Throwback Thursday | Famous Women in South Pasadena History

In this week’s Throwback Thursday, we will honor six influential South Pasadena women that helped shape the world we live in today.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | Florence “Pancho” Barnes set the world's speed record flying a one-mile course in 18.35 seconds.
Pasadena Museum of History | Minerva Hamilton Hoyt (1938)

Apostle of the Cacti

Minerva Hoyt

Minerva Hamilton Hoyt was a South Pasadena socialite whose infant son died, and she felt compounded loss after her husband, Dr. Sherman Hoyt, died in 1918. She found a new purpose and dedicated her life to protecting the deserts.

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PHOTO: Rick Thomas | Joshua Tree National Monument

Hoyt was instrumental in convincing President Franklin D. Roosevelt to declare the California desert land called Joshua Tree a national monument in 1936. Due to her relentless crusade to preserve the deserts of Southern California, she was affectionately called “Apostle of the Cacti.”

PHOTO: Los Angeles Public Library | A.S.C. Forbes

Bells of the El Camino Real

A.S.C. Forbes

A.S.C. Forbes was another influential South Pasadena woman who was devoted to protecting California’s rich heritage. But she was more interested in preserving the state’s Spanish missions. Her focus was the road that connected California’s old mission system, El Camino Real. She cast hundreds of bells to place along the historic route between the California missions.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | Early roadside bell marker along the El Camino Real
PHOTO: Los Angeles Public Library | A.S.C. Forbes busy at work casting bells at her South Pasadena residence

Stories from the “Land of Sunshine”

Margaret Collier Graham

Margaret Collier Graham was a well-known short story writer and literary figure in her time, gaining national readership for her series of stories about the American West. She was active in intellectual pursuits and politics, becoming a popular speaker that worked tirelessly for the women’s suffrage movement and the preservation of California’s missions.

South Pasadena Public Library | Margaret Collier Graham (1887)

Her husband, Donald M. Graham, was South Pasadena’s first mayor. The Grahams would host community events at their home, Wynyate mansion – the residence at 851 Lyndon Street is a South Pasadena Cultural Heritage Landmark and on the National Registry of Historic Places.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Public Library | Florence “Pancho” Barnes

Happy Bottom Riding Club 

Florence “Pancho” Barnes

Florence Lowe married the minister of South Pasadena’s St. James Episcopal Church, Calvin Barnes, and donated the chimes for the church’s tower.

On August 4, 1930, Florence “Pancho” Barnes became the Fastest Woman on Earth when she beat the world’s speed record set by flying ace Amelia Earhart – one-mile course in 18.35 seconds.

In later years, she became the owner of the Happy Bottom Riding Club, that catered to test pilots and aviators from the nearby Edwards Air Force Base.

David and Linda Tourje | Nelbert Chouinard

Chouinard Art Institute

Nelbert Chouinard

Nelbert Chouinard was the founder of Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. She was an art teacher who believed that a student should gain basic skills in drawing and design then follow their leanings.

Chouinard lived in South Pasadena for most of her life. During that time her art school flourished building a solid reputation as one of the top five art schools in the nation. Her former residence at 1114 Garfield Avenue is a South Pasadena Cultural Heritage Landmark.

Pasadena Museum of History | Mrs. Garfield with her grandchildren

Lady in Black

Lucretia “Crete” Garfield

After a disgruntled office seeker assassinated President James A. Garfield, Lucretia Garfield was forever known as the widow of the martyred President, and affectionately known as “The Lady in Black.”

In 1904, Garfield commissioned Charles and Henry Green to design a chalet style Craftsman bungalow which still stands today at 1001 Buena Vista Street in South Pasadena. The home is on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a South Pasadena Cultural Heritage Landmark.

Garfield remained active in later years, becoming the co-founder of the Pasadena Red Cross at the beginning of WWI. When President Theodore Roosevelt accepted an invitation to visit the area, he did so only after confirming a visit to see the former first lady at her South Pasadena home.

Mrs. Garfield died of pneumonia at her winter home here 100 years ago.

Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.