Monday, March 23, 2020

Ellen Rand Perkins Van Valkenburg

Ellen Rand Perkins Van Valkenburg was the widow of  Henry Van Valkenburg, who established the San Lorenzo Paper Mill in 1860. He was killed by a tree branch during the storms of 1862. Ellen, who was pregnant with their third child, was left to run the business. The mill was sold under foreclosure later that year.

Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, September 9, 1871
Ellen went on to be one of the founders of a local temperance movement, “Friends of Universal Suffrage,” and in 1871, tried to register to vote. Albert Brown, the Santa Cruz County clerk and an accomplice, formally refused to register her. 

Albert was among many of the county’s esteemed residents that had signed a petition in 1870 to the California Legislature “to secure to the women of this commonwealth the right of suffrage.”

In the ensuing suit, Ellen argued was that under the 14th Amendment many American women like herself were granted citizenship, and therefore, the rights of citizenship which included voting.

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In August 1871, nationally renowned suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Emily Pitt Stevens were in Santa Cruz with Ellen when California's Third District Court ruled against her. 

Elizabeth Stanton delivered these words at a lecture at the Unity Church in Santa Cruz: “in the eye of the civil law we are persons, but in representation we are not persons, and have no political rights which men are bound to respect."

Ellen's lawyer, Santa Cruz Judge Albert Hagan, appealed the ruling arguing that women had a right to vote under the Constitution by virtue of their absolute rights as citizens of the United States under the 14th Amendment. Among those rights, as recognized in the 15th Amendment, was the right to vote.  

The case was heard by the State Supreme Court in 1872, which upheld the lower court’s decision. The reasoning was that Ellen had civil rights before the 14th Amendment, since she was already a citizen, and it gave her no political rights. The 15th Amendment specifically applied to males who had been slaves.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Eliza Burhans Farnham (1815 - 1864)

Courtesy of Burhans Genealogy
Eliza Burhans Farnham was an author, feminist, abolitionist, phrenologist, and activist for prison reform. She married Thomas Farnham in 1836 and they had two sons. In 1844, she was appointed matron of the women's ward at Sing Sing Prison, New York. She had radical views, on how women prisoners should be treated and this eventually resulted in her forced resignation. It was at Sing Sing that she met and worked with Georgiana Bruce.

Eliza’s husband had left for California, and in 1848, she received news of his death. Eliza travelled west to settle his affairs, settling on land he had acquired in Santa Cruz County. Here she became a farmer. She was highly critical of the Anglo men who had married into ranchero families in order to gain title to the land.

In California, women were able to own land, and it was her goal that the profits from her land benefit her sons. However, she wrote: “It is no easy thing for a women to defend property here …”
Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, February 28, 1863,
Courtesy of

She found the local society to be illiterate and unsophisticated, and her harsh remarks left her lonely and isolated. She sent for Georgiana Bruce. Georgiana’s gentler character enabled the two to gain a place in Santa Cruz’s social and religious circles.

In 1864, she published Woman and Her Era where she promoted the concept that women were naturally superior to men.  She believed that women should not “be compelled to earn money,” but should be “supported by men,” and because of their high moral values they could and should influence society.

She died soon after of consumption.

In the book History of Woman Suffrage: 1876-1885, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al. they wrote: "The advocacy of woman's rights began in Santa Cruz county, with the advent of that grand champion of her sex, the immortal Eliza Farnham, who braved public scorn and contumely because of her advanced views, for many years before the suffrage movement assumed organized form Mrs. Farnham's work rendered it possible for those advocating woman suffrage years later, to do so with comparative immunity from public ridicule."