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SLO's 'founding mothers' honored in History Center walking tour

Former History Center executive director Eva Fina here holds a framed photo of Louisiana Clayton Dart, who served as curator of the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society from 1956 to 1980. Fina resigned in late June 2018.
Former History Center executive director Eva Fina here holds a framed photo of Louisiana Clayton Dart, who served as curator of the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society from 1956 to 1980. Fina resigned in late June 2018. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Four black-and-white photographs rested in a stairwell at San Luis Obispo’s City Hall on Monday morning as city maintenance worker Gus Ahumada prepared to hang them.

Unlike most of the other historical photos in City Hall, these portraits all depict women — some of San Luis Obispo’s “founding mothers” who contributed to the history and development of the city.

“The picture he’s hanging now is one of my favorites,” said Eva Ulz, curator of the History Center of San Luis Obispo County, referring to a photo of Elsie Louis, a dancer, performer and granddaughter of Chinese pioneer Ah Louis. “I didn’t know her, but apparently she was a real pistol.”

The photos were provided by the History Center nearly a year after San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx noticed a dearth of photos of women in City Hall.

The city clerk’s office and volunteer city historian Joseph Carotenuti worked with the History Center to select the photos, which were hung to coincide with Women’s History Month, City Clerk Anthony Mejia said.

The photos depict women including banker Pauline Bray Martin; Louisiana Clayton Dart, curator of the county historical society from 1956-80; and landowner Maria Ramona Carrillo Pacheco Wilson.

Also added in council chambers was a photo of Margaret McNeil, the first woman to serve on the San Luis Obispo City Council in 1962.

The photos can be viewed as one of a half-dozen stops on a walking tour offered Tuesday by the History Center to highlight some of the women’s stories.

The tour will start at the Carnegie Library, whose first board members and librarian, the poet Frances Margaret Milne, were all women. (The library now houses the History Center.)

The tour will also stop at the J.P. Andrews building at Osos and Monterey streets, where San Luis Obispo’s first library opened June 16, 1894.

A group of men had started a library coalition, but it was a group of women who ended up running it — and one woman in particular, Nettie Sinsheimer, who helped persuade Andrew Carnegie to donate $10,000 for a new library building, Ulz said.

“Women saw things like libraries and schools as social engineering,” Ulz said, which they thought could help tame the ills of society and improve poor people’s lives.

“I’m happy to see women’s history being integrated into our telling of history,” Ulz said. “I do think it’s important to catch up where women’s stories have not been told.”

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