March is Women’s History month, a good time to recall that women made history in San Mateo County as far back as 1910. In fact, they literally wrote it.
The July 4, 1910 edition of the Redwood City Democrat covered every aspect of the new County Courthouse that was dedicated on that date, but in hindsight that issue of the paper was important for another reason: it was the first time women produced the Democrat.
“When it is issued it will go far to convince the public that the ladies know what news is and how to write it,” an earlier edition predicted about the Independence Day issue that would be put out by members of the Redwood City Woman’s Club, an organization less than a year old.
Mrs. George A. Merrill fulfilled the forecast of “knowing what news is” when she wrote that increasing relations between America and Asia was the key to the future.
“The contact between America and the Orient goes on with little notice, appearing to us as a series of commonplace incidents of our daily lives and seemingly a matter of small consequence,” she said. “Historians of a century hence will see it otherwise.” The Panama Canal would open in five years, an event that “will add still further to our increasing radius of world connections.”
Merrill also predicted that the population of San Mateo County will “continue at a rate that will soon reconcile the oldest inhabitants to the passing of the farm and the advent of the suburban homebuilder.”
Writer Frona Colburn made a similar forecast, predicting that San Francisco Bay’s deep water ports would lure trade that will result in “great factories, mills, plants and warehouses which will have direct contact with Pacific Ocean traffic.”
The newspaper overflowed with the optimism and confidence of a young nation that suddenly possessed an empire wrested from Spain.
“Wireless telegraphy and telephone and quick contact with the outside world are man’s parallel to God’s great gift of the climate and bay,” Colburn said.
Another contributor, Frances Fairchild, gave her opinion about the future of women, noting that they were better educated than their mothers and were raised to be “practical, executive and forceful.”
“They have worked harmoniously and demonstrated the power of associated womanhood,” she wrote about what today might be called “networking.”
“The doors of greater opportunity have opened to them and under these circumstances they will accomplish more in the future.
Fairchild pondered what was in store for the family, insisting that “true womanliness is not in danger. The sacred duties of wife and mother will be all the more honorably performed,” concluding that women will need “better men” to “uphold the sanctity of the home.”
Not all writers were so optimistic. Mrs. W. H. Kelso complained that the census bureau listed busy wives and mothers “as having no occupation.”
“Shall we not rise up in a body and demand that our occupation be given recognition?” she asked. “Let’s tell Mr. Census Bureau to try it for a while himself and see what he thinks then!”
There was also a hint of some problems ahead. A very short story at the bottom of the newspaper reported that the “waters of the Bay are being polluted.” In the main, however, there were few naysayers. After all, California women would get the vote just a year later.
Jim Clifford retired in 2000 after a 40-year career as a news reporter, a span split between United Press International and the Associated Press. He writes the “Rear View Mirror” history column that appears in the San Mateo Daily Journal. He also writes history stories for several magazines, including Climate, The Journal of Local History and La Peninsula.
Clifford, the author of “Philip’s Code: No News is Good News — to a Killer,” is a veteran of both the Navy and Air Force. He and his wife, Peggy, met when they were students at San Francisco State. The native San Franciscans moved down the Peninsula to Redwood City where they raised seven children. “Times were good,” Clifford said.