She points out obvious icons like Kate Sessions, the Mother of Balboa Park, or Lillian Rice, who created Rancho Santa Fe and a San Diego style of architecture, or Ellen Browning Scripps, who spent her young 19th-century womanhood setting up profitable newspapers with her brothers in Detroit and Cleveland and, when she retired wealthy to La Jolla in 1896, began a second career financing institutions that are all alive and well today: the La Jolla Woman’s Club, the Public Library, the now-seal-occupied Children’s Pool, Scripps Memorial Hospital, Bishops School, and, most internationally famous, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. And all the while she was spreading seditious propaganda promoting women’s liberation in general and suffrage in particular.
But Gardner says that San Diego’s true heroine when it comes to pushing and persuading the men of California to give women the vote was no millionairess doling out money to buy support. She leads me over to a lady sitting at a little school desk, writing notes. Anne Hoiberg’s wearing a red sweater that almost melts her into the red wall behind her. “Anne’s our expert. Ask her about Clara Foltz.”
Hoiberg is the Women’s Museum president. She’s copresident of the League of Women Voters of San Diego, too. She sees me looking up at a weathered banner that reads: “The Susan B. Anthony Amendment. The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”
“You’ll be seeing a lot of that in the media this year,” she says.
“Why?” I ask.
“Because of the centenary,” she says. “Ninety years ago, American women got the right to vote. But it was ten years earlier, a hundred years ago this year, that Californian women won the right. One of that campaign’s leaders was a San Diegan, Clara Shortridge Foltz. She’s one of our heroes.” Ms. Hoiberg says Clara Foltz was a widow with five children to raise back in the late 19th Century who still managed to become California’s first female lawyer, even though law schools had refused to accept her. She studied at home and passed the bar exam on her first attempt. In the late 1880s, she edited the San Diego Bee newspaper while she lived and practiced law at 1223 Front Street. “Most significantly, she wrote the Women’s Voter Amendment for California, which passed in 1911, almost a decade before the rest of the nation,” says Hoiberg.
It seems they called Ms. Foltz “the Portia of the Pacific” because she could win in court by her wits, like the heroine in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
So, who are today’s Portias? And what battles have they fought? “You have so many women, children of the ’60s, who took activism to a new level,” Gardner says. “Look at Rachel Ortiz of Barrio Logan.” Ortiz started out fighting the good fight with César Chávez. For 30 years, along with her mentor Gloria Serrano-Medina, Ortiz has helped keep Barrio Logan as an intact cultural entity. Kids came — and come — to her Barrio Station to learn computer skills, to concentrate on homework and sports, and to get away from gangs and drugs. Alums include city council members Ben Hueso, David Alvarez, and Fabian Nuñez, speaker of the California State Assembly.
When it comes to change that ripples out beyond San Diego, where wobble points in our history have provided gutsy women with opportunities to apply Buckminster Fuller’s “trim-tab effect” on San Diego and nudge us in a better direction, two ladies stand out. Their battles have been not just as women, but for women.
The Lunch Counter Affair
Quick, what do you think of when you hear the name Lynn Schenk? The fact that she was a UCSD grad who became the first woman elected to Congress, south of L.A.? Or the first woman chief of staff to a governor (Gray Davis)? Or that she was instrumental in getting the California state senate (at least) to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment?
Probably none of these. Odds are two words come to mind: Grant Grill. Schenk and the Grant Grill incident have become part of downtown lore. Symbolic, like Rosa Parks’s bus-seat protest, but lesser, and yet still a harbinger of profound societal change. I had to track her down.
“What’s amusing to me at this stage in life,” she says, when we finally get to talk, “is that of all the things that I feel I’ve accomplished in my life to advance the cause for women and for men, it’s the Grant Grill that is most remembered and probably will be the headline on my obituary.”
Back in 1971, the Grant Grill, the downtown elite’s favorite watering hole, banned women at lunchtime. “It was really quite simple,” Schenk says. “We didn’t know that we were doing anything historic. I was a young lawyer in the attorney general’s office, and my friend (now judge) Judy McConnell was a young lawyer in the Department of Transportation. Downtown San Diego was a very different place than it is today. It was very rundown, there were a lot of Navy tattoo parlors, that kind of thing, and there weren’t too many places to go to lunch. Today it wouldn’t matter because who has time for lunch? But back then, everybody would go out to lunch, and there were few places that were decent. One was a private club called the Cuyamaca Club. The other was the Westgate Hotel, which was very nice but expensive. And the third was the Grant Grill in the [U.S.] Grant Hotel, and that’s where all the power brokers met for lunch. The mayor, city council members, heads of banks, that’s where business got done. This was not a private club, and it wasn’t a hotel, but it said, ‘Men Only, from Noon to Three.’ Well, this didn’t sit too well with us. We decided we were going to try and change that. There was at that time a case in New York City, an old, old bar, going back to the 1800s, and it was a men-only bar. Some women in New York brought a lawsuit saying, ‘This bar has a liquor license, and it’s not a private club, and they should have to allow women in.’ Well, the [federal] District Court in New York said, ‘These women are right. You have to allow women in because you have a state liquor license.’ Of course, that decision had absolutely no bearing and no precedent value outside that district. But I heard about it. This was before email, the internet. This was before fax. So, I had a friend in New York mail me a copy of the case. I had it in my hand, and we asked a male friend of ours to make a reservation and went over [to the Grant Grill], and we went in, the three of us.