Eva McGown

Eva McGown bigraphy, stories - Official hostess of Fairbanks, Alaska

Eva McGown : biography

June 23, 1883 – February 22, 1972

Eva McGown née Montgomery (1883–1972), the "hostess of Fairbanks," was best known for her three decades helping newcomers, military wives, construction workers, students, and visitors to find shelter in Fairbanks, Alaska during periods of time — particularly World War II — when the demand for housing far oustripped supply. Named Official Hostess of Fairbanks and Honorary Hostess of Alaska, McGown was featured in an article in Reader’s Digest and a broadcast of the popular biographical television program This is Your Life, and was the basis for the character Bridie Ballantyne in the 1958 novel Ice Palace and its 1960 film adaptation. She died in 1972 in a fire in the Nordale Hotel, where she had lived the last 28 years of her life.


In one of Alaska’s deadliest hotel fires, the Nordale Hotel caught fire on February 22, 1972, killing four people and destroying the hotel.State of Alaska v. Jennings.] 555 P.2d 248 Alaska 1976. Oct 01, 1976. Retrieved through on 2007-06-08. Among the four who died in the blaze was McGown, then 88. One of the items recovered from the hotel safe after the hotel fire was a small box belonging to her, in which was contained a piece of dried sod from Ireland. An Alaska Supreme Court decision later ruled that the City of Fairbanks had a duty to protect hotel occupants through fire inspections.


Category:People from Fairbanks, Alaska Category:People from Antrim, County Antrim Category:1883 births Category:1972 deaths

National exposure

McGown’s fame spread far beyond Fairbanks. In 1951, she was the subject of an article in the magazine Reader’s Digest and on April 22, 1953 she was featured on a broadcast of the NBC biographical television show This is Your Life with host Ralph Edwards.Davidson, Jim. (2005). Jim Davidson’s Classic TV Info. Retrieved on 2007-06-08. Her TV appearance was also included as part of the first broadcast of Fairbanks television station KFAR-TV in early 1955.Cole, 2003, pp. 167–168. In her 1958 novel about Alaska, Ice Palace,Ferber, Edna. (1959). Ice Palace. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. author Edna Ferber based the character of Bridie Ballantyne, official greeter of the fictional town of Baranof, on McGown;,Cole, 2003, pp. 175–176. the part of Bridie Ballantyne was played by Carolyn Jones in the 1960 film adaptation of the novel. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved on 2007-06-08.

Recognitions and honors

McGown was the first woman to win the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce distinguished-service award.

In 1953, territorial governor B. Frank Heintzleman issued a proclamation in 1953 naming McGown Alaska’s honorary hostess.

In 1971 the University of Alaska Fairbanks dedicated a music rehearsal hall in McGown’s honor. The Eva McGown Music Room is located in the Fine Arts Complex. It is specifically designed for choral practice and is equipped with risers for group rehearsal.

A stained glass window designed by Helen L. Atkinson and made by Debbie Mathews from over 500 pieces of glass was created for St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in 1999. The window commemorates Eva McGown and the St. Matthew’s choir of the early 1900s and depicts McGown playing the organ.

Early life and marriage

Eva Montgomery was born on June 23, 1883 in Antrim, County Antrim, Ireland. Little is known about her early life other than that she was director of a choir in Belfast in the early 1900s.University of Alaska. (n.d.) UA Highlights: The People Behind Campus Names. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska. Reprinted from the Nanook News (student newspaper of University of Alaska Fairbanks), May 14, 1971. Retrieved on 2007-06-08.

In 1914, when she was 31, she came to the United States to marry Arthur Louis McGown, the part-owner of the Model Cafe in Fairbanks. Her travel from Belfast to Fairbanks included a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean on what she later described as "a filthy boat"Patty, Stanton. (2005-05-14). Seattle Times. Retrieved on 2007-06-08. Excerpted from Fearless Men and Fabulous Women: A Reporter’s Memoir from Alaska & the Yukon by Stanton H. Patty (Kenmore, WA: Epicenter Press, 2004), pp. 171–175. ISBN 0-9745014-0-9. and a cross-country journey by train to Seattle, where she boarded a steamer bound for Valdez, Alaska, followed by over a month’s winter travel by horse-drawn sleigh and dogsled to Fairbanks, staying at roadhouses along the way. "There were rough and tough men on the trail," Eva later remembered. "But never a cursing word did they say in my hearing. They gave me hot bricks for my feet and wrapped furs around me." She arrived in Fairbanks on February 26, 1914, and was married to Arthur McGown that same evening.