Thursday, February 28, 2019

Franklina Gray Bartlett (1853-1934): Author; Founder of Women's Social Club

Grave of Franklina Gray Bartlett
Plot 30

Franklina Gray Bartlett was the founder of the Ebell Society in Santa Ana and President of the organization in Oakland, California. She was the wife of the prominent banker William S. Bartlett and stepdaughter of the wealthy businessman David Hewes.

The Ebell Club is a women’s social club that still operates in a number of cities. Established in 1897 as a substitute for the university education that women were largely denied, the club had 2,500 members in its heyday in the 1920s, and activities included Shakespeare, gardening and art appreciation. 

Franklina's mother Matilda Gray married David Hewes in 1875, taking her and her sister Rosa  on a two and a half year honeymoon. The group visited 22 different countries including England, France, Italy and Greece, collecting art and allowing David to explore his religious interests.

Franklina kept a journal chronicling her adventures and wrote hundreds of letters to William Springer Bartlett, her fiancé in Oakland, California. The Camron-Stanford House published a collection of her writings and letters, showing her to be an atypical Victorian woman. Franklina shows herself to be an opinionated, imperfect woman of wit, spirit, and determination. In her writings she discusses many of her grand adventures, including climbing the Alps and sailing the Nile.

Images from Camron-Stanford House book on Franklina Bartlett's writings
In 1878, Franklina married William Bartlett at the Camron-Stanford House in Oakland. In 1882, the couple moved to Tustin, California where they built a sprawling Victorian mansion and her husband became active in the development of the city. He was a shareholder in the Tustin Land & Improvement Company, a director for the Bank of Tustin and a member of the organizing committee for the Tustin Presbyterian Church, which his father-in-law financed.

While in Tustin, Franklina started the Ebell Society of Santa Ana Valley, modeling it on the Oakland society, where she was its first president.

Franklina was also a prolific writer, contributing many short stories to “The Overland Monthly and "The Out West” magazine, a San Francisco publication. Her stories appeared frequently along with submissions from well known authors such as Brete Harte, Willa Cather, Jack London and Mark Twain.

Sources: Find a Grave, Camron-Stanford House, Orange County Register, Old Homes of Los Angeles blog

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Abraham Holland (c1830-1910 ): Black Gold Rush Pioneer

Abraham Holland grave (Photo Michael Colbruno)
Abraham Freeman Holland was born in Pennsylvania around 1830 and joined the California Gold Rush around 1849/50, arriving in the Sierra foothills near Marysville. The African-American migration to California brought incredible opportunity to gain freedom and economic independence for black people. He joined a number of other black miners in founding the aptly named Sweet Vengeance Mine. Holland selected "Freeman" to be his middle name.

In 1861, his son Albert was born, but he died of pneumonia at age 18 in 1879 while attending college.

One of Holland's business partners was Edward P. Duplex, a native of Connecticut, who opened a string of successful barbershops throughout the region and was elected mayor of the community, quite probably the first African-American mayor west of the Mississippi. Holland, Duplex and the other black miners had to repeatedly defend themselves against white miners who tried to overtake the mine by force.

At the time when Holland and Duplex were mining in California, the population of blacks ranged from around 1,000 at the time the State was admitted to the Union in 1850 to 2,200 in 1852. Black residents were technically "free," as a condition of California becoming a State was that it would be a free state, however the California Fugitive Slave Act of 1852 allowed black residents to forcibly be returned to slave states if they resided here before statehood. Holland, along with a number of other black residents, purchased the freedom of numerous slaves with their earnings and brought them to California. 

The grave of Holland's business partner Mayor Edward Duplex
In 1876, using the money he had earned in the mines, Abraham moved to Oakland where records have him listed as a widower. His 18 year old son Albert died of pneumonia while attending college.

The elder Holland went on to become a Pullman porter when the Central Pacific Railroad terminus was in West Oakland, serving passengers on the Transcontinental Railroad. Although Pullman porters worked long, hard hours, they made better wages than they could in most other jobs available to African-American men at the time. The pullmans got to travel across the U.S., making important connections with people along the way.  They distributed information pamphlets about civil rights and were key to keeping others across the country informed.

The Pullman Company, whose sumptuous dining and sleeping cars catered to well-heeled travelers, only hired African-Americans to work as their porters. These jobs held great prestige, paid well, and provided opportunities for travel and tips.

Abraham Holland took an active role in African-American cultural and political organizations. He was Grand Master of the African-American lodge of California Freemasons known as the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Mason. He also served as president of the Literary and Aid Society of Oakland and directed the Colored Colonization Association of Fresno County.

Sources: "Contemporary Issues in California Archaeology" edited by Terry L Jone, Docent Gia White, "Structure, Agency, and the Archaeology of African Americans" by Adrian Praetzellis, Sierra College archives, Browns Valley by Roberta Sperbeck D'Arcy, California: A History By Andrew Rolle and Arthur C. Verge

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Frank Day (1853-1899): Councilmember in Los Angeles and Monterey

Frank Day obituary in the San Francisco Call
Plot 14B

Day was born in South Bend, Indiana, on April 9, 1853 and moved with his family to Sacramento, California in 1866. He moved by himself to Los Angeles in the early 1880s.

In 1882, he was elected to represent the 2nd Ward on the Los Angeles Common Council. The Los Angeles Common Council was the predecessor of the Los Angeles, California, City Council. It was formed in 1850 under state law, when the city had only 1,610 residents, and it existed until 1889, when the city had about 50,400 residents and a city charter was put into effect. Day represented one of the wealthiest Wards.

In November 1885 Day argued against a motion made by Councilman Hiram Sinsabaugh that a picture of a nude woman hanging "at the lower end of the council chamber" be removed. He said the canvas was a "work of art. belong to Conference [Fire] Engine Company, and had been on exhibition in Preuss A. Piroul's window for four months." The council nevertheless ordered it taken down.

On March 7, 1885, "the fire delegates" elected Day as chief of the volunteer fire department. It was said that Day was the first chief of the fire department when it became a paid department instead of a volunteer force. He resigned in January 1886, with a message to the Common Council that he could no longer serve because he would be "out of the city a good deal of the time."

After selling his business, Day moved to Monterey where he was an organizer and manager of the Monterey Electric Light & Development Company and operator of a saloon. In 1893, he became a member of the Monterey Town Council.

Around 1898, he ended up in San Francisco, where he worked as a clerk at Wells Fargo. But his stay in the city was short, as he committed suicide in 1899, leaving the following note:

"If my body is found, tell my friends at Wells, Fargo & Co. to bury me at Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland. My father, Loth [sic] Day, and mother, Celine Day, are buried there." His father owned property in Oakland, which he bequeathed to his son.

According to his obituary in the San Francisco Call, "The stopcock of the gas jet was fully turned on and the room was full of the suffocating odor. All the crevices, including the keyhole, were stopped with bits of cloth tightly wedged in to prevent the escape of the death-dealing fluid."

The obituary also stated that he had a problem with alcohol.

Sources: San Francisco Call,, Wikipedia

Bella French Swisher (1837-1893): Author, Editor & Spa Founder

Bella French Swisher
Bella French Swisher was born in 1837 in Georgia.

Around 1841, her family moved to the Midwest. By 1868 she was owner, editor, and publisher of a newspaper, the Western Progress in Brownsville, Minnesota. She later edited and published the Busy West at St. Paul and at Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the American Sketch Book in La Cross.

The American Sketch Book originally called itself "an historical and home monthly," although it generally appeared only six times a year. The magazine, a hefty collection of poetry, stories, plays, engravings, reminiscences, and county histories as well as recipes and farm hints, was largely written by Mrs. Swisher and a small number of contributing writers. The last issue blamed printing delays for its erratic appearance and announced the advent of the Sketch Book Publishing House, but the Sketch Book never became a commercial success.

In 1878 she married  John M. Swisher, a wealthy veteran of the battle of San Jacinto. In 1880 Mrs. Swisher began another venture, the Thermo Water Cure or Hot Air Bath and Hygienic Institute, a health spa designed to relieve rheumatism, neuralgia, paralysis, and other disorders.

Bella Swisher's "American Sketch Book" (Photo: Heritage Auctions)
In 1881 she dropped the Sketch Book's subscription price from three dollars to a dollar a year and announced that she was available for a lecture tour. In 1883 the American Sketch Book ceased publication.

Bella Swisher wrote two novels, Struggling Up to the Light: The Story of a Woman's Life (1876, published under the name Bella French), and Rocks and Shoals in the River of Life (1889). The protagonist of Struggling Up to the Light, Martha Bright, overcomes a childhood of abuse and neglect, marries a man hostile to her talents and aspirations, and conquers the stigma of divorce to become a successful poet who writes particularly about the status of women.

Swisher also wrote two volumes of poetry, Florecita (1889) and The Sin of Edith Dean (1890). Her "History of Austin, Travis County, Texas," which originally appeared in the American Sketch Book, was issued as a reprint in 1880.

After the Sketch Book ceased publication, she moved to Sausalito, California, where she died on September 28, 1893.

Sources: Texas State Historical Society, Find a Grave, Wikipedia,  Austin Weekly Statesman, Heritage Auctions

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Jimmie Stanislaus (1910-1993): "The Singing Fireman"

Jimmie Stanislaus (Photo left: Stanford University archives)

Jimmie Stanislaus had four careers in life, starting as a lightweight boxer from 1926-1934. He had 86 fights in his boxing career, losing only a handful of matches. After he retired from boxing, he opened a shoeshine stand while making extra cash on the side as an attendant for Yellow Cab.

In 1943, he joined the Oakland Fire Department at Engine 31 at High & Porter Streets. He retired and in 1975, but not after having created a sensation singing with Turk Murphy's band in 1972. Even before his retirement as a fireman, he was traveling with Turk Murphy and performing in international clubs and aboard cruise ships. One of his popular songs, "Lock Goon Strut," would be considered culturally inappropriate today, as it referred to a Chinese restaurant at 8th & Webster Streets and the term "goon" was used to denote low intelligence, particularly in regards to Asians.

That led to a whole new career as a singer, with his voice often drawing comparisons to the great Louie Armstrong. He caught Turk Murphy's attention singing "Yama Yama Man" at the Earthquake McGoon jazz club in San Francisco, run by the famous trombonist and bandleader who played traditional and Dixieland jazz. He was quickly dubbed "The Singing Fireman."

Jimmie Stanislaus (Photo right: Stanford University archives)
"Yama Yama Man" was a bogeyman character named to rhyme with pajama, a reference to the costume. In 1918, cartoonist Max Fleischer created Koko the Clown, who wears a similar costume, and a popular children's novel called Yama Yama Land was also written. Stanislaus often dressed in a loose fitting clown costume when he performed the song [photo above]. 

He also recorded with Turk Murphy and appears on his Live at Inverness and Turk Murphy Jazz Band albums performing some of his biggest hits, including Yama Yama Man, Back O Town Blues, and You Rascal You (I'll be Glad When You're Dead).

Elizabeth Flood (1828-1867): Opened first private school for black children

Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood (1828-1867) was born a free woman in 1828 and educated in Massachusetts. When her son by her late first husband, Joseph Scott, was not allowed into a school in Sacramento, she opened a private school for black children in 1854. 

Elizabeth and Isaac Flood (born into slavery in South Carolina) married in 1855 and moved to Brooklyn (now part of Oakland), where she started another school in their home on East 15th. Elizabeth and Isaac went on to help found the First African Methodist Episcopal church, which eventually took over the school. 

Their son, George Francis Flood was born in 1856, and was said to be the first black baby born in Alameda County. Their daughter, Lydia Flood was born in 1862, and became the first black student to attend John Swett School in Oakland in 1872. Lydia went on to become active in the movement for women's voting rights. 

In 1871, Isaac petitioned the Oakland School Board to accept minority children, based on the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. In 1872, Brooklyn admitted minorities into its schools, and shortly after the Oakland School Board voted to accept them as well. Integrated schools didn't become the law in California until 1880. 

Elizabeth died at the age of 39. Elizabeth and Isaac are buried at Mountain View Cemetery. The plot is unmarked, but a cemetery docent discovered it when she noticed the name Isaac Flood on an old plot map of the cemetery and did some investigation.

[Reprinted from Oakland Wiki]

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Horace Wilds (1867 or 1868 -1902): Black baseball pioneer paralyzed from line drive to head

Obituary of Horace Wilds
Tennessee native Horace Maynard Wilds (1867 or 1868-1902) was a well-known African-American baseball player, who played catcher for the all-black Tribune Nine and other teams.

Described by the Oakland Tribune as the "colored beauty," he played with white players on amateur teams before spending five years with the Pacific Baseball League, a rival to the popular California League. After the Pacific Baseball League folded, he joined all-black teams, which received little to no coverage in the local press.

As with other black baseball players of the time, no major league team would add him to their roster because of his race.

In 1892, he married Joanna Dickson of San Francisco. His wife and two children lived with his family at 1008 Tenth Avenue, which had previously been the Brooklyn Colored School.

Wilds died in 1902 due to the lingering effects of being hit in the head with a baseball injury that occurred six years previously. Although he didn't feel like the injury was serious at first, he had ruptured his optic nerve and suffered from progressive paralysis. He was blind and nearly paralyzed at the time of his death.

His funeral was attended by several prominent elected officials, including the City Manager, Superintendent of Schools and Chief of Police. He was the eldest son of John A. Wilds, a popular janitor at City Hall.

Sources: The Golden Game: The Story of California Baseball by Kevin Nelson, Oakland Tribune,, San Francisco Call, Morning Call

Royal Towns (1899-1990): Helped integrate Oakland Fire Department

Royal Towns as a child and as a member of the Oakland Fire Department
Plot 54, Grave 1915

Towns was born in Oakland in 1899, and when denied union membership in his factory job because of his race, went to work as a railroad porter. 

In 1919 the city of Oakland began seeking and testing African Americans applicants to serve as firefighters for a segregated unit of the Oakland Fire Department. In 1925, the first all-African American firehouse 22 Engine opened in West Oakland at 3230 Magnolia Street. Towns joined the Oakland Fire Department in 1927 and was assigned to Engine Company No. 22. He was the city's eleventh black firefighter.

After data that he compiled showed that African-Americans were being promoted in other cities and not Oakland, Towns became the first to be promoted with the Oakland Fire Department. He eventually became a chief's operator and eventually retired as a lieutenant in 1962.

He helped recruit African American firefighters and conducted classes to help them study for the fire-fighting exam. His recruitment efforts resulted in 25 African American fire fighters being hired.

After his retirement, he became interested in his family genealogy and black history. He traced his roots on his paternal side to his grandfather's departure from Jamaica just two years after slavery was banned in the West Indies. He traced his maternal roots back to Charles Humphrey Scott in 1822, a Kentucky slave who bought his freedom and moved to New Orleans. 

He was interviewed by the Oakland Tribune about his family history and also co-convened a group of "West Oakland pals" who got together annually to reminisce.

Sources: Find a Grave, Oakland Library, Oakland Wiki, Oakland Tribune (Feb 6, 1977)