by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The extraordinary rise of the American economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was due to so many factors, including rapidly advancing technology, the marshaling of capital, a labor force largely comprised of immigrants (who did not share as much as they should have in the profit), expanding domestic and overseas markets, and much else. There was a corresponding growth, as well, in the middle and upper classes and for women in those socio-economic categories, this meant more leisure time, some of which for many of them was spent in the panoply of women’s clubs that proliferated by leaps and bounds.
In Los Angeles, women’s clubs were social and, in many cases, educational and political organizations that often had demonstrative effects on many areas of local life, including woman suffrage, Prohibition, and much else. The best known of these entitites included such examples as the Friday Morning Club and the Woman’s City Club, but there were a great many others. One, officially organized on 6 April 1929, and which expanded rapidly in its infancy was the California Women of the Golden West (CWGW).
The main figures in its establishment were Elizabeth Marmaduke Eskridge, a widower from Missouri who lived in San Francisco from the fateful year of 1906 (when that city was ravaged by a devastating earthquake and fire) until her migration to the Angel City fifteen years later, and Vera (Betty) A. Gilmore, a native of Binghamton, New York, who settled in Los Angeles in the 1910s and married an insurance executive. Eskridge held chairs of committees of importance within the organization, while Gilmore, who was also an officer of the Woman’s City Club and Woman’s Breakfast Club, was the founding president.
An early mention of the CWGW came in the 24 March issue of the Los Angeles Times, which reported that “the newly formed woman’s club, California Women of the Golden West, will conduct its first formal meeting some time in April.” It was added that “the announced purposes of the club are to fill the niche in the statuary hall in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. reserved for a California woman of fame; to exploit the achievements of California women and to work for a permanent exhibit of leading women musicians, artists and others to be placed in the State Building at Sacramento and in Washington, and third to support movements that aid in the constructive progress of women.” Gilmore noted that chapters were expected to be formed throughout the state “in co-operation with the Los Angeles unit.”
On 6 April, the Los Angeles Record reported on the creation of the CWGW, observing that the formation was a year in the making and was led “by a number of prominent club and professional women and social leaders and is open to all women of the state who are interested in the welfare of California and the exploiting of the acheivements of its women.” There does not appear, though, to have been any women of color involved in this organization, which was true for the other major women’s clubs of the period, though there were some set up for those of other ethnicities. Gilmore told the paper that, because California had not yet filled its statuary niche in the federal Capitol, this was a main priority (though, later, the two spots were taken by men: Junipero Serra and Thomas Starr King, the latter replaced by Ronald Reagan.)
Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s collection is the published by-laws of the CWGW, printed in a size perfect for pockets or purses. It lists the exeutive board of Gilmore and a baker’s dozen others, including, most notably, legal advisor Oda Faulconer, who became an attorney in 1919 and, a dozen years later, became the presiding judge of the “women’s department” of the Superior Court. There was also an organization song with music by Mabelle R. Dyer and lyrics by Catherine Robertson Hamlin called “California, Golden Land of Destiny,” the words of which are:
Hark, the voice, ringing, ringing
O’er green hill and sapphire sea!
Lo, thy children, clearly singing,
“California! Hail to thee!”
Ah, the sound comes fuller—faster
Surging on through palm and pine,
Grows in volume, vaster, vaster,
California, land o’ mine!
All our hearts are as a chalice,
Raised aloft in love to thee,
Golden Land of Destiny!
Through the world thy children sweeping,
Shout thy glories, wide and free,
‘Til the nations all come leaping,
California, to thy knee!
List to tales of days romantic—
Vision wonders yet to be,
Spread thy fame o’er far Atlantic,
California, heart o’ me!
The insignia, reproduced on the front cover and later patented by its designer Mrs. C.A. Isaacs and assigned to the organization, and its colors of “California Blue and Gold” are also listed. A quote under the heading of “Lest We Forget” is “the one who is always doing his [her?] share of pulling the oar never has time to rock the boat” while the CWGW’s prayer is “God, make us worthy of the lives that shaped us: May our work stand when we have gone our way.”
After the standing rules are the by-laws, with article II and the club’s “Purposes” expressed differently than what appeared in the papers. The first section was that the organization was created “for advancement in cultural, educational, civic, and social progress, and to cement a bond of friendship among women.” The second was “to promote the establishment of a tribute or memorial of appropriate design to represent California at the Capitol.” Third was “to promote the exhibition of California Women’s achievements and to exploit them; to work for an exhibit in California.” Finally, there was to work with other groups “in all worthy endeavors that promote the welfare and progress of California and California women; to strengthen the bond of friendship among California women.”
Also not mention in press accounts was that men could join as asociate members and be a cadre known as “California Men of the Golden West,” though it is not known if such a formal auxiliary (there were plenty of women auxiliaries for men’s groups) was established. Article VIII was titled “Special Activities” and the first section regarded “the establishment of an appropriate memorial or exhibit to be placed in Washington, D.C., as a tribute to California.” The second was “the promotion of an exhibit in California of the achievements of the women of California.”
The twelfth article dealing with “Club Policies” mandated that, while “this organization shall seek information in legislative measures and civic problems,” it was to remain free of endorsing “partisan political measures.” The CWGW was also to be part of the district of the state and national federations of women’s clubs, as deemed advisable by its executive board. Otherwise, much of the remainder of the by-laws were pretty typical for organizations of all types.
The first major event held by the CWGW was in mid-May and held at the luxury Gaylord Apartments, built by the wealthy Socialist Henry Gaylord Wilshire, creator of the famed boulevard bearing his name and one of the more idiosyncratic figures in the city in the early 20th century. The “salon tea” was expected to include the wives of prominent local men like Orra Monnette and Joseph Crail, while Faulconer and the first female lawyer in California, Clara Shortridge Foltz, were also to be present along with Mary L. Leavett, sister of President Herbert Hoover.
The Los Angeles Express, in its Society column of its 17 May edition, reported that the tea “was one of the interesting affairs of the day” and that some 400 persons were in attendance. A few days later, the paper’s “Women’s Club News” editor, Ruth McClintock, who was an active member of the CWGW, reported in greater detail. Stating that there were 600 present, including the mayor of San Diego, she noted that there were fifty hostesses at the tables (covered with lace spreads over gold satin cloths, while decorations included golden emblem roses and blue lace flowers, to utilize the official club colors), while Gilmore wore “golden yellow” as she headed the reception line. The dedicatory oration was on “Women’s Opportunity” by Dr. Ernest Seaton Holmes of the Institute of Religious Science and Philosophy, opened by him in 1927 for his “Religious Science” philosophy.
The club moved quickly to hold other events, including Eskridge’s organizing of an international friendship committee, which had a luncheon, originally planned to be at the Westland Club near Westlake (now MacArthur) Park, but then moved to Santa Monica’s Breakers Club and which included 100 guests. Eskridge, having lived in San Francisco for many years brought that city’s Mayor James Rolph, a friend, down to speak at the event and it was reported that, during the First World War, “she came in contact with women from every nation” and this was the basis for her setting up the committee.
There were speakers from Chile, Cuba and Peru as well as Moses Bellmard of the Kaw (or Kanza as in “Kansas”) Indian tribe, of whom Vice-President Charles Curtis was a member and who remains the highest-ranking Native American federal official in American history. Another notable presenter was Elizabeth Lippincott McQueen, chair of the CWGW’s aviation committee and an important figure promoting women in that arena, who “expressed the hope that woman fliers will bridge physical and mental distances that have separated women from different countries, and told of the accomplishments and hopes of the girl flyers of California.”
Because of its expressed interest in California women, it is no surprise that the CWGW had a history and landmarks committee, whose first chair, Virginia Calhoun, who was known at the time for her 1905 play based on Helen Hunt Jackson’s wildly popular fictional character Ramona. The organization held events that looked back, albeit romantically as was so typical of the era, at the pre-American past. Another early event, held at the Gaylord Apartments in mid-June, was a tea during which “the hostesses will be attired in Spanish costume, and colorful Spanish shawls, high combs, mantillas, and fans will be in evidence.”
Among those in attendance were some women known for their interest in historic preservation (such as it was) at the time, including Florence Dodson Schoneman, Mrs. A.S.C. (Harrye) Forbes, and Isabel del Valle Cram, the latter being from the prominent del Valle family, whose Rancho Camulos in eastern Ventura County was often identified as the “home of Ramona and whose husband was involved in early development in Hacienda Heights. Other notable figures at the event were magazine publisher Mabel Urmy Seares, Laurence Hill (of the Security First National Bank publicity department and who wrote some local history publications at the time), Arthur Ellis (another writer of historical material), and Eugene Plummer (of Rancho La Brea and Plummer Park).
Hill spoke on California’s early foreigners (meaning, Americans and Europeans) and took the opportunity to call for the preservation of street names of early residents as well as promoting Spanish Colonial Revival architecture over modern “Chicago architecture.” Other talks by women from other historically inclined clubs concerned the Mexican era, residents of the pre-American period and the “Contribution of the American Indian to California Art and History.” Calhoun presented “California in the Making” in costume, while journalist William A. Spalding, a decades-long resident of Los Angeles, talked about the 1842 discovery of gold near modern Santa Clarita, during which F.P.F. Temple sold gold dust to the American national mint in Philadelphia. Finally, a trio of piano and baritone and soprano vocalists sang pieces from an upcoming opera called Carmelita Mia.
During the summer and fall, the CWGW held some events at the Deauville Beach Club at Santa Monica, where members had breakfasts featuring programs, played bridge games, swam in the ocean, and enjoyed dinner and dancing. A second international committee lunch organized by Eskridge in July and held at the Chamber of Commerce building featured remarks from Dr. O.W.E. Cook, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, Faulconer, Bellmard and others and it was stated that the committee would embark on a tour of the country in the fall to honor President Hoover, promote a Congress of Women when the 1932 Olympic Games were to be held in Los Angeles, and to introduce the work of the organization to others.
The plans for the national tour were initially quite extensive and Eskridge expanded the idea to embark on a similar project in Europe in summer 1930. Eskridge became ill by the time the national jaunt was to start, though parts of it still continued, even as the stock market crash of late October had just taken place and the Great Depression was in its infant stages (this meant that the European jaunt was shelved.)
Another event late in the summer was a dinner dance held on 4 September to celebrate the birthday of Los Angeles, settled in 1781. Two years later, when the La Fiesta de los Angeles was reintroduced for the sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of the Angel City, the CWGW were considered charter sponsors. It was intended that the city birthday event for 1930 would be a costume ball and ambitions were such that it was reported in the Express that “each year there will be held by the organization a bigger and better ball, where all Angelenos may sing and dance, play and make happy, in honor of that tiny little pueblo” founded 148 years before.
Yet, the CWGW garnered the most attention, and this was truly nationwide, for a debate held on 20 September, between Mrs. Thomas G. Winter, former president of the General Federation of Women, and Adela Rogers St. Johns, daughter of famous defense lawyer Earl Rogers and a well-known journalist, novelist and screenwriter and called by some “The World’s Greatest Girl Reporter.” St. Johns, given to colorful utterances, claimed that “modern woman is a failure” because her heralded increasing freedom really meant that she had to “work harder for less wages” as well as to “get drunk occasionally and have some delicious love affairs.”
St. Johns suggested that the failing of modern marriages meant that “modern woman must accept 90 per cent of the blame for that failure” as she was giving up the responsibility of home, social life, religion, and child rearing “merely to run after false gods.” Winter, however, attempted to rebut this by observing that “we have stopped measuring success in women by their ability to bamboozle men” and claiming “now the fruit of our hands is our own and we appreciate sharing with that great world of dignified and self-respecting labor.” Because of the inheritance of “thousands of pest generations,” Winter concluded, “modern woman is a success.” A jury of six women, however, including Faulconer, sided with St. Johns.
Another controversy was the position of the CWGW that the California state flag should be revised so that the word “Republic,” dating back to the short-lived but symbolically charged Bear Flag Revolt of 1846, be removed and the words “California State Flag” be included instead. This, too, garnered some national attention, though the matter soon passed and our flag remains unchanged.
At the end of a very busy year, the organization held an international Christmas event at the theater in the Ambassador Hotel, with Faulconer recruiting actor Tom Terriss, a British stage and film figure of note, to “talk of Russia and what Christmas can mean there.” Other performers, including film actor Dorothy Erwin and musicians, performed material from England, Holland, and Hungary.
The worsening of the Great Depression likely had an effect on the CWGW as it did so drastically elsewhere in society, though there were still events held, including a 1932 pageant called “A Gallery of California Women,” in which club members, all white, dressed in costume as members of the prominent Californio families of Avila, Carrillo, de la Guerra and Pico (this last being Maria Ignacia Alvarado de Pico, wife of ex-governor Pío Pico–the two of them reinterred at the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum in El Campo Santo at the Homestead just over a decade before). In 1937, the organization installed a plaque in a stone wall in front of the Avila Adobe on Olvera Street and many of us have probably seen this marker and not given it a second thought, though it was placed “In Honor of California Women of Achievement.”
The CWGW continued to operate (it was incorporated in 1932) until at least the mid-1950s, though its presence in the community declined, much as many of the old-style women’s clubs had diminished. So, while it has not been in operation for nearly seventy years, this by-laws pamphlet is a reminder of an interesting organization of white middle and upper class women from the late 1920s.