. She was proud of this.

Cornelia's sister was Cully Ann Cook, born a year and a halp after Cornelia. A third child Dorothy died at birth.


Conelia was intelligent and diligent. She attended the old Portland Academy and did well. Her father felt that she should attend a public school and she did this. She was later sent to Roger's Hall, a boarding school in New England. She was there for two years. That was the extent of her formal education.

Her father was quite old and wanted his daughters to be near him. Because of this. Cornelia did not got to college. He did allow herto travel in Europe, however. She was chaperoned by Florence Harrison, an instructor at Roger's Hall. They remained good friends throughouht their long and enteresting lives.


James W. Cook died in 1913. Cornelia stayed on with her mother in the "new" family home at 407 Vista Avenue in Portland. Cully married Maurice Crumpacker just before her father's death in 1913. He was later to bocome an Oregon Congressman in Washington D.C.

At the end of World War I, Cornelia and other young women went to Nice in France. They helped entertain soldiers who were waiting to be sent home to the states.

She returned to Portland where she joined the Junior League and became it's second president.

She and her mother traveled to the Asia about this time. They toured China and Japan.

Marriage And Parenthood

In Portland again, she bocame engaged to P.L. Menefee, a handsome young man, eight years younger than she. They were married in Cully's house on September 4, 1923. Cornelia and P.L. had three children: Bruce, born in 1924, and the Twins, Towner and Cornelia, born in 1926. The family moved from Protland to Pasadena, california where P.L. was active in the Pasadena Community Playhouse. L.B. Menefee, Sr. P.L. father, gave them $500 a monh to live on. Mrs. Cook gave them $150 a month. This money made it possible for P.L. to pursue his amateur acting status at the Playhouse. They built a beautiful home outside pasadena.

The marriage was not stable. they were separated for several months in the late 1920's. P.L. went to New York where he was active in the Theater Guild. Cornelia remained in Pasadena where the children were enrolled in nursery school and kindergarten. The family spent the summer in Portland. P.L. missed them and wanted to go back to them. Cornelia agreed, mostly because of the chirdren.

The stock market crash and the Great Depression came about this time. Both Mrs. Cook and L.B. Menefee, Sr. lost most of their property and their money. Supporting the young Menefees became agreat burden on P.L.'s father. P.L. was interested only in the theater. He was not talented enough to earn a living from it. They rented the Pasadena House and returned to Portland in the summer of 1932 where his father was better able to look after them. They found a small farm to live on in echange for making improvements on the property. The children were enrolled in a public school.

P.L.'s interest in drama was still strong and he went to work in a smal theater in Portland. (I do not know if he was paid for this). He fell in love with one of the actresses there and asked Cornelia for a divorce. Mrs. Cook had just died and she left Cornelia a small income. Because of this she was able to give P.L. the divorce he wanted.

Cornelia's sister Cully was a widow with three teenage boys. She owned a large house in Dunthorpe, a residential neighborhood outside Portland. An excellent school served the needs of the families there. Cully and Cornelia decided to combine incomes, live in Cully's house and go to work in necessary. (Cornelia still owened the house in Pasadena but the rent went to make payments on the Mortgage).

This arrangement worked well enough at first. Cornelia had to go to work which kept her away from the children. She worked for one of the government agencies dispensing funds to the unemployed and the poor. This was depressing work and Cornelia became inceasingly unhappy with here life. She kept going however. The arrangement with Cully was successful for awhile, but after two years Cornelia wanted to have a house where she and the children could live by themselves. She rented a small house in Dunthorpe where the children could stay in school.

Times were hard but Cornelia kept going. And in 1939 or1940 the Pasadena house was sold. Paying off the mortgage took most of the money, but there was enough left for her to build quite a nice house in Dunthorpe. She still had to work but that too was better. She found a job as Alumni Secretary at Reed College in Portland. P.L. was also doing well and could help with the chilren's education. She remained at Reed until the end of World War II when she could at last stop work and devote herself to her lovely garden and to traveling in Europe and in Mexico. She was also able to help her children if they needed it.

The house in Dunthorpe proved too large for one person and in the mid 1950's she sold it. She was then 70 years old but she built still another house, this time for hersef alone. It had a beautiful but small garden which she could keep up.

In her late seventies she felt it was necessary to collect as much information as she could about the Miller and Cook families to give to her heirs. She did this with the help of the Oregon Historical Society and interviews with people who had the information she wanted. In 1972 she presented each of the children and grandchildren with a summary of her findings.

As she went into her eighties her eyesight began to fail and she could no longer drive a car. Her children wanted her to move into an apartment in downtown Portland; and she finally agreed. She took a large and pleasant apartment not far frorm 11th andYamhill where she was born.

Her physical health declined but she kept her "marbles" and she liked to put it. She grew older and older and each year some of her friends died. She became increasingly dissatified with her body which wasn't able to do what she wanted it to do. But she was sustained by her children and her many grandchildren who loved her. They trooped n and out of the apartement. Her heart was strong and kept her going until April, 1983 when at the age of 93 she contracted pneumonia and her heart couldn't do it's job anymore. She died in her sleep, with her three children near her, early on April 13 and her ashes weere buried in the family plot beside her parents which is what she wanted.