Rose Wilder Lane’s San Francisco Home

For years as a tour guide in Burr Oak, IA, Laura Ingalls Wilder fans had shared stories with me about their own “Little House” site adventures. As a child, it was a goal of mine to visit each of the well-known sites which I accomplished back in 2012. After years of hearing visitors’ stories about their experiences at some of the lesser known sites the family lived at, such as Westville, Florida; Cuba, New York; Danbury, Connecticut, etc., I decided to start a new goal. This fall I finally had the opportunity to visit San Francisco and see Rose Wilder Lane’s home.

Rose Wilder moved to San Francisco in 1908 and married Claire Gillette Lane on March 24, 1909. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1918; they had no surviving children.

In 1915, Laura Ingalls Wilder, visited San Francisco, California, to spend time with her daughter who was a reporter for The Bulletin, a local newspaper. Wilder wrote letters home to her husband, Almanzo, describing her time in California and her experiences at the Panama Pacific International Exposition, aka The World’s Fair. These letters were later complied into the book, West from Home.

During this time, Rose and her husband lived in a neighborhood called Russian Hill, which was a part of its original “Seven Hills of San Francisco.” Russian Hill is located just north of Nob Hill and south of Fisherman’s Wharf. Many people know Russian Hill from one of its famous streets, Lombard Street, which is considered the most crooked street in the world.

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The home of Rose Wilder Lane around 1915.
1019 Vallejo Street, San Francisco, CA.

In 1906, an earthquake and fire destroyed some of the neighborhood. Over time, the goat path was replaced with a terraced stairway and today, as you descend the stairs to Taylor Street you will find a small park sits at the top of the hill on Vallejo Street.  The Russian Government dedicated a plaque in the park, in honor of the men who were buried on Russian Hill.

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Russian Government’s plaque in honor of the men buried here.

 

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A close up of the English side of the plaque.

During my visit to San Francisco, I was able to see Rose’s home and enjoy the park. Visitors may enjoy views from several directions including, the east bay area with the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and Alcatraz. Other notable residents of the neighborhood include several writers: Stewart Alsop II, Gelett Burgess, Neil Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Mayor Gavin Newsom.

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The view from Rose’s home looking at the East Bay Area.

Read more about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s experience in San Francisco:  http://shop.discoverlaura.org/West-from-Home-204.htm 

For more information about Rose’s home visit: https://rhnsf.org/history/walks/russian-hill-summit/walk-notes/

http://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/article/Architect-had-designs-on-San-Francisco-3255794.php#photo-2405029

For more information about Laura at the Panama Pacific International Exposition visit: http://www.sanfranciscomemories.com/ppie/LauraIngallsWilder.html

 

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Ida B. Wells- Pioneer for Black Female Activists

In May of 1884, a young woman named Ida was traveling home to Memphis from Nashville on a first-class train ticket. She was on break from Fisk University, where she was continuing her studies after taking a break to be a teacher. About halfway through her trip, Ida was approached by a porter who asked her to move to the back of the train, where African American passengers were required to ride. Ida, who had paid for her ticket to sit in first class, refused. When the porter returned with another man to threaten her into action, she still refused. When the two men attempted to physically remove her from the train, she fought back and bit one of them on the hand. Ida was eventually forced off the train. Rather than simply accepting what had happened to her, Ida let the incident fuel a fight in her that would someday take her to the White House and beyond.

Ida Bell Wells was born the oldest child of slaves on July 16, 1882 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Six months after her birth the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, but life for African Americans in the South was still rife with racism and discrimination. Ida’s parents were active in the Republican Party during the years of Reconstruction, and her father James helped found Shaw College, a school for freed slaves. Ida would eventually receive her early schooling there, but she was forced to abandon her studies in 1879, when both of her parents died in a yellow fever epidemic. Sixteen-year-old Ida suddenly found herself the sole caregiver of her five siblings. To keep her family together, Ida convinced a country school administrator that she was 18 in order to start teaching school. Her resourcefulness got her family through until they were able to stay with an aunt in Memphis, where Ida was able to continue going to school at Fisk University, a historically black college. At Fisk, Ida quickly gained a reputation as an outspoken supporter for women’s rights.

It was on one of her trips back and forth to school that Ida found herself forced off the train. Outraged, she hired a black lawyer in Memphis and sued the railroad company for $500. She won her case, but it was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. In response, Ida began writing. She published several articles in black-owned newspapers detailing the racial discrimination she and other African Americans faced in the South. She was a pioneer for black female journalists during a time when outspoken women, particularly outspoken black women, were not encouraged.

In 1889, Ida was devastated by the death of her friend, Thomas Moss, in Memphis. Moss owned a successful grocery store, and after an altercation with a mob Moss and two other black men were lynched. In response, Ida began an anti-lynching campaign. She conducted research into the causes of lynching cases and the ways they were justified. Ida published her findings in a pamphlet entitled “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases.” Her writing incensed many members of the white community in Memphis; soon after her articles began appearing in the anti-segregation publication Free Speech and Headlight, she received death threats and the newspaper office was trashed. None of this deterred her. Ida traveled the country and eventually to Europe, giving speeches and talks exposing the horror of lynching practices in the American South. She helped organized protests in Washington D.C, urging President Woodrow Wilson to pass stronger laws to protect for black people in the U.S. She spoke out out against the mistreatment of black people in the justice system, the disenfranchisement of black voters in the South, and discrimination faced by women.

During her long, distinguished career in journalism, Ida wrote about the world as she ida-b-wells---civil-rights-pioneersaw it, without shying away from harsher details. Her legacy inspired generations of activism and investigations into the practice of lynching in the South. As she wrote herself, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them”, and she embodied that practice her entire life.

Illustrating the “Little House” Books

As I mentioned in the last blog post when Garth Williams was first approached to re-illustrate the Little House books, he was not too sure about the idea. If you are just now tuning in for the first time look back to the last blog post to learn about Garth Williams, the man behind the famous Little House drawings, and his life prior to illustrating a children’s classic. The reason Williams was not sure about illustrating the Little House books is because he was accustomed to drawing animals, which he was very talented at drawing. He was not certain about taking on the task of depicting Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real life.

Little House Books:

At first Williams did not want to accept the offer, but after the editorial persistence he decided to go for it (William Anderson LORE 16,1). In order to properly illustrate Laura’s books, he set out on a tour across Laura’s territory. His first stop was Laura’s house in Mansfield Missouri. The journey started in 1947 when both Laura and Almanzo were still alive. At the Wilder’s farm, Rocky Ridge, he had a chance to sit down with both of them and hear some of the stories firsthand. Williams described her as “’very cheerful, sprightly, very much alive at eighty’” (qtd in Anderson 19,2). He also said that Laura was very helpful but not concerned about how he illustrated the books. From there Williams set out on a track to follow the Ingalls footsteps in order to personally see the places Laura wrote about in her books. On his trip Williams stated that “’illustrating books is not just making pictures of the houses, the people and the articles mentioned by the artist… the artist has to see everything with the same eyes’” (qtd. in Garth Williams, American Illustrator: A Life 69-70). After visiting all of the places in Laura’s books he then went to Italy to finish his big project. The project took him about six years to complete and then the re-illustrated series was then released in 1953, just four years before Laura’s death in February of 1957. The re-illustrated Little House books pushed the series into vast popularity and helped turn the books into the children’s classic that they are today.

Later Life:

In the 1960s Williams decided to move to Guanajuato, Mexico, where he purchased a 400-year castle. The castle was a good find and needed so work which Williams put in. He ended up transforming the place into a “huge, fortresslike residence and studio” (Anderson LORE 19,2). His property also included some unique features including fountains, a waterfall, and living and dining room that seated up to 150, along with cathedral arches. In 1974, he married Leticia, and she became his business manager. Williams spoke very highly of Leticia as his manager and enjoyed being able to spend more time on his artwork. The family, however, did not spend all their time in Mexico. They ended up splitting their time between Guanajuato, Mexico and San Antonio, Texas. Unfortunately, on May 8, 1996 Garth Williams passed away in Guanajuato, Mexico.

In his lifetime, Williams illustrated just under one hundred books and is remembered most for his illustrations in Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and the Little House book series.

If you are interested in learning more about Garth Williams’ life check out Garth Williams American Illustrator: A Life. We also have a series of Christmas ornaments with Garth Williams’ illustrations on them. We currently have ones for By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, The First Four Years, and our latest release, Little House in the Big Woods.

The Man Behind the Famous Illustrations

Most people know Garth Williams by his famous illustrations for the Little House books, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, but few know more about his life. Williams led an exciting life, traveling many places and living in multiple states and countries. He was also married four times and had five daughters and one son.

Early Life:

Garth Montgomery Williams was born in New York City, New York on April 16th, 1912. His parents were both artists so growing up he did not know anything different from drawing and painting. By the age of ten Williams had already lived in three places: The New Jersey countryside, Canada, and France. His experiences and memories from these different places factored into Williams illustrating career later in his life. When his parents were divorced, he ended up moving to London with his mother. His drawing skills were able to get him a job as an architect’s assistant. Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit as Williams was about to enter architecture school, making architecture a practical profession to enter. This was a pivotal point in his life, because if he did go into architecture then no one knows who would have illustrated some of the most beloved children’s books.

World War II:

Before World War II Williams traveled throughout Europe with his wife; however, once he realized the danger of the war he returned to London. It was there that he worked with the Red Cross and had some near-death experiences. Some of the experiences were “collecting the dead and injured from the city streets and surviving a bomb blast which vaporized a friend walking next to him” (William Anderson LORE 19,2). Garth Williams himself said he then realized that he only had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. With that realization, Williams realized his family needed to be in a safer place so he sent his wife and child to Canada. He then sailed to America to help with the war effort from there and ended up in New York City.

Early Illustrations:

Williams first book he illustrated is a familiar book to many children and that is Stuart Little, by E. B. White. He had just dropped his portfolio off at Harper and Brothers at the same time that E. B. White suggested for them to try Garth Williams to illustrate his book. Stuart Little was instrumental in his illustrating career as it defined him as a children’s illustrator and displayed his special talent for drawing animals. He also illustrated another well-known book by E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web. When Williams was approached to re-illustrate the Little House books he was not sure of the style as he was accustomed to drawing animals and Laura’s books were based on her real life.

Stay tuned to the next blog post to read about Garth Williams’ experience illustrating the Little House books along with his life after the Little House books.

Book Recommendation- Sarah, Plain and Tall

Author: Patricia MacLachlen

Laura’s stories inspired a new interest in the stories of the pioneer life for children. These stories often emphasized the importance of family, hard work, and perseverance. They could also be incredibly descriptive, bringing the beautiful world of the prairie alive for many readers. One of the most charming and well-loved examples of this is a short book entitled Sarah, Plain and Tall. The book is the first in a series centered around the Witting family, living in the American Midwest during the late 19th century. The children, Anna and Caleb, are dealing with the death of the mother, and the fact that their tired papa doesn’t sing anymore. One day, their father announces that he has placed an order in the newspaper for a new wife, and he has received an answer from a woman named Sarah. Sarah comes all the way from Maine, bringing a collection of sea shells, a cat named Seal, and laughter and excitement to Anna and Caleb’s lives. The children and their father anxiously wait all summer, hoping that Sarah will not miss the sea and her family too much to stay with them. I finished this little book over an afternoon, making it the perfect length for a school-aged child or  someone looking for a quick read. Deceptively simple, Sarah Plain and Tall is full of rich descriptions of the prairie and heartwarming family ties

Nellie Bly- Pioneer for Women in Journalism

On Thursday morning, November 14th, 1889, a 26-year-old woman was getting ready to board a steamship to London. She had gotten little sleep the night before, instead tossing and turning before rising with the sun to go to the docks. Her suitcase, carefully packed and full to bursting, only measured 16×7 inches. The woman’s name was Elizabeth Cochrane, and she was hours away from starting an attempt to travel some 28,000 miles 1L._V397387554_in seventy-five days. Elizabeth, better known by her moniker Nellie Bly, was born on May 5th, 1864, two years before Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was born in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania, a town named for her father, a prominent landowner, judge, and businessman. Her early life was charmed with wealth and status, but it all came to a crashing halt when Nellie was six, and her father passed away without leaving a will. Nellie and her family were suddenly forced to leave their home and move to Pittsburgh, where Nellie’s mother remarried. Nellie’s stepfather was an alcoholic and he abused her mother; at their divorce trial, Nellie testified that her stepfather had “been generally drunk since he married [her] mother. When drunk he is very cross and cross when sober.”

Even at an early age, Nellie desired to be a fierce advocate for justice, especially for women. At the age of eighteen, she read a letter in the Pittsburgh Dispatch, claiming that women joining the workforce was a “monstrosity”. Nellie, who had grown up witnessing the lives of working women in industrial Pittsburgh, including herself and her mother, took offense to this letter and penned a fiery response to the paper. Her letter impressed those working at the Dispatch; she was offered a job as a writer in 1885. Nellie wrote pieces on the lives of working women, the unfairness of Pennsylvania divorce laws, and political corruption in Mexico, but she continued to be relegated to writing about “feminine” topics like fashion and flower shows. Frustrated with the lack of opportunity for her at the Pittsburgh Dispatch, Nellie quit and moved to New York.

In 1887, Nellie landed a job with the New York World, under editor Joseph Pulitzer. Her first assignment, to report on conditions at New York’s Blackwell’s Island mental institution, would be the one to secure her countrywide fame. In order to give the most accurate report possible, Nellie came up with a plan to have herself admitted as a patient. As a 23-year-old woman, she put on a show of “delusions and undoubtable insanity” and got herself committed to Blackwell Island, alone and without backup. She emerged after ten days with a series of damning accusations about the treatment she witnessed and experienced, including neglect, beatings, ice cold baths, and forced feedings. The report was a sensation, helping to craft new laws against mistreatment of mentally ill individuals in the state of New York. Nellie had launched a new frontier in investigative journalism, and she followed up this massive success with reports on lobbyists, inadequate medical care given to the poor, and posed as a prisoner in order to expose the treatment of female inmates by police.

Three years later, Nellie was boarding a steamship to London. She had proposed to her editor at the New York World that she could beat the record set by Phileas Fogg in the popular Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days. At first her editor resisted, claiming that a woman would require a chaperone, and that the “dozen trunks” she would likely pack would slow her down. Nellie replied in the feisty way she was known for. “Very well. Start the man and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.” Her editor acquiesced. Later that week she set off, armed with one suitcase and a lot of determination. She had her itinerary memorized: New York to London, followed by stops in Calais, Brindisi, Port Said, Ismailia, Aden, Colombo, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, Yokohama, and finally San Francisco, ending with a hopefully triumphant return to New York by train. Her trip was a nail-biting puzzle; any misstep or delay could cost her the record. In the end, Bly managed her trip in 72 days, six hours, and 11 minutes, completely smashing the fictional Fogg’s record. She arrived in Jersey City, the official finish line, to massive crowds of people cheering her on. For the duration of her trip, Nellie Bly was the most famous person in America.

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The map of Nellie’s journey, as published in the New York World.


After a long career in journalism and business, Nellie Bly would eventually pass away in 1922 at the age of 58 from pneumonia. Her legacy, however, continues to live on in the rich American tradition of trailblazing female reporters. Her work brought attention to places that people rarely ventured too, from the slums of New York to women’s prisons to mental asylums. Her whirlwind journey across the globe exemplified her free spirit and restless intelligence, but her heart remained in New York, where her work was. Arriving at the train station in Jersey City to ecstatic crowds, Nellie wrote “I took off my cap and wanted to yell with the crowd, not because I had gone around the world in seventy-two days, but because I was home again.”

Book Recommendation – The Birchbark House Series

Author: Louise Erdrich

Through each of her Little House books, Laura paints a comprehensive and incredibly detailed picture of pioneer life, making readers all over the world feel like they are living it along with her. However, Laura’s experiences only make up half of the frontier story. For readers interested in the experiences of the Native Americans living on the prairie, there is a series similar to Laura’s in its scope and descriptive powers. The Birchbark House series tells the story of Omakayas, an Ojibwa girl living in the southern Ontario Lakes region. Omakayas, which means “Little Frog”, grows up with an adoptive family on Madeline Island. She lives the life of a typical 7-year-old, and readers who delight in Laura’s descriptions of everyday pioneer chores will find much to love as they watch Omakayas learn to cook, tan moose hides, and pick berries. Omakayas experiences her own frontier journey, moving further and further west escaping smallpox epidemics, encroachment by white settlers, and many other dangers and difficulties before finally settling on the plains of Dakota Territory. There are five books in this series, following Omakayas and her family as they grow and travel. If you’re looking for a new series about the American West to devour, The Birchbark House should be first on your list.