A New Video on the Life of Mary Ellen Pleasant

I am pleased to introduce a new video created by a YouTube videographer, Cato Jones. It’s carefully researched, strikes a balanced tone, and captures all the salient points in this remarkable figure’s life. That is not an easy accomplishment, as Pleasant is in many ways a ‘difficult’ historical subject, having lived her life by her own rules.

The Sensational Life of America’s First Black Woman Millionaire – Mary Ellen Pleasant


Watch on YouTube here.

Having done some research on Pleasant, I was happy to contribute some images and background to support Jones’ work.

Here is my own piece about Mary Ellen Pleasant’s Ingleside ranch, Geneva Cottage, which revealed some previously undocumented aspects of Pleasant’s life in the city. In another piece I touch on Pleasant’s tumultuous relationship with Teresa Bell, owner of the Poole-Bell House, a local landmark.

The Widows Do Business: How the Poole-Bell House Got Its Name

One of a series of articles about the Poole-Bell House on Laidley Street in Fairmount Heights, San Francisco.

By Amy O’Hair

On the first day of October 1906, Annie Poole, widow of a disgraced public official, and Teresa Bell, widow of the city’s once-richest financier, met to discuss the sale of the small mansion that now bears both their names, the Poole-Bell House.

Bell was moving out to this remote enclave, the sparsely settled Fairmount district, where the house sat perched on a hill with a fine view of the city in the distance. She wanted to put a bit of space between her and the nattering classes of society. It was a prickly conference; Bell wanted to move in a day earlier than the transfer of the funds between the two women, a presumptuous request that Poole resisted. Bell recorded their conversation, with commentary, in her diary.

“Mrs Poole said she could not personally let me move in until Wednesday. I said I only cared because of the family, her and their discomfort. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘tell them I am an old cross crank.’ I said, ‘No. I told them the facts that you had no right to let me in your house until you had your money, and that you would not let me in.’

“She stopped laughing quickly and her eyes popped out with surprise. She saw she was not fooling me. With all the lies she had told about ‘the people not removing their things yet,’ her stare of astonishment showed I was right in my surmise as to her not letting me in.

“Of course I do not blame her a bit, but she could have accommodated me one day, considering my paying her in cash down for her furniture, and I paid enough for it too. But it’s all right, she knows nothing about me nor I of her, and she didn’t do business on trust evidently. She is one breed and I another, that is evident.”[1]

Bell thought herself a cut above, as if more money granted more nobility. The irony is that the Bell family scandals far outpaced the minor frisson of shame that the Poole family endured. The Bells provided sensational fodder for newspapers for decades, whereas Poole’s husband had made a mistake and in the way of the times taken the ‘honorable’ way out through suicide.

Continue reading “The Widows Do Business: How the Poole-Bell House Got Its Name”

Dancer, Director, Dreamer: The Work and Life of Ann Marie Garvin

SF Examiner, 20 Dec 1981. Photo: Chris Hardy for the Examiner.

Sunnyside Resident Ann Marie Garvin passed away recently at the age of 82.

“Dance is all that’s left that’s real. It’s another world, all yours, and no one can take away the thrill of it.”

Ann Marie Garvin spoke those words to a reporter in 1976, shortly after she had founded her studio on Monterey Boulevard, Dancer’s Synectics Group. They were words she lived by over the course of her long working life–performing, teaching, directing, and choreographing, in San Francisco and beyond.

For 45 years, in the pink-striped building, she taught thousands of dancers, from near and far, her particular fast-paced jazz style and much else as well. Many Bay Area dancers studied with her, such as Ed Mock, Snowy Winter, Greg de Silva, and Craig Innes. Jazz dancer and instructor Ann Barrett noted in an artist’s bio how performing in Ann Marie Garvin’s ‘Dance Between the Lines’ had been invaluable to her understanding of choreography and theater, and for that she was “eternally grateful.”[1]

In assembling and choreographing her own companies of dancers, Ann Marie Garvin rode the crests of several trends, including the push for a greater diversity of body shapes and skin colors in dance that happened in the Bay Area the late 1970s.[2]

“The distinctive thing about Ann Marie is her disregard for height, or color of skin. She is unaware of anything except this: Can they dance? So [her] company has tall and short, plumpish, tan, black, white, but all marvelous dancers.”[3]

Continue reading “Dancer, Director, Dreamer: The Work and Life of Ann Marie Garvin”

Some photos from ‘Raise Your Gladsome Voices’ at SF History Association

1908. Johanna Pinther (left of banner) and Jeanette Pinther (right of banner). Photo: California Historical Society.

On Tuesday 29 January 2019, at the meeting of the San Francisco History Association, Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project reprised our blended presentation ‘America’s First Suffrage March & the Glen Park Women Behind It,’ which traces the women of Glen Park who were instrumental in the first suffrage march in the United States. After Evelyn Rose’s talk about the background of the event and the women’s involvement with this under-documented historic event, the evening concluded with the short play ‘Raise Your Gladsome Voices,’ written by Amy O’Hair and performed by Valerie Fachman and Haley Roth-Brown, and introducing Christine Konkol.

'Raise Your Gladsome Voices' playwright Amy O'Hair (left) with actors (left to right) Valerie Fachman, Haley Roth-Brown, and Christine Konkol. Photo: Josephine Coffey.
Taking bows. ‘Raise Your Gladsome Voices’ playwright Amy O’Hair (far left) with actors (left to right) Valerie Fachman, Haley Roth-Brown, and Christine Konkol. Photo: Josephine Coffey.
'My husband Theodore Pinther is not so keen on that.' Raise Your Gladsome Voices. Photo: Sharon Nadeau.
‘My husband Theodore Pinther is not so keen on that.’ Photo: Sharon Nadeau.

Continue reading “Some photos from ‘Raise Your Gladsome Voices’ at SF History Association”

“Raise Your Gladsome Voices’ this Tuesday at SF History Association meeting

Come to the meeting the SF History Association, Tuesday 29 January 2019, and hear about the first suffrage march in the US, and the Glen Park women at the heart of it.

Presentation by Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project includes 20-minute dramatic vignette ‘Raise Your Gladsome Voices’ — starring local actors as the heroes of this little-known chapter in the fight for California women’s suffrage. Details: https://sanfrancisco.carpe-diem.events/calendar/9366347-america-s-first-suffrage-march-the-glen-park-women-behind-it-at-congregation-sherith-israel/

“Do I look like Christabel Pankhurst?” Photo from the Dec 2017 performance of Raise Your Gladsome Voices at Sunnyside Conservatory.

More photos from previous performances here.

Sunnyside’s other park and the legacy of Dorothy Erskine

View from Dorothy Erskine Park. Photo: Amy O'Hair

Although Sunnyside Playground is a favorite destination for families, little known to even locals is our other park, Dorothy Erskine Park, located at the top of Baden Street. Poised on the edge of a rocky outcropping, the small park affords great views of the southeast of San Francisco, from among a grove of eucalyptus trees—though without even the amenity of a bench from which to enjoy the vista.

2018Oct-DEPark-3
2018. View from Dorothy Erskine Park.
2018Oct-DEPark-1
2018. A nearby neighbor enjoys the view after just discovering the park for the first time.

Continue reading “Sunnyside’s other park and the legacy of Dorothy Erskine”

Laws, Lies, and Lace Frills: San Francisco’s First Woman Prosecutor

1917 Feb 04 Oakland Tribune.

By Amy O’Hair

In the course of researching a house in Sunnyside I happened onto a woman named Jean E. de Greayer, whose story turned out to lead me into some interesting corners of San Francisco history, including the establishment of the women’s court during the Progressive Era. Although she was only tangentially connected with this neighborhood, her photo in the newspaper in 1913 captured my imagination.

Jean de Greayer appointed bond and warrant clerk. SF Call, 29 Dec 1913, p.9.
Jean de Greayer appointed bond and warrant clerk. SF Call, 29 Dec 1913, p.9.

Continue reading “Laws, Lies, and Lace Frills: San Francisco’s First Woman Prosecutor”

An Inventive Life: Temperance Laura Merralls at Home on Sunnyside Avenue

As part of the next meeting of the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project, an original short monologue will be presented. Saturday 10 December 2016 at the Sunnyside Conservatory, 3 – 5 pm, with a social hour to follow. Newly discovered materials about the Merralls also presented during the meeting.As part of the next meeting of the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project, an original short monologue will be presented. Saturday 10 December 2016 at the Sunnyside Conservatory, 3 - 5 pm, with a social hour to follow. Newly discovered materials about the Merralls also presented during the meeting. More here.