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International Women's Day: California Heroines
On International Women’s Day I want to shout out just a few of the powerhouse California women I’ve been researching in my deep dive into San Francisco history — After the Gold Rush.
- Abolitionist Jessie Benton Frémont, celebrity wife of legendary Pathfinder and almost-President John C. Frémont. During the Civil War she successfully mustered literary and clerical forces in San Francisco (including the Reverend Thomas Starr King, who “saved California for the Union”) to oppose and defeat powerful Southern political forces as they sought to turn California into a slave state.
- Mary Ellen Pleasant, Black entrepreneur and real estate magnate who amassed a fortune worth millions in 1860’s dollars, conductor on the California end of the Underground Railroad, civil rights activist, key supporter of San Francisco’s Executive Committee of Black journalists and businessmen, canny manipulator of powerful white male bankers and businessmen —and voodoo queen.
- Anna Judah, the female half of the couple who conceived of and pushed through the country’s first transcontinental railroad. During Civil War years she used her painting and powers of persuasion as she and her husband Theodore Judah raced to prevent the Southern route the slaveholders intended to expand slavery into the West.
- Ina Coolbrith, the sensitive, bookish beauty who escaped a violent marriage to compete head-to-head with the state’s leading literary men and become the first poet laureate of California.
- Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, 15-year old daughter of an aristocratic Mexican family, who refused an arranged marriage to wed U.S. Army Captain Henry Burton and travel with him in high diplomatic circles during the Civil War, serving as translator for Latin delegations. She returned to California to fight white takeover of native Californio land holdings, and was the first female Mexican American to write novels in English: the socio-political criticisms Who Would Have Thought It? and The Squatter and the Don.
- Phoebe Apperson Hearst, teenage bride, mother and mentor to William Randolph Hearst—who educated herself to become a significant builder of the University of California, and one of the state’s most important philanthropists.
There are so many, many more I’m discovering… but no one should have to dig to find them.
#Herstory is history.
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After the Gold Rush is the epic story of the building of San Francisco as novelized history, told by the real people who built it, in their own words, from original source material such as newspapers, letters, court documents and the novels they wrote themselves.
Part 1 brings to life California’s rarely discussed Civil War and Reconstruction years. The characters are familiar American icons like Mark Twain, Governor Leland Stanford and mining baron George Hearst—and many more real historical figures who don’t happen to be straight white men but deserve to be equally well known.
California’s pioneers, dreamers, barons, immigrants, californios, civil rights leaders, villains. They knew each other, married each other, fought each other, and killed each other in “the most picturesque city, in the most romantic state, at the most dramatic moment in the history of the Republic.”
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