Preserving Our Historic Architectural, Natural, and Cultural Resources
through Education and Advocacy for over 40 years
The Founding Women Trustees at Scripps College, 1926 - on left: Sarah Bixby Smith
Celebrate the Women of Claremont during March!
The 2020 Women's History Month theme is "Valiant Women of the Vote." The theme honors "the brave women who fought to win suffrage rights for women, and for the women who continue to fight for the voting rights of others."
In Judy Wright's book, Claremont Women 1887 - 1950 They Created a Culture, seventeen of Claremont's significant early women are featured. The book is currently on sale and available for immediate delivery (a great way to pass the time) HERE
One of the women featured in Wright's book is Sarah Bixby Smith. Please see the Wikipedia feature on Smith below - and read about one of Claremont's most fascinating women, who championed women's education and was one of the Founding Trustees of Scripps College.
Sarah Bixby Smith
(1871-1935) was a California writer and an advocate of women's education. Adobe Days, her memoir of growing up in southern California, is considered a classic of the genre.
Family and Education
Sarah Hathaway Bixby Smith was born at
Rancho San Justo
near San Juan Bautista, California, in 1871. Her parents were Llewellyn Bixby, a rancher, and Mary Hathaway Bixby. Llewellyn Bixby was a sheepman, and with other members of the
had come to California in 1852, driving sheep and cattle from the East. Llewellyn, together with his brother Jotham and three cousins (John William Bixby, Thomas Flint, and Benjamin Flint), formed the Flint-Bixby Company in 1855 to buy land to run their livestock. By the mid-1880s they had amassed large landholdings: in addition to Rancho San Justo were
Rancho Los Cerritos
Rancho Los Alamitos
in Long Beach, California (both now run as museums),
Rancho San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana
, and part of
Rancho de los Palos Verdes
. Sarah spent her childhood on the San Justo, Los Cerritos, and Los Alamitos ranches.
She earned her bachelor's degree from Wellesley College in 1894 and became a writer and advocate for women's independence and higher education.
Sarah Bixby Smith was married and divorced twice. In 1896, she married Arthur Maxson Smith. With her inherited wealth, she financed Arthur's graduate divinity school studies at the University of Chicago and Harvard on his way to becoming a Unitarian minister. They moved to Claremont, California, where Arthur taught philosophy at
from 1904 to 1909. They commissioned architect Arthur B. Benton to build them a 14-room mansion on 20 acres directly across the street from the campus.
Bixby Smith Residence "Erewhon," Claremont, ca. 1920. From Claremont Colleges Digital Library, Wheeler Scrapbook Collection, p. 212.
In 1909, when Bixby Smith discovered that her husband had been having an affair with the children's
, she helped him to get a new position in northern California at the First Unitarian Church in Berkeley. Smith's life became more complicated when she got romantically involved with
, a married minister at the same church, who was also a graduate student in the English Department at the
University of California, Berkeley
. When their liaison was discovered, the English Department faculty voted not to renew his fellowship.
After Bixby Smith's 1916 divorce from Arthur and marriage the same year to Paul, the couple moved with the children to her mansion in Claremont, which had in the meantime been turned into a school for boys by W. E. Garrison. In 1917, the school's lease ended and they began renovating the house back into a private residence, which they named Erewhon on completion. Around this time, they met and subsequently became friends with one of Bixby Smith's cousins, the photographer Edward Weston, who made a photographic portrait of her around 1919. There are also a number of Weston photographs of bathers shot around Erewhon's indoor pool. Later, the couple moved to a mansion on Los Feliz Boulevard in Los Angeles, where their dinner parties were famous for bringing members of the city's bohemian circles together with the ruling oligarchy. Eventually, Paul left Bixby Smith and they got divorced.
Unidentified children (one possibly Neil Weston). Pool, Bixby-Smith Residence, Claremont, 1919. Photograph attributed to Edward Weston. Courtesy
Rancho Los Cerritos Research Library
, Sarah Bixby Smith Archive.
From her marriage to Arthur Maxson Smith, she had five children: Arthur Jr. (known as Maxson), Bradford, Llewellyn, Roger, and Janet. Her marriage to Paul added his three children from a prior marriage to the household: Isabel, Ralph, and Wilbur Smith.
Sarah Bixby Smith wrote both lyric poetry and nonfiction. Her volumes of poetry include
My Sage-brush Garden (1924),
Wind Upon My Face (1930), and
The Bending Tree (1933).
Bixby Smith is best known for three highly personal memoirs of California history. The first, "A Little Girl of Old California" (1920), was a brief memoir of her girlhood, later expanded into the book Adobe Days (1925). Adobe Days uses details of Smith's childhood on the family sheep ranches to tell the intertwined stories of the pioneering Bixby family as it rose to prominence in California and the development of Los Angeles from its frontier-town days to the end of the 19th century. It has been called "deservedly a classic of California autobiography ... [capturing] perfectly that intersection of civilization and frontier, New Englandism and Spanish Southwest, which turn-of-the-century California defined as its own special heritage." She also wrote Milestones in Los Angeles: Being a Brief Narrative of Los Angeles Through Five Decades (ca. 1933). At the time of her death, she was working on a book about the history of southern California.
Bixby Smith collaborated with second husband Paul Jordan-Smith on a manifesto extolling an elevated and spiritual feminism. Entitled
The Soul of Woman: An Interpretation of the Philosophy of Feminism, it was published under his name in 1916.
Bixby Smith was an amateur painter of landscapes and portraits in a realist style that hearkens back to the mid-nineteenth century.
Death and Legacy
Sarah Bixby Smith died of a trichinosis infection in Long Beach, California, on September 13, 1935, at the age of 64.
Bixby Smith's correspondence, along with photographs, press clippings, and other documents, are in the Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections at the University of California, Los Angeles. Rancho Los Cerritos (now run as a museum) houses the Sarah Bixby Smith Manuscript Collection and has four of her oil paintings on display.
Books by Sarah Bixby Smith
My Sage-brush Garden
(Torch Press, 1924)
(Torch Press, 1926)
Poems: Selected for Americanization Classes
Wind Upon My Face
(J. Zeitlin, 1930)
The Bending Tree
(J. Murray, 1933)
"A Little Girl of Old California" (1920)
Adobe Days: A Book of California Memories
(J. Zeitlin, 1925)
Milestones in Los Angeles: Being a Brief Narrative of Los Angeles Through Five Decades
For some more interesting reading about Sarah Bixby Smith and her family's influence in Claremont and beyond, check out a Blog about
the cultural, architectural and design history of Southern California and related published material authored by John Crosse: email@example.com
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where we will be posting historic trivia and features from our archives that you can enjoy virtually from the comfort of your own home!
Because we are not having our monthly walking tours due to the Coronavirus restrictions, we thought you might want to get out of the house and explore our history firsthand. We will post various self-driving/walking tours periodically.
This week we are featuring a printable, self-guided walking tour of the art + architecture on the Claremont College Campuses - please note, not all buildings will be open but there is still plenty that is accessible to view. Please view it HERE. Download the PDF and print it out.... A great way to spend the afternoon - take a picnic and enjoy the beauty Our Town has to offer!
You can also view other tours virtually, such as Village Walking Tour directly on our website - Link
Claremont Heritage needs your support now
more than ever!
In everyone's best interest, we have
Annual Awards Gala in May.
This event is one of our signature programs, and accounts for almost 1/3 of our annual program budget. It allows us to raise the funds necessary to support our mission and carry out our work. Without this much needed revenue, we may be unable to continue some of the vital initiatives, such as our
Third Grade Local History Program, the
Mexican Players Documentary etc. You can help by engaging with us in new and different ways, or by making a donation today.
Will you consider making a donation to offset the lack of revenues? Any amount will help, and is very much appreciated!
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? Simply Click