At Our Leisure Camping in the San Gabriel Mountains, ca. 1905

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It is, for many, one of the great local summer pastimes: camping at our beaches, parks and mountains.  This installment of At Our Leisure shows a trio of women cleaning up after a meal at a campsite in an unknown area of the San Gabriel Mountains sometime in the first decade or so of the 20th century.

There are many notable elements to the image–the most obvious, at least to this observer, is the question of gender roles.  It is the women doing the cleaning (and, perhaps, the cooking, as well) and it is easy to assume that the stretched-out legs at the bottom right of the photo are those of a well-fed man taking it easy while the ladies clean up!

The other striking element is just how well stocked this campsite or cabin was, which leads to the thought that this trip was no overnighter or even a weekend excursion, but one that went on for an extended period of time.  Perhaps it was a week, two weeks, or even a month, which was pretty common at the time.


Camping San Gabriels 1900
This ca. 1900s snapshot of a campsite (perhaps a cabin) is from the Homestead Museum collection and is a great example of many images in the collection showing campers in the San Gabriel Mountains.

But, check out the table, the stacked crates creating a substantial storage area, and the variety of pans, pots, dishes and other utensils–these were probably only a portion of the equipment brought by the group.

The rustic cooksite at the back right is also interesting, created by stacking rocks in such a way to create a nice wind-shaded location to light a fire (no propane stoves!) on which to cook and, perhaps, warm everyone in the evenings.

Finally, what stands out is the clothing worn by the ladies, virtually the same that they might wear while at home, from the full-sleeved blouses, and, in the case of the bespectacled gal at the left, neckwear to the long skirts.  It would be inconceivable to see women dressed anywhere near as formally today while out in the woods on a camping trip, but 110 or so years ago formalities were, obviously, very different.

At any rate, the setting looks very pretty with a nice canopy of trees providing ample shade and, presumably, everyone had a great time.  There’s still some summer left and maybe this photo will inspire some of you to get out and camp in our local mountains soon.

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