Generations of Women
Moving History Forward

The following is the text of the March Women's History Month Program titled "Generations of Women Moving History Forward. It was written and narrated by Shipley Walters

I'm going to talk about the history of Yolo County and some of the women who made a difference in the lives of people in Yolo County.

First a little about Yolo County. It was established on February 18, 1850, one of the original 27 counties created by California's first legislature. The name Yolo comes from the Patwin Indian word which means "a place abounding in tules, or rushes."

There were women inn this area before 1850: 2,000 to 4,000 years ago Native Americans: Miwok, Patwin and Nisenan settled along the Sacramento River and along Putah and Cache creeks in the interior. The Native American culture was pretty much undisturbed by outsiders until the early 19th century when a few Spanish explorers (male) ventured up the Sacramento River, followed by American hunters and trappers looking for furs and adventure. A few families settled permanently in the 1840s, acquiring title to large grants of land from the Mexican government. Then gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill on the American River on Jan. 24, 1848. By summer the word was out to the East and abroad, and the Gold rush was on.

There weren't very many people in the area. The census of 1852 recorded a total county populations of 1,440. Of those 232 were women - 189 white and 43 Indian.

Try to picture Yolo county in 1850, Mostly flat, lots of trees, great expanses of tules covering most of the eastern half of the county; floods in winter; hot, dry summers; mosquitoes everywhere, a constant annoyance and health danger; wide animals roaming the plains - deer, elk, antelope, grizzly bears. Very few people, a few houses widely scattered. The only means of transportation - boats on the water, or horseback or foot along a few trails.

The first place there was much activity was on the west bank of the Sacramento river, where settlements sprang up to supply, the thousands of adventurers who were coming up the river from San Francisco to look for gold.

Margaret McDowell

My name is Margaret McDowell. I was born in Pennsylvania in 1823. I married James McDonnell in 1840. I was 17 years old. We traveled to Louisiana, Illinois, Mississippi and finally to California in 1845 by which time we had three children. I was 22. My husband was a clock and gunsmith. After we arrived at Fort Sutter. He left me and the children and went to fight the Mexicans in the skirmishes of 1845. When he returned we bought some land across the river from what is now Old Town and build a log cabin.

My husband was killed in a barroom brawl on May 24, 1849, leaving me with five children to raise. (four girls and a boy). a house and a garden. I couldn't read or write.

When I found a cow in my garden eating up my vegetables (He had been giving me trouble before,) I took my husband's old rifle, and I shot that cow. I paid a person an ounce of gold dust to throw the carcass into the river.

I had to find a way to take care of the myself and the children so I started taking in boarders. To make money I also began selling city lots. Sold my first on in November for $500.

In 1851, I married Dr. Enos Taylor and became the respected Mrs. Taylor. We had a child (made 6). I bought and sold property; established a school for the children; build a two-story Town Hall. It served as the Yolo County Courthouse when Washington was the county seat. Unfortunately Dr. Taylor took to drink and gambling. I divorced him in 1871. I had to sue to regain the right to sell the property I had owned before the marriage. The Court awarded me half the unsold property.

I died in 1883. I was 59. I was the leading citizen of the town of Washington when I died.

Yolo County has been an agricultural area since its beginning, and most of the farmers lived on their own land. Each farm had to be pretty self-sufficient, mainly because it was hard to get from one place to another there wasn't much to buy anyway. The farmer's wife worked hard, with modern conveniences.

Jane Zimmerman Morris

I was 15 when Asa W. Morris, a pioneer who had moved to Yolo County in 1850, returned home to Pennsylvania and persuaded me to elope with him and come to his ranch near Knights Landing. We came by boat via Panama in 1858.

A typical day in my life would Asa and four hired help or neighbors plowing and sowing creating a cow pasture below the orchard. The north wind would be blowing.

I cook and bake and make butter and scrub and cut out two or three shirts to be sewn by hand after chores are done. If it was harvest time, besides by regular chores there was cooking for the harvesters.

The threshing machines were expensive so when it came time to harvest the grain, the big machines and teams of workers would go from ranch to ranch. Us women would gather from the various ranches and cook three hearty meals a day for the big work crews.

I also had a kitchen garden with vegetables and fruit. Canning and preserving was a task I did not look forward to during the hot summer months. I also had do spinning and weaving. Not an easy life. But we farmer's wives, we was all in the same boat.

In town things weren't much easier. In Woodland there was no gas until 1900, no electricity until about 1901, only a few telephones before 1900 (97 in 1897). This meant no refrigerators - daily marketing and cooking, kerosene lamps and washing the glass chimneys every morning.

They didn't have washing machines in those days. They had big galvanized round tubs. They had to heat the water on the stove in the kitchen and carry the kettles from the kitchen out into the yard where the tubs were kept the hot water into the tubs. They washed everything by washboard. Then the laundry had to be rinsed and rinsed and rinsed and hung out on the line. It was an awful job. The soap was made from the fat that was left from beef and pork."

If widowed: A woman had to take over the management of their husband's ranch or business.

If single: Be a teacher.

Gertrude Freeman

My name is Gertrude Freeman. I was born in 1838 in Calhoun County, Mich., where I began to teach school when I was 14 years old. I was asked to become an instructor at the Women's College in Lansing when I was 16. My grandfather had been to California 1849 during the Gold Rush. It sounded so exciting that I persuaded my mother to let me travel with my aunt and uncle when they decided to move the California. We traveled by way of Nicaragua and we arrived in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day in 1856. We came by boat up the Sacramento River. We spent a few months in what is now Folsom but I came to what was then called Yolo City to apply for a teaching position I signed a contract to teach in Yolo City on my 18th birthday and started to teach in the first public school in town. I only taught for two years because in 1858 I married Frank Freeman and as you might know, married women were not allowed to teach in those days.

We had three children and I threw my energy into helping Frank start a town here. When I arrived in 1856 there was only a blacksmith shop, one log house, a store and the schoolhouse. I convinced Frank not to sell liquor in the store he had purchased as I would not be supported by the sale of spirits. I helped to start the Woodland Public Library. I was the first president of its Board of Trustees.

When Frank filed the first town plat in 1861, he applied for a post office and became the first postmaster. He asked me to think of a name for the new town so I named it Woodland because of all the beautiful valley oaks which covered this area.

Frank died in 1900 but I lived until 1934. I was 96 years of age.

Freeman Elementary School was named for Gertrude Swain Freeman but there is another school in Woodland, Harriet Stoddard Lee Junior High School who was maybe the most famous educator in Yolo County.

Harriet Stoddard Lee

My name is Harriet Stoddard Lee.

I was born in Sutter County in 1859. I was one of 10 children. I graduated from Hesperian College in Woodland. It was a three story building located on ten acres south of Main Street between First and College Streets. It was right next door to the Christian Church. The called it a "college" but it was really a school for boys an girls up to college age.

I received my college degree at the Teachers' Preparatory School in Sacramento know as Sacramento State.

I taught school in Woodland for 35 years. Then I was elected the County Superintendent of Schools. I served for 13 years.

To go back to teaching days. One day my class of boys and girls was discussing women's suffrage. One lad emphatically stated that he was against the idea. I asked him if he didn't think his mother should have as much voice in the government as "bums on the street." He answered me "No, she hasn't sense enough."

I can tell you that did not sit well with me. I decided to have a contest where students wrote why they thought their mother should be "Queen for a Day." When the mother was selected I asked the boy who thought his mother did have the sense to vote to be the Queen's escort. He was so tickled to be chosen.

This gave me another idea, in 1903 I persuaded the Native Daughters of the Golden West to set aside a day each year to honor American mothers. In 1909 the support for Mothers Day was great enough for the State of California to adopt the idea. In 1914, Present Woodland Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday May as Mother's Day in the U.S.

I should tell you that after I retired I rented a room from the Gable sisters at the Gable Mansion on First and Cross Street. One day, I returned from an errand in town to discover that an overstuffed arm chair was ablaze. I used pots of water from the kitchen to douse the fire and save the Gable Mansion for you to enjoy today.

Not all women worked as teachers. In the 1870s and 1880s orchards were as important part of the county's agricultural economy. With apricots, prunes, grapes (for wine and raisins) as cash crops, farmers with small farms - 150 acres or less - could make good money. The work was seasonal, from late June to November, and large numbers of laborers were needed to pick, curt and process the fruit. The pay was low, but women flocked to the jobs to earn money to support their families or for extra money.

Leila Hecke Hardy

My name is Leila Hecke Hardy. I was born on the Yolonda Ranch south of Woodland in 1901. Since I was 9 years old I had been picking and cutting apricots.

I worked with other high school students at my father's ranch harvesting in the summer and working as a picker during vacation. When my father needed someone to take over the management of the apricot shed. I saw no reason to think I couldn't do it. I had just graduated from high school was only 17. It cause quite a stir around here. I was supervising the picking, cutting, drying, packing, marketing and shipping of all the Yolanda's apricots.

Even the San Francisco Chronicle heard about me. A 17-year-old girl managing a packing shed. They sent a reporter to interview me.

I told him "I can see no reason why a girl cannot think, act and execute the everyday things of life precisely the same as a boy. We all like the trifling and easier things usually given over to women, but in a time like this I believe every woman possesses the grit and the executive ability if they will simply permit themselves to rise above the insignificant place custom has fixed for them."

The boxes of apricots weighed 30 to 50 pounds. Women got paid by the box for cutting the apricots and removing the pits. In the 1880s they got 10 cents a box. Later it was 35 cents. A good cutter could do 10 boxes a day, six days a week during the season.

Besides teaching and farm work, some of the women became nurses.

Nursing was a profession which gained, considerable respect as a result of Florence Nightingale's efforts in the Crimean War in 1854. In the U.S. nurses were praised for their service in the Civil War.

Mary Frances Nicolson Gaither

My names is Mary Frances Nicolson Gaither. I was born in Boonville, Cooper County, Missthei on May 4th, 1865. It was just at the end of the Civil War. My mother died when I was only 10 years old. I was left with no one to care for me. I was taken into the home of Dr. Evans to take care of his young son. The doctor trained me to be a nurse and a midwife. For nine years I nursed under his supervision before I married Augustus Gaither.

Augustus had a sister living in California. They had come out to work for George and John D. Stephens. Both had lived in the same part of Missthei as we had.

My husband Gus and I purchased two lots in Esparto in 1892. We built a large home where I tended to the nursing needs of many people of all races living in the Capay Valley. I also took in boarders.

I raised three sons. They all attended both grammar and high school. Elmer, my middle son, graduated from Esparto High School in 1908. He was the first colored boy to graduate in Esparto and the second in the County.

I followed nursing all my life. I cared for babies born to women I had taken care of at their birth. I traveled all around the Esparto area to treat the sick, first by horse and buggy and later in a Ford Model T. Believe you me the roads were terrible. Sometimes they were so muddy I barely got through. Other times they were just hot and dusty.

My husband Gus died in 1930. I was hospitalized for about a month before I died on July 3, 1938.

Mary Frances Nicholson Gaither died one of the best known and most respected people in the area. There was another woman living in Woodland in the early 1900s who was also a nurse and would leave her mark on the health system.

Kathleen McConnell

I am Kathleen McConnell Mixon I was born in 1874. I was the fifth of six daughters born to Mary and Edward McConnell. We moved from Ontario, Canada in the mid-1870s to Colusa County to join a prosperous uncle. My parents died in the 1880s and as orphans, my two sisters and I were sent to live at a convent school in Grass Valley.

My older sister, Bridgette, and my younger sister, Agnes, and myself attended Mt. Zion Nursing School near Napa. At the turn of the century, doctors and nurses made house calls and the ill were treated at home. In 1905, 102 years ago this June 1st, I established the Woodland Sanitarium with the help of my sisters. We rented a seven-room house at 110 N. College Street. We scrubbed the rooms with carbolic acid, outfitted a room for surgery and put in eight patient beds. We persuaded doctors to bring their patients to the sanitarium where surgery could be performed under sterile conditions. When faced with the difficulty of transporting bedridden patients, we rigged a stretcher with a bend in it to accommodate the bend in the staircase.

In 1911, I married Frank Mixon, the Editor of the "Mail of Woodland" newspaper and announced my retirement from nursing. I sold my hospital to a group of physicians. They soon moved to a lot a few blocks away at third and Cross and built a 17 bed hospital.

Agnes, my younger sister and fellow nurse died at my home at 645 First St., in 1920. I died in 1922 at the age of 48 following surgery performed not in Woodland but in San Francisco.

Over the years the facility was enlarged and the name changed to the Woodland Clinic. A new building was constructed at the present location, Gibson and Cottonwood, in 1967. The former hospital is now the Skilled Nursing Center, a convalescent home. The original sanitarium is a private home.

There were no women doctors in the county in the 19th century, but women have practiced medicine in growing numbers if the 19th century.

I was born in 1888. I graduated in 1910 from the University of California Medical school in San Francisco. I was the school's first intern in pediatrics. In 1912 I moved with my husband Tracy Storer, who was a faculty member at Davis, and established a practice in the care of young children. I helped set up well-baby clinics in Clarksburg, Broderick, Bryte, West Sacramento, Yolo and Knights landing. I continued to work in the Clarksburg and Bryte Clinics myself until I was 80 years old. I died in 1886 but before I did a garden was established on the Davis campus, at the west end of the arboretum. This Spring there will be hundreds of yellow daffodils in bloom. Take time to smell the flowers.

Life for women started changing in the last years of the 19th century. Pioneering days were over. Farmers were getting rich by growing and selling grain or fruit or livestock. Roads, railroads and steamships made transportation easier and communication faster. Women who formerly had spent their entire days coping with husband, children and housekeeping now had "help." Perhaps a Chinese cook and a "girl" to help with the laundry. And the matrons had some free time to look at the world outside their homes. In the 1870s and 1880s many women who were active in their churches, particularly in the Protestant churches with strict ethical teachings teachings, were attracted to the WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT. The W.C.T.U.

Emily Hoppin

My name is Emily Hoppin. I was born in 1854 in Michigan. I came to Woodland as the young bride of Charles Hoppin in 1874. I was 20 years old. Charles had come to California in 1849 as a gold miner. He had fair success in the gold field but he got tired of the hard work. He joined his brother in buying farmland west of Woodland where they raised grain and stock. That's were we settled to raise the family of six children.

In the evening I wanted to sit with my husband and have a conversation. He always had his nose stuck in the Congressional Record. He was more interested in reading than talking to me. I decided that I would read it too, and then we would have something to talk about. We did have something to talk about, and I found that i became more interested in my community and the business of government.

Did you know that in the 1870s, there were over 40 saloons in Woodland? Forty! There was also an active red light district in downtown Woodland, right across from a school! The traffic in liquor was directly responsible for murders, suicides and cutting scrapes. It was scandalous.

In 1883 I became the first county president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. I was the editor of the State Temperance Union newspaper. We worked against the manufacture, export and sale of intoxicating liquors and for equal suffrage for women - the right to vote!

Finally in October 1911, the women of California were given the right to vote. On the first day of voter registration in Woodland, 400 women turned out to register! It was glorious! And just a few months later in December, the question of temperance was put before the Woodland voters. Some 472 voted to keep the saloons open but 770 voted against the sale of liquor and the saloons were closed. Woodland was dry ! What a victory!

Early in 1915 I campaigned for President of the California Federation of Women's Clubs. I won the election but I died a few months later on August 4, 1915.

Imagine Emily's joy, and that of her friends when California adopted the constitutional amendment in 1911 giving women the right to vote, 9 years before the U.S. adopted the 19th amendment. As we have already heard women went right out and registered and they not only closed the saloons in Woodland but all the saloons in Yolo County.

There was another leader in the Women's Christian Temperance Union and one of the most remarkable women in Yolo County's history.

Sarah Laugenthe Huston

My name is Sarah Laugen- the Huston. I was born in North Carolina in 1848. I was the oldest daughter of Samuel Laugenthe. My father's brothers came to California looking for gold. They bought ranch property in Yolo County that they called the Oak Leaf Ranch. My family came to California in 1866 by way of the Panama Canal, at the close of the Civil War. I was 18.

Like many other pioneer women, I taught school for a couple of years in a one-room schoolhouse. I married Walter S. Huston in 1869 My husband was a merchant in Knights Landing but after the disastrous floods of 1878, we moved to Woodland. We raised six children, joined the Christian Church and we became respected and well known members of Woodland Society. I was a charter member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union that was organized in 1883. We promoted two major goals: The prohibition of liquor traffic and women's suffrage.

I served on the board of the Woodland Cemetery Association for 30 years. I assisted in the building of the new Christian Church in 1889. I was elected to the Woodland City Council for two years . I was also an active backer of Woodland's volunteer fire department.

I wrote a weekly temperance column for Woodland's two papers, the Woodland Daily Democrat and the Mail of Woodland for several years.

Unfortunately, Walter died prematurely in 1894. I was 43 years old and had six children depending on my support. With the assistance of family and friends, I established the Home Alliance and served as its editor and publisher for 35 years. In 1909 I used my voice as the editor of The Home Alliance to publish the names of petitioners for special all night saloon licenses. Due to a public outcry, the 20 saloons on Main Street in Woodland were closed after midnight. Before the 1911 election, I again educated the public about the evils of alcohol and the anti-saloon voters won. This closed every saloon in Woodland.

Women did not commonly hold political office in Yolo County, even after they got the vote. There was one exception.

Mrs. Lydia Lawhead was born in 1857 in southern Michigan. I came to Woodland to stay with my sister in 1878.

When I was 9 years old, I declared to my family that I would be a teacher. I attended school and received my teacher's training. I started teaching when I was 16 years old in Michigan and then Illinois. When I came to Woodland, I was a teacher at the Woodland Prairie School. I attended a teachers institute and met another teacher, Hiram Lawhead, who had taught at the Canyon School in Capay Valley. We married in 1882 when he was a medical student in San Francisco. We first live in Knights Landing but moved to Woodland in 1887. We had no natural children of the own but we adopted a son, Fred, and acted as foster parent to nine other homeless boys. We also supported two girls through college.

I taught at the Hesperian College here in Woodland the last five years before it closed. I became interested in the establishment of a high school here in Woodland. Remember Hesperian College was not really a college. I was selected as vice-principal of the school. Not only was I interested in education, I was also involved in community improvement activities. In 1915 I was elected a member of the city Board of Trustees.

I served as President of the Northern California District of the California Federation of Women's Clubs and also as vice president of the state federation. I was an active club member in the Mutual Club, the Woodland Study Club, Woodland Women's Improvement Club, the Red Cross, the Town and Country Club and the League of Women Voters.

My husband and I had just returned from a Christmas weekend in San Francisco when I was stricken with a chill and X-rays showed my lungs were affected with pneumonia. I died shortly thereafter. I was 71 years old.