Historical Women of Del Norte County

April 30, 2007 12:00 am

All too often, written is about men and their exploits – explorations made, battles won and business empire built. While these achievements certainly are worthy of recording, women also made their own great contributions.

In Del Norte County, many pioneer and Native American women significantly shaped the community we have today. Today, we highlight three of them: Mary Adams Peacock, Lillian McNulty and Ruth Roberts.

Peacock played an instrumental role in the growth of the route between Crescent City and Grants Pass, Ore. McNulty was a key civic leader at a time when women generally weren't allowed to be involved in public affairs. Roberts, with the assistance of friend Alice Spott Taylor, recorded the stories and traditions of the Yurok Tribe to help ensure they would not be lost to future generations.

Lillian McNulty

Lillian McNulty was a native Californian born in French Correl. She made Crescent City her home in 1890.

McNulty founded the Crescent City Improvement Club in 1931 and became the first president of the Del Norte Women's Club in 1915.

She married James McNulty, a prominent Crescent City attorney, who left the Victorian-era McNulty house to her at the time of his death.

The Del Norte Women's Club still meets at the McNulty house, which in 1957 became a memorial museum gallery.

Her wishes were to to have the home become a memorial to her husband, a descendent of the Hamilton family.

She taught kindergarten in Crescent City and was the first woman to work in the local Red Cross during World War I.

McNulty's hobbies included nurturing the daylilys and lily flowers at the house. She also made gift contributions to the Federated Community Church now United Methodist Church such as an organ, chimes, outdoor lighting, hearing aids, and a baptismal front.

Mary Adams Peacock

Mary Adams Peacock (above) was born May 16, 1863, in Waldo, Ore. She came to the Gasquet Resort in her twenties.

In 1890, she homesteaded on a 22-acre property in the Gasquet Flats, where she established her hotel and stage station called Adams Station. Her business catered with cooking to the traveling public on the way to Grants Pass. Adams Station was located about 15 miles from Crescent City.

In 1908, she married Pete Peacock, son of George Peacock of Smith River ferry fame.

In earlier years, she went to San Francisco to learn dressmaking for about four or five years. She started a dressmaking establishment with Mary Simmons in Grants Pass. She was housekeeper there six years. Peacock carried mail from Crescent City to Grants Pass under a contract along with running pack mules and operating hotels in Happy Camp near Gasquet flats.

In 1932, the new bridge across the Smith River on U.S. Hwy. 199 was dedicated to her memory. The bridge is known as Aunt Mary's Bridge. Hwy 199 used to go right past the door of the Adams Station.

Ruth Roberts

The legendary Ruth Roberts (right) served as curator for three of the city's museums maintained by the Del Norte County Historical Society.

These include the McNulty Home Memorial Museum and the Crescent City Lighthouse Museum. She lead a long campaign to save the history and heritage of Del Norte County.

Roberts was a driving force in establishing the Del Norte Historical Society's museum, the old County Hall of Records and Jail building. She served as president of the Del Norte Historical Society and edited the society's newsletter.

Her greatest friend was Alice Spott Taylor, a Yurok guide and translator for a professor at the department of anthropology at the University of California. Through this understanding and friendship, she collected stories and artifacts of the Yurok.

Roberts spent late spring through fall of each year with the tribes between 1915 and 1933 at the mouth of the Klamath River. From 1933 to 1955 she opened her Piedmont home to the tribes. She arranged for young Yurok women to work in Piedmont homes to integrate them into life outside the tribe.

After 1915, she began a battle for California Native American rights, in which she used the exposure of the young Yurok ladies residing in the East Bay of the San Francisco area with wealthy families. She also contributed toward efforts to make the law guarantee California Native Americans the right to vote.