The women who changed San Diego
1865 ~ Mary Chase Walker, the first teacher in San Diego’s first school (in Old Town), becomes the center of controversy when she invites a black woman to lunch at the Franklin House. Some diners storm out, while others stare with contempt. After school enrollment plunges from 36 to 15 students, she resigns. This pioneer was also an early activist of the suffragette movement.
1870 ~ Mary Kearney obtains a deed from the city for land that will become eventually become Hillcrest.
1879 ~ Amy Strong arrives on a stagecoach. Over the next twenty-eight years this professional seamstress designs clothes for San Diego’s upper crust with clients including the Marston, Spreckels, Scripps and Timken families. In 1907 she retires, selling her 75-employee dress and hat making enterprise.
1881 ~ A controversial yet effective activist for Indian rights, author Helen Hunt Jackson pens the plight of native Americans and how the U.S. government deceived them by breaking promises and ignoring treaties. Her romantic novel, Ramona, is the first written about Southern California.
1884 ~ Katherine O. Sessions, “KOS” as she addresses herself, arrives from the San Francisco Bay area to teach at Russ School. The next year she begins her nursery business.
1887 ~ Clara Shortridge Foltz, California’s first woman lawyer moves to San Diego. The divorced mother of five establishes a law practice and becomes editor/publisher of a new daily newspaper, the San Diego Bee. Two years later the “lively journal” is purchased by the Union-Tribune. Clara moves to L.A. and becomes the first woman U.S. deputy district attorney. At the age of eighty-one and teaching law, she runs unsuccessfully for governor, still advocating for the rights of women.
1889 ~ The first landscaping of City Park is organized by the the Ladies Annex to the Chamber of Commerce who raise $500 to plant trees along the west edge of the park.
1890 ~ Mother Michael Cummings and Sister Alphonsus Cox arrive in San Diego and establish the community’s first hospital on the corner of Sixth and H (now Market). With only $50 between them, they open the five-bed St. Joseph’s Dispensary. The next year the sisters move to their new three-story, nineteen-bed hospital on ten acres at Eighth and University in Hillcrest.
1892 ~ With a fortune from the family publishing empire, Ellen Scripps and her half-sister Virginia relocate from the midwest. Ellen, a college graduate, begins as a proofreader, before becoming one of the country’s first female columnists. Miss Virginia, outspoken and uninhibited, is typically found downtown in a pith helmet collecting trash in her wheelbarrow and chasing litterbugs with a stick.
1893 ~ San Francisco botanist Alice Eastwood begins a fifty year career identifying plants and working with Kate Sessions. At the end of their careers, KOS summed up their relationship as, “Our friendship developed through flowers — our children, which I am growing, and she is naming.”
1895 ~ An “adorable” 75-year-old Susan B. Anthony, addresses a “swarm” of women at the Florence Hotel telling them that a “$5,000 woman should not marry a 10¢ man.”
1898 ~ Alice Rainford, 18, becomes Kate Sessions’ protege (and the daughter she never had). She earned 50¢ a day, but KOS promised to double her pay within a year.
1899 ~ The Wednesday Club (a small group of women interested in literature and art) purchases a $285 lot for their first clubhouse on Sixth Avenue near Pennsylvania opposite All Saints. The building was completed in June 1900 with a total cost of $930.
1900 ~ Katherine Tingley the head of the Theosophical Society transfers their international headquarters from New York City to Point Loma. Belief in reincarnation, the occult and the esoteric proves too much for the first puzzled then outraged San Diego clergymen. The “Purple Mother” organizes campaigns against war, capital punishment and cruelty to animals, believing that the transforming power of Raja Yoga would reform the world.
1903 ~ At the Fourth of July celebration, Molly Crowell is selected “Goddess of Liberty.” Four years later, Molly, the wife of city engineer Archie Crowell, opens a twelve-unit apartment house at the corner of Sixth and Robinson.
1903 ~ After 18 years in the trade San Diego’s most notorious madam, Ida Bailey, opens her own fancy parlor house, the Canary Cottage, at 530 Fourth Avenue where she and her girls entertain their well-groomed customers, including the mayor and the chief of police. The little yellow house with the white picket fence is raided and closed in 1912 at the instigation of the ladies’ Purity League.
1907 ~ Mrs. Anna Baxter and her husband open the University Heights Bank at the corner of Sixth and University. The same year she begins planning the construction of an eighty-room hotel on the southeast corner of Fourth and University. Two years later she’s sent to a sanitarium. Three years later he is named defendant in a $100,000 sensational seduction suit by an unmarried woman, nurse Edith Evans.
1907 ~ Laura Anderson suggests the name “Hillcrest” to her brother-in-law, W.W.Whitson, for the his new subdivision between First and Sixth avenues.
1909 ~ KOS sells her downtown flower shop at 1123 Fifth Avenue to Alice Rainford for $1,200. Over the next forty years Alice becomes one of the most prominent florists in San Diego, eventually moving her store north to 3334 Fifth Avenue (south of Upas).
1910 ~ Self-taught architect Hazel Wood Waterman designs a new woman’s clubhouse at Sixth and Ivy for the Wednesday Club. She and fellow member Alice Klauber work on the plans overseen by a committee made up of Mrs. George Marston, Alice Lee and Mrs. Ernest White.
1911 ~ Letitia Lovett purchases a (circa 1890) Victorian home built on the Fourth Avenue cable line and saves it from the wrecking ball by having it rolled to its present location on Walnut Street west of Albatross.
1911 ~ By a slender margin San Diego women finally win the right to vote thanks to people like the city’s first female doctor, Charlotte Baker.
1912 ~ Misses Alice Lee and Katherine Teats hire Irving Gill to design a group of houses around a canyon bounded by Front and Albatross Streets south of Walnut. (One may still enjoy the architecture from the street).
1925 ~ Former school teacher, Belle Benchley is hired by the San Diego Zoological Garden as a temporary bookkeeper. Two years later she is promoted to executive secretary, the top staff position. Later the title is changed to director, the post she holds until her retirement in 1953. As the first woman in the world to head a zoo, Belle’s job is also the most prominent for any woman in San Diego County.
1935 ~ Artist Mary Belle Williams paints a portrait of KOS which is presented to the city on a special day honoring the “Queen Mother of the Whole Floral Kingdom” during the Panama-California Exposition. September 25 is designated as Kate O. Sessions Day, a first for any San Diegans. Mary Belle’s painting may be viewed at the Pacific Beach Library.
1940 ~ A group of women shopkeepers in Hillcrest donate the landmark sign at the corner of University and Fifth avenues. (It is repainted in 1977; completely restored in 1984; repainted a decade later; then again in July 2003.)
1944 ~ University Heights resident and tennis great Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly picks up a racquet at the age of ten. At 14, she beats all the other little girls and becomes the youngest U.S. girls’ champion. Little Mo goes on to win Wimbledon in 1952, 1953 and 1954! She’s also the first woman to win the Grand Slam (at only 19!)
1946 ~ Catherine Ghio opens the first Anthony’s Fish Grotto on Harbor Drive with many locations follow.
1950 ~ Long-distance, open-water swimmer Florence Chadwick becomes the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. Two years later the native San Diegan known for her endurance swims in rough water becomes the first woman to swim from Catalina to the California coast, eclipsing the men’s record by two hours!
1951 ~ Harriet Barnhard Wimmer (at the age of 51) opens her own landscape architecture office in the Design Center on Fifth Avenue. After growing up in Hillcrest and attending Florence Elementary School, her local gardening knowledge enhances her superb creations.
1953 ~ Margaret Helen Kinney lands a job at the Union-Tribune becoming one of three secretaries to C.E.O. James Copley. They marry in 1965. After his death eight years later, Helen Copley becomes publisher of the family newspaper empire for nearly three decades, retiring in 2001. Her philanthropic projects will include securing a home for the San Diego Symphony. In 2003 Forbes will estimate her assets at $960 million.
1965 ~ After spending decades acquiring European old master paintings and loaning them to prestigious museums around the country, sisters Amy and Anne Putnam (Putnam Foundation) reunite their extraordinary collection into permanent quarters at the Timken Art Gallery in Balboa Park.
1966 ~ The banjo-playing beauty Micki Finn (and the nationally broadcast variety show with the same name) replicates the “speakeasy” at 1051 University Avenue made famous by her husband Fred’s Dixieland band.
1968 ~ Sister Mary Jo Anderson joins Mercy Hospital as an assistant administrator. In 1997 she becomes C.O.O. of Scripps Health. Retiring in 2000 she remains an active member of the Mercy Hospital Foundation Board heading up a campaign to raise $20 million for Mercy Clinic.
1971 ~ Joyce Beers co-founds the Uptown Community Planning Committee (see below).
1971 ~ Maureen O’Connor, age 25, is elected to the City Council. Fifteen years later she would serve as San Diego’s first woman mayor.
1971 ~ 18-year-old blonde beauty Joan Embery is hired as the “goodwill ambassador” for the San Diego Zoo. Embery and her animals begin a run of 100 appearances on NBC’s Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
1972 ~ Linda Taylor (who works at her stepfather’s Pleasant House of Natural Foods in Hillcrest) is selected as Playboy Magazine’s Miss August.
1972 ~ Native San Diegan and daughter of a librarian, Evelyn Kooperman, follows in her mother’s footsteps taking a position in the reference section of the city’s public library. 17 years later she completes her first book, San Diego Trivia, followed five years later with San Diego Trivia 2.
1973 ~ Helen Witham, an assistant curator of botany at the San Diego Natural History Museum, (who later became Helen Chamlee) helps found the Florida Canyoneers with Nancy Inman serving as chair, Betty Robinson assuming responsibility for training and Claire Brey interviewing prospective candidates to serve as vounteer guides. For seven consecutive Saturdays the group presents training on the plants, animals, geology, history and Native American uses of the canyon.
1975 ~ San Diego native Jeri Dilno becomes the first female director of the Gay Center, then located at 26th and B, and helps coordinate the first organized lesbian and gay pride march in the city. Always a leader, Jeri holds four terms as president of the San Diego Democratic Club, was the first female editor of Gay & Lesbian Times and served on the steering committee for the first March on Washington in 1979.
1979 ~ The Wing Cafe, a feminist restaurant-gallery-performance space on B Street in Golden Hill, opens. In 1982 Kathy Najimy and Sue Palmer take over the entertainment.
1982 ~ Hillcrest resident, Ingrid Croce, the widow of folk balladeer Jim, opens her first San Diego restaurant, Blinchiki, on Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest just north of University Avenue. Three years later she moves to the Gaslamp Quarter opening Croce’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar.
1982 ~ Terry Cole-Whittaker, a former Mrs. California, who emerged as a popular new age minister in the ’70s, establishes her own ministry organization and fills the California Theatre downtown for two services every Sunday.
1983 ~ Judy the Beauty, owner of the Big Kitchen in Golden Hill, serves as the Princess of Ceremonies for an all woman show at the recently rebuilt Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. The single night performance features pianist Sue Palmer, the feminist improve troupe Hot Flashes, and Whoopi Goldberg — a local standup comedian and former dishwasher at the Big Kitchen.
1983 ~ Lucille Green, Hillcrest Association Chair and manager of a family trust owning property on the northwest and southeast corners of Fifth and University, is quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying that homosexuals are “a small component” of Hillcrest adding, “there are probably more Vietnamese than gays.”
1985 ~ Carol Arko, owner of two neighborhood gay bars (Brass Rail and Number One Fifth Avenue) with her hubby Lou, is elected the president of the Hillcrest Business Association.
1986 ~ Mayor Maureen O’Connor becomes the first elected official to ride (and march) in the 12th annual Lesbian & Gay Pride parade.
1989 ~ After four years of fighting over custody issues, attorney fees and property, Betty Broderick shoots her former husband, Dan, and (his new wife) Linda in the bed of their Marston Hills home. The sensationalism of the crime spawns two made-for-TV-movies.
1990 ~ The Quince Street pedestrian bridge reopens after a major renovation thanks to activist (and art teacher) Elinor Meadows.
1991 ~ Cindy Lehman, manager of Grossmont Bank, and Celeste Asaro, owner of a Sixth Avenue children’s clothing store (The Jac Mart), continue a second year as the co-chairs of Hillcrest’s CityFest organizing a cadre of community volunteers.
1992 ~ Lynn Schenk becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress from San Diego County.
1992 ~ County Supervisor Susan Golding is elected as San Diego’s first Jewish mayor.
1993 ~ Christine Kehoe is elected as our representative to the SD City Council (the first openly gay/lesbian official in San Diego).
1994 ~ The firm of Stone Paper Scissors (with artists Lynn Susholtz, Aida Mancillas and Gwen Gomez) creatively designs the Vermont Street Bridge over Washington Street once more connecting Hillcrest and University Heights.
1999 ~ Linda Churchill paints a mural depicting a yesteryear hardware store on Tenth near the corner of University.
2000 ~ Deborah Scott, chef and co-owner of Kemo Sabe, is honored by the San Diego Restaurant Association as Chef of the Year — one of her numerous local and national accolades.
2002 ~ Hillcrest resident Judge Bonnie Dumanis is elected as San Diego District Attorney. The election makes her the highest ranking, openly lesbian, law enforcement officer in the nation.
2003 ~ Toni Atkins is named San Diego’s Deputy Mayor.
2003 ~ Ann Garwood and Nancy Moors publish the first edition of HillQuest, an Urban Guide to 92103+ as a conduit to Hillcrest’s best website.
2004 ~ Hamburger heiress turned philanthropist Joan Kroc (1928-2003) shares her fortune by bequeathing over a billion dollars to charities including $20 million to SD Hospice, $50 million to the Institute for Peace and Justice which bears her name at the University of San Diego and a whopping $1.58 billion to the Salvation Army.
2004 ~ Toni Atkins is chosen by her peers to fill the shoes of mayor after the resignation of Dick Murphy.
2005 ~ Ann Garwood & Nancy Moors form the Hillcrest History Guild and within 30 days receive its 501 (c)3 nonprofit status.
2005 ~ Activists Cathy Lee and Grace Gamalong move into the heart of Hillcrest and help organize the Hillcrest Clean T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More).