The Second Life of Yda Addis

by Ashley C. Short

For the Homestead’s “Female Justice” lecture series dealing with the multifaceted aspects of women and the criminal justice system in Los Angeles prior to 1930, one of the presentations was on the remarkable Yda Addis. This was followed by a multi-part post on her life on this blog. Addis came with her family to the Angel City in 1873 and quickly made her mark with her intellect, personality and superior writing skills, including poetry published in local newspapers.

After a brief teaching career, she aspired to write and published works in papers, journals and magazines, including important pieces on the native peoples in the state of Chihuahua, México, where she lived prior to coming to Los Angeles and again for parts of the 1880s. Yet, controversy and crisis confronted her consistently in the last couple of decades of the 19th century, including personal and professional relationships with powerful men like ex-Governor John C. Downey in Los Angeles and her husband, Santa Barbara lawyer and judge Charles Storke.

An incredibly bitter and drawn-out divorce with Storke and a criminal trial for libel, both in Santa Barbara in the 1890s, were sensationally covered in the local press with Addis increasingly portrayed as mentally unstable. After serving a year in county jail for the libel conviction, Addis, who won a retrial ruling on that case, simply vanished, though some unsupported sources claimed she escaped from a mental institution in which Storke had her placed.

After watching the Female Justice talk on Addis, however, Baltimore attorney and amateur genealogist Ashley C. Short contacted the Homestead to say that she’d investigated what happened to Yda and learned that there was a “second life.” We’re very excited to be able to share Ashley’s work, revealing what happened with Addis after her “disappearance” at the turn of the 20th century!

In the last two decades of the 19th century, newspaper readers across the country were familiar with California writer Yda Addis. Her fictional short stories and dispatches detailing life in México appeared in newspapers from Miles City, Montana, to Middlebury, Vermont. Fluent in Spanish, she is credited as the first person to translate traditional Mexican stories into English. But by 1900, her writing career was over and her reputation was in tatters after a nasty divorce, a stint in jail, and an attempted murder charge.

And then, Addis, only 43 years old, abruptly disappeared. She was not “missing” in any official sense, but her name no longer appeared in newspapers or public records. One popular, but unconfirmed, rumor is that Addis’ powerful ex-husband, Charles Storke, had her committed to an insane asylum. Some say that she died there; others say she escaped, never to be heard from again. Given her flair for the dramatic, both in writing and in life, Addis might be pleased that her fate has been a mystery for well over a century. The real story is simultaneously more mundane and more tragic.

In 1912, the Board of Trade in Laredo, Texas announced that it had hired Mrs. A.H. Jackson of San Antonio as its secretary. Jackson was described as a former newspaper woman who had written for magazines before turning to secretarial work. She also spoke Spanish, an important qualification in Laredo, which lies just across the Río Grande from México. Jackson had previously worked as a prviate secretary to Edwin Chamberlain, a prominent banker in San Antonio.

Laredo Times, 15 September 1912.

Jackson moved to Laredo with her mother and aunt, and while there, threw herself into civic life. She gave a talk to the Tuesday Musical and Literary Club about the value of civic improvement, served on the executive committee for the town’s George Washington birthday celebration, and reported local rain totals to the Monthly Weather Review, a meteorological journal.

Her tenure with the Board of Trade was brief, however. After a little over five months on the job, and only one week after the Board won a national prize for a mock trial that Jackson had directed, she abruptly resigned. The local news report gave no reason for her departure. Her mother, Sarah Hillis, and her aunt, Miss Mary H. Short, however, both died in Laredo later in 1913, so she may have resigned to care for them.

Details on the rest of Jackson’s life are sparse. She donated arrows, shafts and a quiver of the Tarahumare people of the state of Chihuahua in México to the Scientific Society of San Antonio in 1915. In 1920, she lived in southeast San Antonio and listed her occupation as “foreign correspondent.” In 1930, she was working as a maid, but by the end of the year she had been adjudged insane by reason of paranoia and committed to the San Antonio State Hospital. Jackson died of uterine cancer on June 16, 1941, having spent the last ten years of her life at the facility. She was buried on the hospital grounds beneath an unmarked slab.

On the surface, no one would confuse Addis and Jackson. One was an accomplished writer and linguist with a knack for getting into trouble. The other was a civic minded secretary who worked in relative obscurity before illness overtook her. Nonetheless, evidence suggests that Yda Addis and A. H. Jackson were one and the same.

The July 1913 death certificate filed at Laredo, Texas for Sarah Hills, the mother of Yda Addis/Mrs. A.H. Jackson, who filled out the information in dark ink.

Both were newspaper writers with foreign experience, which was quite unusual for any American woman around the turn of the twentieth century. Both spoke Spanish. Addis lived in Chihuahua when she was younger, likely collected Tarahumare artifacts there, and her brother and Aunt Mary lived there, the former for most of his life and the latter as late as the 1890s. We do not know if Jackson lived in México, but she did possess Tarahumare artifacts, and her aunt lived in Chihuahua before her time in San Antonio.

Then there is the matter of the two women’s names. Addis’ full name prior to marriage was Yda Hillis Addis, and at the time of her disappearance and after her divorce from Storke, she claimed to be married to her former attorney, Grant Jackson. While A. H. Jackson was frequently referred to in records by her first and middle initials, her full name was Adelayda Hillis Jackson.

Further, the two women’s family trees overlap in striking ways. Addis and Jackson both had an unmarried maternal aunt named Mary H. Short, who went by Molly and lived in Chihuahua, Mexico for part of her life. Both had a maternal grandfather named Thomas Jefferson Short, who was born in Kentucky, and a maternal grandmother named Lucinda. Both Addis and Jackson claimed deep Kentucky roots. Addis told the San Francisco Examiner that her mother’s “great-grandfather was Colonel James Harrod, who built the first white man’s habitation in Kentucky and in whose honor Harrodsburg was named.” When Jackson’s aunt, Mary, died in Texas in 1913, the local paper reported (presumably with Jackson as the source) that Mary was the great-granddaughter of Colonel James Harrod, “historic pioneer and legislator of Kentucky, who founded Harrodsburg, Ky.”

Mrs. A.H. Jackson’s enumeration, in yellow highlight, in San Antonio, Texas in the 1920 federal census.

Even the differences between the two women’s pedigrees bear shadowy resemblance to one another. Addis’ father was a Pennsylvania native, Alfred Shea Addis, who was “a connection of the Irish Emmets.” Jackson, meanwhile, identified her father as Alfred Shea-Emmett of Pennsylvania. Addis’ mother was Sarah Hillis Short Addis, born in Indiana, while Jackson reported her mother as Sarah Short Hillis, born in Kentucky. Addis’ maternal grandmother was likely Lucinda Hillis, daughter of Mary Harrod; Jackson identified her maternal grandmother as Lucinda Harrod.

The most direct evidence that Addis continued her life as A. H. Jackson is a passing reference to one of the highlights of Addis’ writing career, namely an 1889 article published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine describing her trip to a remote town in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico to interview indigenous artists who produced iridescent pottery. Twenty years later, an article in the Pan-American Magazine discussed her trip:

In the late 80’s a young American girl (Mrs. A. H. Jackson), sojourning in Mexico, spoke to other visiting writers and artists of the great beauty of some placques [sic] of irridescent [sic] ware she had found, sold at Silao, State of Guanajuato… The discovery caused much interest at the time and from the formula given in the discoverer’s description in Harper’s Monthly, the process was applied in various factories, where iridescent ware is now manufactured

Significantly, the author referred to Addis as “A. H. Jackson.” Addis consistently went by “Ida” as a young child and “Yda” as a teenager and adult. The reference to her first initial as “A” suggests that she had in fact taken on a new name, albeit with the last three letters being “Yda.”

Detail from the Bexar County (where San Antonio is located) Texas guardianship proceeding for Adelayda (note the last three letters!) Hillis Jackson, 19 December 1930.

All of these factors offer the strong likelihood that Yda Addis of California became A. H. Jackson of Texas, but there is one piece of the puzzle that does not quite fit. Addis was born around 1857. Jackson was significantly younger, and became younger still with each passing census, with estimated birth years ranging from 1873 to 1881. If Addis and Jackson were the same person, then either others reported her age in the census records and were mistaken, or Jackson self-reported her age and lied. Either is a possibility. Ages as reported in censuses are often widely varied from the truth, and Addis had previously been described as looking younger than she was. Further, Addis had previously lied about her age, claiming to be 40 when she was in fact about 42. As Jackson, adopting a younger persona could have been about more than vanity; it could have improved her job and social prospects.

Assuming Addis and Jackson were the same, many questions remain about the second chapter of her life. It is not yet clear where she lived, for example, between her disappearance from Santa Barbara around 1900 and her reappearance in San Antonio a decade later. She may have spent time in Mexico, where her brother lived until his death in 1908. She may also have lived in the San Francisco Bay area. In June 1903, a Mrs. A. H. Jackson of San Francisco completed a course in shorthand (stenography) at Heald’s Business College. After the famous earthquake and fire in 1906, an Oakland newspaper featured a Mrs. A. H. Jackson, a professional stenographer, who was volunteering at a camp for survivors. At the camp, Mrs. Jackson was “doing everything that had to be done, from writing the captain’s letters to threatening to shoot a disorderly ruffian and turning him over to the guard.” It is impossible to say if this Mrs. A. H. Jackson was Addis, but her name, profession, and ruthless efficiency beg the question.

There is also the question of how open a secret Addis’ “new” identity was. She remained in contact with her remaining close family – namely, her mother and aunt, and most likely her brother – and a circle broad enough that the writer of the Pan American article in 1909 identified her by her new name. But she does seem to have taken pains to distance herself from the “Addis” name – to the point of omitting the name on her mother’s death certificate and in the information provided to the San Antonio State Hospital, which would later appear on her own death certificate. To date, there is no evidence that she continued to write. Had she lost the will to write professionally, or was she afraid to draw attention to herself by publishing?

A.H. Jackson’s death certificate from San Antonio State Hospital where she spent the last decade of her life, June 1941.

Finally, we have to ask what light, if any, Addis’ commitment to the hospital sheds on some of the more curious incidents that occurred when she was younger. It is quite possible that it tells us nothing. Addis’ paranoia could have been a symptom of a disease that arose later in life. But it does also give more credence to the theory that Addis suffered from some form of mental illness at least on and off during her adult life, which could explain some of her more bizarre assertions – for example, that her half-sister stole her identity, that a group of powerful Santa Barbara men framed her for writing the poison pen letters, and that she was married to the attorney she allegedly tried to kill. Whichever it was, it was a tragic end to a remarkable life.

Yda Addis’ admirers and detractors alike would have agreed that she was a persistent woman. Her ascension into the ranks of California’s most well-known writers as a young woman, her ten-year quest for alimony from her first husband, and her successful appeal of her libel conviction after her own lawyers failed all speak to her dogged determination. So it should not be a surprise that Addis, her writing career ruined and her status as a social pariah firmly sealed, did not simply wither away. Instead, she went about the business of reinventing herself. She learned a new profession, became active in civic life, and supported her mother and aunt in their final days. Although mental illness did consume her in the end, Addis’ second act speaks to her extraordinary fortitude. In spite of everything, Yda Addis never disappeared.

Source List
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  • Unless otherwise indicated, digital images of newspaper articles were consulted at

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