Anti-Slavery Standard, 1869. Larger.
California pioneers often came to the Golden State to claim their future. It's only after they got here that they realized how much a future here would cost.
Georgiana Kirby was a forward-looking feminist, who settled in Santa Cruz
—where despite local advantages she wished for something more.
In spite of our vaunted climate, the wheat crops, and even the Overland Monthly, it takes a long, long time for an adopted Californian to become acclimated. We suffer—not like the Englishman in New York, from "same sickness" produced by the monotony of the always repeated blocks of houses, but from what may be called non-cohesion. We are from the extreme West, the south-west—England, Ireland, France, Australia. We have torn up the roots that fastened us to the old homes, the old associates, and cautiously, slowly, put down slender fibres into the new soil. Hence, in full possession of the wheat, grapes and Overland we are conscious of faintness, almost starvation at times. Only the children are in a healthy condition, and happy, those who have lived in one place long enough to call it "home." This want of union is deplored. . . .
Sitting by my own hearth, with the reliable oak wood blazing (not snapping) at my feet, I read the beloved STANDARD, companion of twenty-five years; read therein accounts of Radical Clubs in Boston, and Women's Parliaments in New York; of Social Science Conventions, and Freedmen's schools and sigh to think that our isolated position and our unassimilated population forbid our participating in similar activities.
Georgiana Kirby's observations of life in California appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard
From The Journal of Georgiana Bruce Kirby, 1852-1860.
||Reader: Jessica Teeter
Judging from the Internet, we live in an age of unprecedented educational scandal. But looking more deeply at the past, we may be surprised to find that scandals in school aren't new.
Georgiana Bruce Kirby, an early suffragist, educator, and public speaker, lived on a Santa Cruz
ranch with her husband and family. From 1853 to 1860 she kept a journal that, among other things, recorded her ambition to teach.
In coming to Santa Cruz, it was my intention to teach school. There were many girls belonging to these western families of sufficient promise to interest me in them. I could and desired to not only instruct them in books but in their personal habits of cleanliness, neatness, order, courtesy, how to make and mend clothes, and so forth; but the pious young villain who was then keeping the mixed school, one of the cloth who frequently exhorted in the meeting reigned supreme. The regular local minister, Mr. Brier, a self-conceited bawling brute without a spark of tenderness, used all his influence against me in this, and . . . rendered the entire plan abortive. This teacher afterward seduced some of the young girls and had to leave in the night--went on to the boards in San Francisco and afterwards joined the filibustering expedition to the Sandwich Islands. After giving up the school I took to gardening, much to the benefit of my health and improvement of my pocket.
This was not, however, the end of Georgiana Bruce Kirby's career in education. She continued to make significant contributions as both a writer and lecturer.
From The Journal of Georgiana Buce Kirby, 1852.
||Reader: Jessica Teeter
"Rancho La Salud," photographer, date unknown. Courtesy of the Society of California Pioneers (C022515). Larger.
Gold Rush pioneers didn't always become rich, and many didn't even break even. But of these, a lucky few knew enough to look forward to a healthy future.
Before coming west, Georgiana Kirby was used to stirring up things up in the East. In rural California, however, she had to bide her time and count her blessings.
Our rancho with its hollows and gulches and noble sweep of hills exactly suits me, but I have been used to mixing in pretty large circles and miss the pleasant and healthy excitement caused by the friction of mind on mind. I long for flowers and fruits and music, too, but one cannot expect every good thing in the present state of society and I have many as it is—unsurpassed beauty of scenery and climate, good health, neither poverty or riches, and the most devoted friend in my husband. The other day Mr. K. brought home a balm of Gilead tree about 4 1/2 feet high and planted it just opposite the kitchen window. It really gladdened my heart as I watched it constantly during the day as I would a child. It was the first step in the way of refined cultivation and gives me faith in the future roses, lilies, dahlias, and so forth, gives me faith that I shall one day gather glorious red currants and Antwerp raspberries and luscious English gooseberries in our own garden on our own Rancho La Salud, near Santa Cruz, California.
Georgiana Kirby began her journal chronicalling her life in Santa Cruz
"Georgiana Bruce Kirby," courtesy of the Society of California Pioneers (CO22513), photographer, date unknown. Larger.
California sophisticates have long demonstrated a taste for haute couture
. But in the eyes of at least one California pioneer, such fashionable affectations are the sign of an empty mind.
Outspoken feminist Georgiana Kirby came to Santa Cruz
to help her friend Eliza Farnham
establish a life there. Kirby eventually married a local man, helped establish a homestead, and organized a local chapter of suffregists. Given her remarkable experience, no one knew better how to measure the true qualities of a woman, as she does in an 1860 newspaper essay comparing Santa Cruz women
to San Francisco ladies
Let the ladies of San Francisco come and take a lesson from those of Santa Cruz, who, I am proud to say, belong to the genus woman, and not to that of "fine lady." I don't believe there is a community in Christendom where as much good taste and simplicity is manifested, in this respect, as here. When I think of how universal, in this vicinity, is the absence of devotion to the "frill-frals and tificks," I am astonished as well as gratified. When people begin right, they generally go on in the same way; and, for this reason, I do not fear to prophecy that, in refinement and intelligence, the women of Santa Cruz will, in the not distant future, rank among the first in the State. I do not know one woman in town who would be a bit disturbed if seen washing dishes or blacking her little boy's shoes. The reason is, they have some furniture inside their heads, and threfore lay less stress on the outside.
During her years in Santa Cruz, Georgiania Kirby also published fiction, including short stories in the Overland Monthly
. Her autobiography, Years of Experience
, appeared in 1887, the year of her death.