by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The second or four installments of this year’s Female Justice series, a program developed and run by my colleague Gennie Truelock, takes place virtually this coming Sunday the 7th @ 2 p.m. This Zoom lecture concerns the remarkably rocky life of Yda (pronounced Eye-dah) Addis, a talented poet and writer who lived in Los Angeles during the 1870s and early 1880s, made a name for herself for articles published in magazines and newspapers across the country, but then had a tremendously troubled and turbulent personal life that worsened as the century came to a close.
Tonight’s post is a bit of a preview of that talk as we feature from the Homestead’s artifact collection an 1874 cabinet photograph taken by William N. Tuttle of Minita (Mattie) Gussie Storke, whose father, Charles, is a central character in this Yda Addis drama.
Mattie’s mother was Martha More, born to Susana Hill (whose mother was from the Ortega family dating back to an ancestor who was with the Portolá Expedition of 1769-1770, the first Spanish land-based exploration of California) and the prominent Santa Barbara area rancher Thomas Wallace More, an Ohio native who was one of the hordes of gold-seeking 49ers in California. More and his two brothers ran a cattle company and he acquired Santa Rosa Island, which he exchanged with his brother Alexander for the Rancho Sespe in the Santa Clara River valley between today’s Piru and Santa Paula. He battled with squatters, however, and was killed by one of them in 1877.
In September 1873, Martha More married Charles A. Storke, who was born in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York in 1847, but moved with his family, including a brother, the following year to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. When he was eight his father died and his mother, Electa, taught school while raising the two boys, Charles worked for a few newspapers after leaving school at 14 when, at the end of February 1864, he and a couple of friends volunteered to joined the Union Army’s 36th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry two years in to the Civil War.
At just 16 years of age, Charles saw horrific battlefield action and was captured at the Battle of Cold Harbor on 1 June 1864. Over the remainder of the year, he was held at seven Confederate prisoner of war camps, including the notorious Andersonville, and all but two of the eleven compatriots he was with when captured died from the horrific conditions. Storke weighed under 100 pounds when he was paroled.
At the time Storke was in the hands of the Confederates, Los Angeles resident Charles Jenkins, who enlisted in San Francisco and served in a Massachusetts cavalry unit, was also a prisoner and both were released at the same time and were at the same Annapolis, Maryland parole camp. Whereas Jenkins returned to the battlefield, Storke did not, being transferred to a Missouri barracks and was mustered out at the end of May 1865 at Madison, the Wisconsin state capital.
Storke spent the next two years at a college in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and then transferred to the newly opened Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, near his birthplace, and he graduated with honors, including awards in history, in the first class in 1870. For two years, he taught at Adelphi Academy in Brooklyn, then an independent city, New York.
It is not known why he went west to California, but, in 1872, he began teaching mathematics at Santa Barbara College. When he met and married Martha More, he found an avid benefactor in his father-in-law. Given his teenage newspaper background, Charles yearned to start his own paper and Thomas More provided the funds for the creation of a daily in Los Angeles called the Herald.
The first issue was on 2 October 1873, but Charles found the competition difficult and quickly got into financial trouble. He sold the paper, the new steam press and other material the following year to a firm that included F.P.F. Temple as a stockholder and returned to Santa Barbara. There, he mounted a failed campaign for the state senate, began the study of law and had the first of three children, Minita. There was also another daughter and a son, Thomas, named for his paternal grandfather.
In 1876, Storke was admitted to the bar and opened a solo practice in the mission town. He served in the state assembly in 1883 and 1884 and again in 1889 and 1890. Whether it was the trauma of his teenage tribulations in those terrible Confederate prisoner of war camps, his ambitions in the law or politics, and other factors, Storke and Martha More divorced in 1889. While she married a Santa Barbara merchant shortly thereafter, Storke also soon found a wife.
We’ll save most of the story of Yda Addis for this Sunday, but she was born in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1857 to Alfred S. Addis and Sarah Short. Alfred was a wanderer in more ways than one–having several vocations including as a tailor, photographer and theater owner, moving frequently in the last twenty or so years of his life, and divorcing Sarah, marrying and abandoning another woman, and then remarrying Sarah before leaving her.
In 1873, the Addises were in Los Angeles, where Alfred ran a photography gallery and Yda enrolled at the newly opened high school. She was one of the first seven graduates in the class of 1875 and already was attracting attention for her excellent writing, including poems published in local papers, and her strong personality. She began teaching immediately after completing school, but left in 1881 to join her father in Chihuahua.
A couple of years later she was back in Los Angeles to live with her mother and struck up a close friendship with the much-older former governor and prominent local capitalist, John G. Downey, who lost his wife in a horrific train wreck at Tehachapi Pass north of Los Angeles. Later, she claimed that he promised marriage . . . but more about that on Sunday’s virtual talk.
After another stint in Mexico, during which her father died in 1886, and having achieved recognition for her writing in more newspapers and some regional and national magazines, Yda was hired to write text for a history of the counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura, published in 1891. One of those she interviewed for the biographical section was Charles Storke and their whirlwind relationship culminated in marriage in 1890.
It doesn’t appear that Minita was around much for the fireworks that ensued, having either lived with her mother or been sent away to school (or, perhaps, both), but her brother Thomas was. The results were stunning and scandalous, involving a prolonged divorce suit, allegations of cruelty on both sides, a claim from Yda that her stepson stole mail intended for her and his counter that she committed libel. Meanwhile, Charles Storke’s position of power and influence (he was a district attorney during much of the time he battled his wife and was mayor of Santa Barbara when the legal conflict finally ended—later he founded the Santa Barbara News Press after owning the Independent, another sheet in town, and Thomas Storke ran the paper for decades) and Yda’s increasingly strange behavior created a firestorm of controversy in Santa Barbara and beyond.
Again, this weekend will go into many of the gory details, but let’s just say that this situation did not end well for Yda, who spent ten months in jail for a conviction in a matter not directly (well, sort of) related to the Storkes and was arrested for attempted murder of a former attorney of hers that she also claimed was a husband by contract, though not by civil marriage. There was a bit of a Pyrrhic victory with her conviction, but the legal battles lasting most of the Nineties came at enormous financial and physical and mental health costs.
In 1900, long past her prime as a writer, though she still nursed ambitions of reviving her career, Yda Addis Storke (Jackson), who was tabloid fodder for years, told a Santa Barbara paper that once she was clear of her legal woes she would leave town. She did more than that–she quite literally disappeared.
As for her putative daughter-in-law, Minnie married Dr. Alfred E. Banks, a native of Workington, England, a coastal town in the far northwest of the country just forty miles from Clifton, where William Workman grew up. Banks was a physician and surgeon who, after his migration to America and California in 1902, married Minnie, served as an Army doctor during the First World War, was the city health officer for San Diego and, in the late 1920s, invented the Banks Pocket Braille Writer, which was made by International Business Machines (IBM) but sold to the public at cost and donated to veterans.
Minnie, who had two sons with Banks, divorced him and was briefly married to industrial engineer Alexander Pyper, though that, too, ended in divorce after just several years. She remained in San Diego and died there in 1956 at age 82. When her baby photo was acquired in 2013, it was because William N. Tuttle, who also worked in Santa Barbara, was not represented in the Museum’s collection of early Los Angeles photographers. A little digging around at the time revealed the connection of her father with the remarkable Yda Addis and now here we are on the eve of Sunday’s virtual talk, where you can see and hear all about it.