by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It has been noted here several times before, but it continues to amaze how often historic objects in the Homestead’s collection have unusual connections to aspects of our region’s history beyond the obvious or surface value. Tonight’s featured artifact is another notable example, being a scrapbook of Ruth Alydia Conrad (1910-1992), a senior at the Ramona Convent, the all-girls Catholic high school operated in Alhambra by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary since 1890.
Location of Interstate 10 near Atlantic Boulevard, the secondary school was named after Ramona Yorba Wilson, the first wife of Benjamin D. Wilson, who came with the Workman family from New Mexico in 1841 and who owned the Lake Vineyard property on which the school was established. This was thanks to a donation of land by Wilson’s daughter, also named Ramona and her husband James de Barth Shorb.
It so happens that Ruth Conrad had a direct family tie to the Wilsons, as well. She was the daughter of German immigrant and machinist Paul Conrad and Esther Gooch, the latter died in 1917 when Ruth was just a child. Esther’s father was Thomas L. Gooch (1847-1933), a native of North Carolina who lived in Arkansas when he enlisted with the Union Army at the age of 17, but then deserted from his unit after just a month.
He soon wound up in the township of Los Nietos, located along the San Gabriel River, with a great many Southern migrants settling there after the Civil War, where he worked as a clerk, and, in the 1870 census, the 22-year old lived a few households away from the Shugg family and his future wife Alydia (1854-1938).
James C. Shugg (1818-1882) hailed from Sithney in Cornwall, on a peninsula in southwestern corner of England. He left his homeland with some siblings in 1848 and settled in Milwaukee, but, with news of the Gold Rush reaching him, Shugg immediately headed to California with the hordes of 49ers, though he appears to have taken the southern route rather than going across the plains to the northern section of the possession recently seized by the United States from México.
During his travels, Shugg met Dr. Thomas Hereford, who was heading to southern California having sent his wife and children ahead by ship and it appears Shugg helped drive livestock for Hereford to Los Angeles. He then stayed with Hereford when the latter settled in the area that became Wilmington and bought land from Phineas Banning, the “Port Admiral” who had so much to do with the improvement of the harbor that became the Port of Los Angeles and founded Wilmington (named for his Delaware hometown.)
Hereford, who came west because of tuberculosis and hoped to recover his health, as so many others did, in our balmy climate, succumbed to the disease, however. His widow Margaret then married the aforementioned Benjamin D. Wilson, who was a widower, as well, with his wife Ramona having died several years before. Before Wilson married Margaret Hereford, however, Shugg worked for him and later went to the Lake Vineyard estate in the San Gabriel Valley where the Ramona Convent was established decades later.
Meanwhile, in 1852, Shugg married another recent emigrant, Esther Graham, who list her father and sister during the migration during an Indian attack along the Yuma River in southern Arizona. The couple’s ceremony was presided over by Justice of the Peace William G. Dryden, who became a very colorful county judge and who was a friend of William Workman from New Mexico before coming to Los Angeles around 1850.
Shugg remained in Wilson’s employ for some years but, in 1868, acquired land from ex-Governor John G. Downey and moved his family to the Los Nietos township. He was an early grower of walnuts in that area as well as oranges and was said to have had the first irrigation ditch dug in the area to draw water from the recently rerouted river (the Río Hondo to the west was the old river, but floods in the winter of 1867-1868 created the new channel)
The Maizeland School, built on his property along Shugg Lane, which we now know as Slauson Avenue, is a California State Landmark and is located at Knott’s Berry Farm, where my son happened to see it when at the theme park yesterday and told me he recalled reading the landmark plaque next to the structure.
The school was later named Rivera after the town that developed in that area—a recent post here summarizes some of that early history and a map reproduced there shows land owned by Gooch, who was a vice-president of the Los Nietos and Ranchito Walnut Growers’ Association mentioned in the post, purportedly bought land from ex-Governor Pío Pico on his Ranchito property. Decades later, in the mid-1950s, the Gooch house became the first city hall of the newly created city of Pico Rivera.
The Gooch family was a large one, comprising fifteen (count ’em, fifteen!) children, of which Esther was the fifth. Paul Conrad came from Germany in 1904 and married Esther five years later with Ruth being their only child. The family spent several years ranching near Perris in Riverside County, but, after Esther’s death at just age 36, Paul brought Ruth back to this area.
When it was time for Ruth to enter high school, she was under the care of her grandmother Alydia Shugg Gooch (Ruth’s middle name was her grandmother’s first name,) and she was enrolled at Ramona Convent. It may well be that the connection of the Shuggs and Wilsons was the reason Ruth attended the private school.
The scrapbook is packed with all kinds of memorabilia including in the front flysheet before the title page (which reads “Happy Hours! My Book of School Memories”) consisting of a letter from the sister superior, Sister Mary Victoria, to Alydia Gooch inviting Ruth to return for the 1926-1927 year. The young pupil was complimented for her “effort to maintain our standards of scholarship and discipline” and it was added “we are happy to welcome her back.”
Observing that “we trust the efforts of the past year were but the forerunner of the success which will crown this year,” Sister Mary Victoria wrote that the school year was to start on 1 September, so the tuition form was due on 10 August. Other information concerned a deposit of $50 for a private room or sleeping porch and uniforms from a Los Angeles company. The missive ended with the hope that “you and your little family have spent an enjoyable vacation” during the summer.
Inscribed on one of the first pages was the class song, one verse of which was:
We’re ’27 of old R.C.
We’ll always try our best,
We’ll strive for right & courtesy,
We’ll always stand the test,
And ’27 will ‘ere be true,
To our Ramona fair,
Though we may strive in vain,
We’ll try again,
For you’re [sic] love in our hearts, we bear.
A list of the senior class included eighteen other names besides that of Ruth, including their nicknames, with “Puente” being the moniker for Louise Sormano, because she lived near the town of Puente not far from the Homestead. Ruth, perhaps because of her one-syllable first name, was known as “Conrad.”
Lists of class officers and faculty and a “My Classmates” page with short notes to Ruth from her compatriots followed. Photos include a great one of the long drive leading to the school and trees somewhat covering the large main building, though the large central tower loomed into view.
This structure lasted until the Whittier Narrows earthquake of 1987, but damage from that temblor caused it to be condemned and razed. A dedicated “Photographs” section contains small snapshots of classmates, but there doesn’t appear to be one of Ruth in the book, though there are a couple of drawings that might be of her.
There are plenty of pasted down items, including dance cards, holiday cards and cutouts, and a program to a senior class trio of plays, including Booth Tarkington’s The Ghost Story, the published script for which is included, and The Sight of the Blind, a religious play in which Ruth played a nun and for which she was also on the executive staff and one of two scene designers and builders for the evening.
Also found are some of Ruth’s deportment reports with good grades for courtesy, rule-following, neatness, promptness, table etiquette and school spirit, among others, while grade reports show her with either scores of 1 for excellent or 2 for college recommendation. There are also two memorandum books marked “Private!!! My diary.”
The Class Day page includes invitations to the sister superior, the other nuns on the faculty and the senior class for a “Hawaiian” dinner on 28 May, along with Ruth’s corsage and place card and others items. The Commencement page includes Ruth’s notes along with invitation (with Ruth’s card) and the program for the 9 June event, presided over by the Right Reverend John J. Cantwell, bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles and San Diego.
The salutatory was given by the prominent lawyer and civic leader Joseph Scott, whose daughter Josephine was a senior. Diplomas were given out for several courses, with a quintet of students taking the classical course, including Miss Scott; four taking the Latin-Science course such as Ruth; nine completing the Literary course; and two having specialized music courses, with one having a combined one with language.
Ruth’s diploma is also loose within the book and stored in its case along with a American Red Cross card for her completion of the Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick standard course. A list of gifts is on a page, with the graduate receiving clothing, jewelry, writing paper, accessories, religious articles (prayer book, a crucifix, etc.) and, from Shirley Cate, a memory book, almost certainly this one.
Towards the back is an invoice, made out to Paul Conrad, for his daughter’s second semester expenses at the school. These include a $350 board and tuition fee and charges for the athletic fee, private expression (elocution?) lessons, embroidery and thread, her locker, medicines and dressings and extra laundry.
There were also notices that laundry was no longer part of the tuition fee and a $50 deposit was required, while the standard $25 deposit was “now exhausted” and another one required for “incidental expenses.” The rest of the pages included notes and cards from a Christmas 1927 reunion and general ones address to Ruth.
After graduating from Ramona Convent, Ruth appears to have joined her father in Wilmington, where her great-grandfather Shugg lived with the Herefords three quarters of a century before, as Paul Conrad was employed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. She does not seem to have had a job until later; in 1950, she was working as a personnel and file clerk at a naval shipyard, probably on Terminal Island and that year she married, at age 40, to a mechanic at the Hughes Aircraft plant in Long Beach.
Ruth lived at the same Wilmington house until her death in 1992 at age 82 and, how her school memory book survived is not known, as she had no children, but we’re certainly glad to have this artifact in the Museum’s holdings as representative of the Ramona Convent and of a young woman in high school during the 1920s.