In 1850, the central location of San Diego was located near the Presidio and the San Diego River, at the tip of Mission Valley moved to the current downtown area.
A section of the “New Town” included the Gaslamp Quarter, known at the time as the infamous "Stingaree".
Today, this lively, restored area of architectural jewels also holds the fascinating stories of the women who lived in the Gaslamp, those who lived to help people in the Gaslamp, and those who lived to shut down the Stingaree during the era of 1850 to 1930.
The following stories belong to those women who left their mark in this historic part of the city, the Gaslamp Quarter.
The Woman Behind the Man
Maria de Jesus Estudillo
Married to a successful San Franciscan developer, Maria de Jesus Estudillo’s uncle (Don José Antonio de Estudillo) and his family lived in Old Town, and she hoped to encourage her husband to leave San Francisco and establish his business endeavors in San Diego. Her husband, William Heath Davis, was intrigued with the potential of San Diego as a development project; he believed the center of San Diego should be on San Diego Bay and not in Old Town.
He purchased a parcel of land (160 acres for $2,304), built a wharf for $60,000 at the foot of Fifth Avenue, and arranged for at least eight prefabricated houses to be shipped from the East Coast around Cape Horn to San Diego. By 1853, the houses had either been used for rewood or relocated in Old Town, and “New Town” had reverted to a deserted area for rabbits, to be renamed “Rabbitville” or “Davis’ Folly.” During the renovation of the Gaslamp Quarter in the 1970s, one of the prefabricated houses was discovered in Lile Italy, still without electricity. e City acquired it and, in 1984, brought it to its current location at 410 Island Avenue, the William Heath Davis House and Park.
An Imaginative Immigrant
The U.S. Grant, Jr. family moved to San Diego in 1892, re-locating to a warmer climate as recommended by the physicians for Mrs. Grant (Fannie Josephine Chafee).
The Grant family included German immigrant and governess, Anna Held, who founded the rst “kindergarten” in New York. She loved La Jolla and frequently arranged for a wagon and horses to transport the Grant children to the Cove, a journey that would take at least two hours from “New Town.” She seized the opportunity to purchase a parcel of land that became known as the Green Dragon Colony where eleven coages were built. Artists and musicians from around the world journeyed to La Jolla to enjoy the cultural aributes of the colony. Anna purchased the property for $165, built the coages for $2,165, and sold the developed piece for $30,000 in 1912.
The Most Dangerous Woman
On May 14, 1912, Emma Goldman, an activist for the International Workers of the World and developer of anarchist political philosophy, arrived in San Diego to speak in support of the Wobblies.
She and Ben Reitman had arranged to stay at the U.S. Grant Hotel the night before speaking at the recently suspended “Soapbox Row.”
While the Chief of Police discussed arrangements for her protection, Emma’s colleague was kidnapped by vigilantes and hustled to Oceanside where he was tortured and left stranded. Emma agreed to leave town before conducting a union demonstration for the Wobblies.
The First Woman Obstetrician
Dr. Charlotte Baker
Beginning in 1903, forty women met at the church on the corner of Broadway and Fourth Avenue, and through their Purity League, organized a “clean-up” of the Stingaree, which centered on the unspoken word of prostitution.
A strong proponent of this endeavor was Dr. Charlotte Baker, an obstetrician who moved to San Diego in 1888. The Purity League was joined by Dr. Baker and Mrs. R. C. Allen of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union who worked with the vice police to rid the Stingaree of the “cribs and stables..” Dr. Baker urged the closure of the Stingaree for medical reasons, to prevent the spread of venereal disease. The Purity League demanded the official closure in preparation for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915–1916 in Balboa Park. The image of San Diego was also at stake as a consequence of the Stingaree’s reputation and the news of vigilantes’ actions.
In 1912, a raid of the Stingaree resulted in the arrest of 138 prostitutes who had the choice of leaving town or going to jail. Law enforcement also destroyed the cribs and stables as well as several opium dens.
During 1911, Charlotte Baker served as President of San Diego Equal Suffrage Association; she and a cadre of suffragists doggedly urged men throughout the County to vote for women’s right to vote. Dr. Baker and three other women embarked on a three-day speaking tour of San Diego County in September, meeting with men to encourage them to vote for women’s suffrage, an initiative on the October 10 ballot.
After the votes cast were counted, almost 250,000 throughout California, women won the right to vote, the sixth state to grant women suffrage. Upon receiving word of women’s victory, Dr. Baker contacted women to register to vote; in November, San Diegan voters had to decide whether or not to pass a bond initiative to fund the construction of a pier at the foot of Broadway. With this passage, the pier was constructed and welcomed ships arriving through the newly opened Panama Canal to the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park
Women of the Night
Madam Ida Bailey
Three women were proprietors of “upscale” brothels or “parlor houses” in the Gaslamp Quarter and Stingaree. e most famous, Madam Ida Bailey, owned the Canary Cottage on Fourth Avenue, an establishment that catered to well-known business and professional men as well as a few politicians. Madam Coara employed a gimmick to draw her mostly middle-class clientele to the Golden Poppy Hotel upstairs in the Louis Bank of Commerce on Fifth Avenue.
She paraded her girls either on foot or in touring cars up and down Firth Avenue. Each girl wore a dress of the same color as the door to her room at the Golden Poppy. When asked by Madam Coara, “What color dress?” the customer identifed the girl by naming the color of the dress and door.
Several compounds housed twenty or more cribs or shacks made of boards and battens. Two women would rent the small room ($14 per week) with one working inside while the other was looking for business outside.
Other cribs were called stables because they looked like stalls. The “cribs and stables,” not to mention a few opium dens, stretched for two blocks below Market on Third Avenue; the center in this area was Wildcat Alley which today would be located behind the Horton Grand Hotel. In the 1912 raid, the firrst brothel to be shut down was located in the Yuma Building on Fifth Avenue.
One of the last brothels of this era, the Anchor Hotel above the Royal Pie Company was finnally closed in 1935.
Wild West Woman
Born to Jewish immigrants, Josie ( Josephine Marcus) grew up in San Francisco and wanted to be an actress. At the age of eighteen, she and a friend joined a theatrical group and traveled throughout the Wild West, including the Arizona Territory. She met a sheriff's deputy, Johnny Behan, who fell madly in love with her and proposed marriage, which she declined.
Subsequently, she moved to Tombstone where she resumed a romantic relationship with Behan until she met WyattEarp. Local Tombstonians believed Behan and Josie were married, and the breakup was publicized in the local newspaper.
By 1882, Josie had adopted the name of Josephine Earp, although no record exists of a marriage license. She and Wya traveled throughout the West and seled in San Diego during the late 1880s, living at the Brooklyn Hotel. While in San Diego, he supposedly refereed boxing matches and owned saloons or gambling parlors; he frequented the oyster bar in the Louis Bank of Commerce building. ey both were gamblers, and she became addicted. A film of Wyatt’s life, Field Marshall, was filmed after they moved to Hollywood in the 1920s.
Founder of the First Library
Lydia Knapp Horton
Arriving in San Diego in 1869, Lydia Knapp and her husband, William Knapp, lived briefly in Old Town’s Franklin House before constructing their home in Roseville, Point Loma, the only home in Louis Rose’s development. William became the Tidal Gauge Keeper at the San Diego station where he checked the tide twice a day. A government launch kept at Rose’s Wharf at the foot of Canon Street was used to transport William to the La Playa station and also to take the Knapps across the bay to New Town. For supplies and entertainment, they rode horses to Old Town where they socialized with the residents until most businesses and families moved to New Town.
In 1972, the Knapps had their small frame home raised across the bay and re-erected on a lot at Front and Ash. After the government closed the San Diego tidal gauge station, William accepted a position in the San Francisco Post Office, and the family moved to San Francisco in 1873. Homesick for her family, Lydia and her two sons traveled on the train in 1877 back to Massachuses where she studied art and later supported her family with her artistic skills, through teaching and the selling of her paintings. She was also active in church and club activities, including the Woman’s Suffrage Society.
William died in 1885, leaving a small estate to Lydia and their sons. To “settle up business affairs,” Lydia returned to San Diego in November 1888, a city that had a population of 3,000 when she leftin 1873, 40,000 in the 1880s, and 16,000 in an 1889 downturn in the economy. She became an art instructor at the Southwest Institute and resumed many of her old friendships, including that of Alonzo Horton and his wife of almost thirty years, Sarah.
In 1889, Alonzo’s wife Sarah died in a tragic carriage accident. A year and a half later, 47-year-old Lydia became the h wife of 77-year-old Alonzo. ey resided in the Horton Mansion until it was sold in 1892, after which they moved to a smaller home on State Street, Horton Hill. From this location, Alonzo watched the vessels landing at the pier in San Diego Bay. Frequently, he would arrange for a carriage to take him to the wharf where he would greet passengers disembarking, thereby serving as San Diego’s official greeter. Alonzo died in 1909 at age 95. thousands showed up for his funeral and parade.
Lydia resumed her involvement in several civic activities, especially the Wednesday Club, one of 2,000 clubs of the nationwide Federation of Women’s Clubs. She served as the first President in 1895−and shared her views with club members about the importance of San Diego having a building to house a city library. In response to her leer requesting funds to construct the library, Andrew Carnegie contributed $50,000 to build San Diego Public Library, plus $10,000 for book stacks. e city provided the land, and the library opened in 1902, thefirst Andrew Carnegie library built west of the Mississippi Lydia also promoted the construction in 1911 of the building for the Wednesday Club, a lovely building in Hillcrest on Ivy Lane. e architect was Hazel W. Waterman with interior design help from Alice Klauber.
With the sale of all of his lots, the Hortons lived on the $100 that the City paid monthly for the Horton Plaza Park. Aer the last payment was made in 1903, Lydia was forced to seek employment, serving as librarian for $75 per month at the State Normal School. She retired at age 66 and continued her club work, fighting for women’s suffrage, which was granted to California women in 1911. She was in demand as a speaker and served on committees for both the San Francisco Exposition and the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park.
The First Woman Attorney
Clara Shortridge Foltz
Throughout her life, Clara was active in politics, especially in pursuit of women’s rights. During the California elections of 1896 and 1911, she created the Votes for Women Club and also authored the Women’s Vote Amendment of 1911. California became the sixth state to grant women the right to vote in 1911. At the age of 81, Clara entered the California’s Republican Gubernatorial primary and received a respectable number of votes, but not enough to win.
Born in Indiana and educated for three years in Iowa, Clara became a teacher at the age of thirteen. Two years later, she eloped with an Iowa farmer who had served in the Civil War. The couple moved to Portland, Oregon, where she worked as a seamstress to support the family. Her husband decided job opportunities would be greater for him in California, and the family seled in San Jose.
In 1877, he deserted Clara, leaving her with their ve children. As quite the orator, Clara was able to support her family in part through public speaking. She became known as “Portia of the Pacic,” promoting women’s suffrage and other women’s rights. Intrigued with the law, Clara studied while working for a local judge, C.C. Stephens, in his law rm of Block and Stephens. Both she and Laura de Force Gordon applied to Hastings School of Law, but were denied admission because women were not allowed. Clara sued, argued her own case, and won admission in December 1879; however, both women had passed the bar exam in September 1878, more than a year earlier. Clara was the first woman attorney in California!
At that time, only white males could practice law in California. Clara and Laura wrote the Woman Lawyer’s Bill eliminating the designated “white male” and inserting “person” to specify that all persons can practice law in California if they pass the bar exam. Moments before the midnight deadline to sign the bill, Clara pushed her way into the Governor’s office and insisted that he sign the bill. As a result, all persons who pass the bar exam can practice law in California. In the late 1880s, Clara had a law office in the Nesmith Greely Building; she also founded and edited a daily newspaper, the San Diego Bee.
At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, she introduced her idea of the public defender, which supported providing assistance to indigent criminal defendants, a concept that resulted in the 1921 passage of the “Foltz Defender Bill” in California and today is used nationwide.
The Legend of“Ramona”
In 1881, Helen Hunt Jackson arrived in Temecula and stayed with Louis and Ramona Wolf. Helen had taken up the cause of the ill-treatment of American Indians, and reluctantly called herself “a woman with a cause.” at same year, her book, A Century of Dishonor, described “the plight of this country’s indigenous people, who remain the poorest, unhealthiest, shortest-lived, least educated, least employed and most ignored minority group in our society,” according to friend Emily Dickinson.
Helen decided to write a novel, Ramona, in hopes the general public would be eager to read a love story that also included the story of the eviction of the Temecula Indians from their lands. Ramona Wolf was believed by many to be the heroine of Helen’s book. Published in 1884, Ramona was a huge success. After the death of Louis Wolf, the real Ramona, a half Chumash Indian, lived in the Gaslamp Quarter District while she dealt with the courts concerning her husband’s estate. She was to receive half of his considerable estate while the children shared the other half, equally.
The estate included the real estate of considerable worth and questionable deeds, which required Ramona to remain in San Diego overseeing the court proceedings. She even rented a building for a theatre in the Gaslamp. In Old Town, John D. Spreckles funded the restoration by Hazel W. Waterman of Don José Antonio de Estudillo’s 1825 hacienda, which became a major tourist attraction, “Ramona’s Marriage Place,” although the fictional ceremony took place at the Adobe Chapel on Conde Street
Community Builder and Activist
Anna Gunn Marston
Anna was born in 1853 in Sonoma where she lived a normal childhood. In 1861, the family settled to San Francisco. After her older brothers moved from San Francisco to San Diego in 1869, Anna stayed to teach school, joining them in 1875. She discovered that San Diego was “scarcely a village.”
San Diego’s evening social scene centered on reading, music, dancing, and entertainment. At one such entertainment, “e Courtship of Miles Standish,” Anna met George Marston and began an “intimate acquaintance.” After their marriage, George dedicated his time to his business as a merchant, establishing his first department store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and F Street. Both Marstons entered actively in public life with Anna serving as president of the Congregational Women’s Missionary Society of Southern California, founder and board member of the San Diego Children’s Home, and an active member of the Wednesday Club.