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Notable Women

Originally from Massachusetts, Lydia Knapp arrived in San Diego with her husband, William, in 1869.  After a few years, the Knapp family moved to San Francisco where William Knapp died in 1885.  Lydia and her two sons returned to San Diego, where the widow married [Alonzo] Horton in 1890.  Lydia was a strong supporter of women’s clubs, noting in 1898 that when “the history of the last quarter of the 19th century shall be written . . . there will come the history of women’s clubs.” In 1896, Lydia Horton presented a paper entitled “Public Libraries” to The Wednesday Club.  Club members took up the cause and held “entertainments” to raise money for a public library.  Lydia Horton was elected to the Board of Trustees of the San Diego Public Library in 1897.

Lydia Knapp


The daughter of former slaves, Mary Jane McLeod Bethune became one of the most important black educators, civil and women’s rights leaders and government officials of the twentieth century. The college she founded set educational standards for today’s black colleges, and her role as an advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave African Americans an advocate in government.  A champion of racial and gender equality, Bethune founded many organizations and led voter registration drives after women gained the vote in 1920, risking racist attacks. In 1924, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and in 1935, she became the founding president of the National Council of Negro Women. A friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1936, Bethune became the highest ranking African American woman in government when President Franklin Roosevelt named her director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, where she remained until 1944. She was also a leader of FDR’s unofficial “black cabinet.” In 1937 Bethune organized a conference on the Problems of the Negro and Negro Youth, and fought to end discrimination and lynching. In 1940, she became vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP), a position she held for the rest of her life.

Mary Bethune McLeod


Mrs. Huntington

San Francisco socialite Marian Prentice Huntington joined the wave of California clubwomen in the first decade of the twentieth century.  The independent-minded youngest daughter of railroad tycoon Henry E. Huntington, Marian was 20 years old when an enterprising group of ladies who enjoyed a good party founded the Francisca Club in 1903.  Along with the Town and Country Club, established in 1893, the two institutions offered upper-class women like Marian a comfortable retreat with libraries and lounges where they could meet for meals, talk about books, listen to speakers and expand intellectually.   Marian Huntington inherited a considerable fortune when her father died in 1925, and she traveled widely in the following decades—visiting Japan, India, Siam (Thailand), French Indochina (Vietnam), and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).  When she was 55 years old, Marian adopted two small English children, brought them to California, gave them her prestigious surname and raised John and Elizabeth as if they were her children by birth. Marion Prentice Huntington died at age 90; she had lived long enough to see great changes in the lives of women and to enjoy the renown achieved by the Huntington Library and Gardens—her father’s former San Marino, California, estate.


Aurora Castillo

A fourth-generation Mexican-American, Aurora Castillo was the force behind Mothers of East Los Angeles, which successfully defended East L.A. from serious environmental and public health threats.  In 1984, Aurora Castillo learned that what would have been the eighth prison in this predominantly Latino community was being planned by the state. Castillo met with two other women to oppose the new prison, and the Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA) was born. The group organized a huge march in protest of the planned facility. They flooded hearings, demanded public meetings in Spanish and became informed about environmental issues beyond their immediate community. When MELA learned that the Santa Barbara oil pipeline was scheduled to run through their community, they played a decisive role in stopping it. Meanwhile, the prison controversy raged on until 1992 when the state finally decided to relocate the jail to a city that wanted it.

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