Women in Folsom
Hi, thank you for checking out our new blog, Folsom Unveiled. My name is Kaitlyn Scott and I’m Folsom Historical Society’s historian. Each week I will be highlighting a different topic related to Folsom’s history that not everyone knows about by diving deeper into a place, event, person or piece in our collection.
I do not think it is any secret that women’s history is often overlooked. I do not say that to put down men and their accomplishments throughout history, just that men more often have a fuller historical narrative than women and it can be seen throughout our history books, lessons in school, statues and even our own museum.
This week, in honor of Women’s Suffrage Month, I would like to introduce you to several different women in Folsom’s history that have often been overlooked.
First, I am happy to introduce you to Hazel McFarland. Hazel came to Folsom in 1889 when her father Thad McFarland purchased the Folsom Telegraph. At 13, Hazel began to help at the newspaper by bookkeeping and after her father’s death in 1896, she became co-editor with her brother Ray. In 1937, she became the sole editor for the paper after her brother’s death and continued until she sold the paper in 1942. As if being editor for the local paper was not enough, Hazel also served as Postmaster from 1922-1944, only giving up her position so she could become Folsom’s first City Clerk, an honor she held for ten years. She passed away in 1961 at the age of 78, having firmly left her mark on Folsom.
Kate Donnelly Foster began her career as a businesswoman after her first husband’s death (they had three living children) in 1876. First with her own feed and livery on Sutter street, and then she moved on to run a boarding house for the Natomas Company at their vineyard. After she remarried (they had two children) in 1886, Kate began to work on building her own hotel which became the Enterprise Hotel in 1893. It was located on the 600 block of Sutter street and constructed with kiln-fired yellow brick. The hotel had 28 bedrooms, a seamstress, two bathrooms with kitchen hot water piped in, center garden with croquet lawn, parlor and dining room. Marriage ceremonies were often held in the lobby for locals. The hotel was very popular with travelers because it was well maintained, and a stage stop.
Attached to the hotel was a blacksmith and livery which was run by her son, James Donnelly. Kate Donnelly Foster ran the hotel until 1910, when it was passed to her son and she retired. She passed away nine years later after a brief illness.
I would like to start this last introduction with informing you that we do not have much information about this individual but I wanted to include her anyway because she is representative of women in Folsom who were not white business owners. She also represents the regrettable reality that we do not have complete narratives of women who were considered undesirable by society. I would also like to make all of you readers aware that most information about this individual comes from second hand oral histories, so take it with a grain of salt.
I do not have a last name for Merie, and it is unlikely that Merie was her name at all. She was a Chinese prostitute who worked for Emma Spencer, Folsom’s madam, at 902 River Way at some point between 1913 and 1920. She eventually left Emma’s employ and struck out on her own, moving to a house near the depot along the river, somewhere between Emma’s and the old Joss House. According to an oral history with Spec Sturges, a grocery boy, men who worked for the prison were often seen with Merie. We do not know what happened to Merie after this, but one could assume that she continued her work as opportunities for unmarried women like her were limited.
I would like for you to keep in mind that all three of these women lived in Folsom during a time when women could not vote, Hazel and Kate had their own businesses but could not be involved in the laws that governed them. After the 19th amendment was adopted in 1920, Hazel McFarland was allowed to vote, Kate Foster Donnelly would have been allowed if she had survived but it is important to note that women like Merie were still barred from this privilege and would be for many years.
I encourage everyone reading this blog to seek out other women’s stories online and ask your grandmothers or even mothers about what it was like for them growing up, you might be surprised by what you find!