San Francisco Social Life and Clara Foltz's Circle

From Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz -- Online Notes For The Book

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This Note reflects my research on San Franscisco's social scene during Clara Foltz's life and also discusses some of Clara's contemporaries in her social circle.


General Sources

KEVIN STARR, AMERICANS AND THE CALIFORNIA DREAM 1850-1915 (1981) portrays the social, artistic and literary life of San Francisco mainly through mini-biographies of people such as Jack London, Ambrose Bierce and George Sterling and their circles. See especially, the chapter entitled, Bohemian Shores. BARBARA BERGLUND, MAKING SAN FRANCISCO AMERICAN: CULTURAL FRONTIERS IN THE URBAN WEST, 1846-1906 (2007) describes how San Francisco evolved from a frontier boomtown. Published at the same time as WOMAN LAWYER, a new book titled WOMEN AND THE EVERYDAY CITY: PUBLIC SPACE IN SAN FRANCISCO, 1890-1915 (2011) by JESSICA ELLEN SEWELL explores the gender and class divisions of urban spaces and how they changed rapidly over a 25 year period. Especially interesting are the descriptions of the places of public entertainment: first is the legitimate theater (plays and operas) whose expense meant that mostly elite women attended, though they could go with each other there rather than requiring a male escort; less expensive vaudeville shows, which were considered a popular entertainment and included working class women, and children, and in which patrons could shout, stamp, and come in and out of their seats (no longer allowed in the legitimate theater): foreign language theaters serving the huge immigrant population, especially Italians; and variety houses and concert saloons, which nice ladies did not frequent at 97. SEWELL also has an excellent chapter on Dining Out, pp 67-94 that divides the restaurants, coffee houses, tea rooms, and hotel dining rooms by their locations and clientele. Finally, she deals with the advances in the sharing and use of public space made by the suffragists between their 1896 and 1911 campaigns. For contemporary accounts of the atmosphere and cultural events, see AMELIA RANSOME NEVILLE, THE FANTASTIC CITY: MEMOIRS OF THE SOCIAL AND ROMANTIC LIFE OF OLD SAN FRANCISCO (1932); JULIA ALTROCCHI, THE SPECTACULAR SAN FRANCISCANS (1949); Doris Muscatine, OLD SAN FRANCISCO: THE BIOGRAPHY OF A CITY FROM EARLY DAYS TO THE EARTHQUAKE(1975. FRANCES MOFFETT, DANCING ON THE BRINK OF THE WORLD: THE RISE AND FALL OF SAN FANCISCO SOCIETY (1977).

These works all discuss the various hotels, restaurants, social activities, plays, performances, publications, and famous people of San Francisco. Muscatine is the best indexed and most interested in women’s role. “The early stirring of women’s liberation spreading across the country made possible broader opportunities… increased social flexibility. During the 90’s… women could dine respectably in the French restaurants, could pursue a wider range of education, enter previously limited professions and follow their interests, including intellectual in formal groups that managed more than quilting bees and death benefits for members in good standing….” at 344. EVELYN WELLS, CHAMPAGNE DAYS OF SAN FRANCISCO (1939), in an apparent reference to the Portia Club (discussed in Chapter Three of WOMAN LAWYER) writes wryly, as if describing a fad, that in the late nineties a hundred women in San Francisco studied law and mentions Clara Foltz as their leader. Books by Oscar Lewis, the local historian (not to be confused with the anthropologist of the same name) give a good sense of the life of the city. SAN FRANCISCO: MISSION TO METROPOLIS (1966). OSCAR LEWIS AND CARROLL D. HALL, BONANZA INN, AMERICA’S FIRST LUXURY HOTEL (1939) is particularly good on the atmosphere of the 1880s, as seen from the Palace Hotel. Frank Mazzi, Harbingers of the City: Men and Their monuments in Nineteenth Century San Francisco, 55 S. CAL. Q. 141 (1973) is excellent on the civilizing effects of fine hotels and theater buildings early in the city’s history, with many striking pictures and contemporary quotations. WILLIAM ISSEL AND ROBERT W. CHERNY, SAN FRANCISCO, 1865-1932, at 76 (1986) (quoting Samuel Williams in 1875 who wrote that “living at a first-class hotel is a strong presumption of social availability… but living in a boarding house indicates a nobody.”). 344 (1975) PETER R. DECKER, FORTUNES AND FAILURES, WHITE-COLLAR MOBILITY IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY SAN FRANCISCO 196-230 (1978) Chapter eight, entitled “A Social Geography of the Urban Landscape,” describes different neighborhoods and the rise of Van Ness Avenue where Foltz lived after the World’s Fair. See also CHARLES CALDWELL DOBIE, SAN FRANCISCO: A PAGEANT 278-9 (1934).

Gertrude Atherton, who was by marriage a member for a time of San Francisco society wrote about the social life of the city in novels and memoirs. CALIFORNIA, AN INTIMATE HISTORY (1914); ADVENTURES OF A NOVELIST (1932). Atherton’s life overlapped with Clara Foltz’s at many points, and they may well have met each other. But neither mentioned the other on the public record. WOMAN LAWYER, Chapter 5 describes Atherton’s novel PATIENCE SPARHAWK AND HER TIMES, which features a woman accused of murdering her husband. It was published in the mid-nineties at about the same time that Foltz wrote her piece, Should Women Be Executed. On-line bibliographic note Women Murder Defendants and Equal Justice. See EMILY WORTIS LEIDER, CALIFORNIA’S DAUGHTER: GERTRUDE ATHERTON (1991) for a description of Atherton's life and the circles in which she moved.

===The Montgomery Block===

Many histories of San Francisco mention the Montgomery block where Foltz had her law office several times over the years, including her first one in the city. IDWAL JONES, ARK OF EMPIRE, SAN FRANCISCO’S MONTGOMERY BLOCK (1951) is devoted entirely to the building’s history. Built in 1853, its construction on a raft of redwood logs that had been bolted together in a deeply excavated basement, with thick masonry walls, was considered the safest building in the west (and indeed it survived the 1906 earthquake and fire). It attracted lawyers, engineers, judges, scientists, business people plus artists and writers including Jack London, George Sterling, Lola Montez, Lotta Crabtree, Gelett Burgess, Maynard Dixon, Frank Norris, Ambrose Bierce, Bret Harte, and Mark Twain. HARR WAGNER, JOAQUIN MILLER AND HIS OTHER SELF 105 (1929) tells of how Montgomery St. between Jackson and California Streets was “the literary center of SF.” In addition to Joaquin Miller, Wagner mentions many other writers as regulars in a Bohemian group centered in the Golden Era offices: Millicent Shin, Harry McDowall, Arthur McEwen, Ambrose Bierce, Madge Morris, Ella Sterling Cummins (later Mighels), Carrie Stevens Walter and Eliza D. Keith. “Frequently at noon, young law students, poets and artists would meet in the Golden Era office and listen to the reading of good, bad and indifferent ms. We would pool our small change and adjourn to Hjul’s coffee shop… Among the young men who gathered there that achieved more than local fame were James G. Maguire, Judge Gore Cabaniss, Franklin K. Lane, E. E. Cothran and Robert Duncan Milne.” SEWELL, supra does not mention Hjuls but has a very interesting account of another, famous to tourists, coffee shop in the Montgomery Block, Coppas, which catered to a cross gender and class crowd (though she suggests that the elites may have been slumming. at 86-89.

Frona Wait, Madge Morris, Ella Cummins

In the city, Foltz had a circle of friends who were writers and in that sense career women but who were not her political or women's rights allies. These included especially Frona Wait, Ella Cummins, and Madge Morris. Frona Wait Colburn, 1859-ca. 1946 was a California journalist, the first woman to write for the San Francisco EXAMINER. She also worked for the San Francisco CALL and the San Francisco CHRONICLE. Wait was said to be the model for the heroine (Frona Welse) of Jack London's first novel, A DAUGHTER OF THE SNOWS (1902). Biographical Introduction, Colburn Manuscript Collection, California State Library. In the outgoing correspondance folder of the papers is a note in memory of “my old friend Clara Foltz” (Box 1066, Folder 30).

Excerpt From Frona Wait's Notes

"Mrs. Clara Shortridge Foltz, Madge Morris Wagner and I were young women together. We were life-long friends and often met and exchanged views on life in general. Seldom did we agree, but we allowed each other elbow room good naturedly. For example Mrs Foltz was an ardent suffragist. I was not in favor of woman suffrage at all. Mrs. Foltz said: 'Frona Wait, you are one of the brightest women I know, but you are all wrong on woman suffrage. All right, Clara Foltz, wait and see,' I always replied."

"The last time I saw Mrs. Foltz, she asked me to come and dine with her at the Palace Hotel, a spot we both loved. I took her a handful of LaFrance roses. After dinner, upstairs in her room, I said: ‘Well, now Clara Foltz, what do you think of woman suffrage?' She put her hands over her face and answered. Frona Wait, I am ashamed!” My answer was, ‘Clara Foltz, I thought you would be,' and so ended a beautiful friendship. Madge Morris had already gone, and I am keeping watch and ward over our past association memories." Frona Wait Colburn October 2, 1942

Frona Wait also wrote of the special friendship among Fotlz, Madge Morris and her in an obituary of Morris, A California Poetess—As I Knew Her, OVERLAND MONTHLY & OUT WEST MAGAZINE, 204-206 (May 1924).

Wait also wrote of the life-long trio of Foltz, Morris and herself, relating that Morris reached the peak of her fame when she was celebrated at the World’s Fair as the author of Liberty’s Bell. In the same set of obituaries, Ella Cummins (Mighels), Her Pen is Stilled described the romance of Madge Morris with Harr Wagner when she wrote for his magazine, The Golden Era and became his wife.

Morris's "Ode to Clara Foltz"

Madge Morris and Clara Foltz first met in San Jose in the 1870's; Morris, who was then a young widow with one child, was appointed postmistress in the 1880 legislature. Her Ode to Clara Shortridge Foltz is from this period and describes Foltz on the public platform and in her legislative duties.

To Clara Shortridge Foltz

by Madge Morris, version in "The Lure of the Desert and Other Poems, published in 1917©© (this poem written at lest by 1887 ©quoted in Bee©©probably when they were both in Sacramento together: 1880©© internal evidence that must have been near time CSF's children were little.)

From out the ranks of them that toil Thy hand has carved its upward way, Nor stooped its God©given trust to soil, Nor dreamed in weariness to stay. If faltered e"er that heart of thine, It ached, but gave the world no sign.

Thy voice has argued in debate,©© In scathing satire sharply fell" In forum and in hall of state Held listening thousands with its spell. Then dropped its tones to softest keep And crooning sung a babe to sleep.

True as the ship is to its port, Thy heart©©on seas of sun or foam©© Wrought out its masonry in Court, But built its tower at home.

And when the gold upon thy head Shall change to age's colder gray, The little hands that thou has led Will lead thee down life's slanting way. The path is long since over©grown With flowers of love that thou hast sown.

Then Hail thee! priestess of the law©© OUr fair©browed Portia of the West. Write on they shield: "I came. I saw, I conquered." Thou hast earned the crest©© Nay; more, it seemed the gods to thee Had given the Sakhral's mystery.

And thou hast proved that woman can©© Who has the grace, and strength and will© Work in the wider field of man And be a glorious woman, still.

Rocking the Baby


I hear her rocking the baby--

 Her room is just next to mine--

And I fancy I feel the dimpled arms

 That round her neck entwine,

As she rocks, and rocks the baby,

 In the room just next to mine.

I hear her rocking the baby

 Each day when the twilight comes,

And I know there's a world of blessing and love

 In the "baby bye" she hums.

I can see the restless fingers

 Playing with "mamma's rings,"

And the sweet little smiling, pouting mouth,

 That to hers in kissing clings,

As she rocks and sings to the baby,

 And dreams as she rocks and sings.

I hear her rocking the baby,

 Slower and slower now,

And I know she is leaving her good-night kiss

 On its eyes, and cheek, and brow

From her rocking, rocking, rocking,

 I wonder would she start,

Could she know, through the wall between us,

 She is rocking on a heart.

While my empty arms are aching

 For a form they may not press

And my emptier heart is breaking

 In its desolate loneliness

I list to the rocking, rocking,

 In the room just next to mine,

And breathe a prayer in silence,

 At a mother's broken shrine,

For the woman who rocks her baby

 In the room just next to mine.

Cummins' Exhibit

In the early nineties, Ella Cummins put together an exhibit of California writers for the World’s Fair and later published her findings in THE STORY OF THE FILES, A REVIEW OF CALIFORNIA WRITERS AND LITERATURE (1893), a book of 450 pages of pictures, excerpts, and idiosyncratic opinions. Cummins’ thesis was serious--that a true regional literature had been invented in pioneer California. The writer’s exhibit covered the few famous writers, such as Bret Harte and Mark Twain, and the semi-famous, Joaquin Miller and Ina Coolbrith. Cummins persuaded Ambrose Bierce and Gertrude Atherton to contribute to the exhibit, described in EMILY WORTIS LEIDER, CALIFORNIA’S DAUGHTER 131-32 (1993).

Cummins also mentioned Wait (spelling it with an “e”) at 316 noting that some of her magazine sketches were “excellent, notably one on Clara Foltz, the lady lawyer.” Her husband Adley Cummins, a lawyer and writer, died, and Cummins later re-married and published LITERARY CALIFORNIA, POETRY, PROSE AND PORTRAITS (1918) under the name Ella Sterling Mighels. Clara Foltz is pictured in the book at page 174, the only woman among “orators, editors and prose writers.” For more on Cummins, see ELLA STERLING CUMMINS MIGHELS, NO ROOMS OF THEIR OWN; WOMEN WRITERS OF EARLY CALIFORNIA 259-92 (Ida Rae Egli ed., 1992). She published her autobiography under the pen name Aurora Esmeralda entitled LITERARY CALIFORNIA, LIFE AND LETTERS OF A FORTY-NINER’S DAUGHTER 184-89 (1934). Though disclaiming feminism, Cummins pursued a journalistic career which featured many forgotten women in her exhibit, and spoke on women’s contributions to California literature. See Cummins, The Women Writers of California, THE CONGRESS OF WOMEN: HELD IN THE WOMAN'S BUILDING, WORLD'S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION, CHICAGO, U. S. A., 1893, (Mary Kavanaugh Oldham Eagle ed. 1894). For a picture of many of the early writers and magazines in San Francisco, which credits Cummins with preserving it, see FRANKLIN WALKER, SAN FRANCISCO’S LITERARY FRONTIER (1930).

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