A Northern California "Pioneer" in Her Own Right

Submitted by jkolosov on March 28, 2018 - 6:05pm
  • Sketch of Anna Morrison Reed courtesy of The Petaluma Courier, 2 September 1891 photo

    Sketch of Anna Morrison Reed courtesy of The Petaluma Courier, 2 September 1891

     Noted in a recent talk by library manager Katherine Rinehart and historian John Sheehy on the Petaluma Ladies’ Improvement Club was an exemplar of early women journalists of Sonoma County, Anna Morrison Reed, the publisher and managing editor of the Sonoma County Independent (Petaluma) from 1909 to 1916. As we close out Women’s History Month, we would like to point the spotlight on a woman some have called a force of nature.

     Anna Morrison Reed (1849-1921) was a lecturer, poet and magazine and newspaper editor from Ukiah and Petaluma. In her early twenties, she traveled throughout the counties of northern California, lecturing on temperance and women’s issues. In 1904, she founded the Northern Crown magazine to capture the beauty and challenges of life lived in rural northern California. Her first book of poetry, Earlier Poems of Anna M. Morrison, was published in 1880. Three other volumes followed with the final volume released in 1915.


Above the sounds of strife and care

Confused and jangled everywhere,

I hear in tenderest refrain

The promise that you’d come again.

The soft winds blow across the world,

And sails are filled, and sails are furled;

A thousand suns arise and set,

Meanwhile—in May—I’m waiting yet.

              Anna M. Reed, 1915 (Keller, 227)


     Born in Dubuque, Iowa, 4-year-old Anna made the journey to California with her mother, Mary, in 1854 from New York by ship, crossing Central America through Nicaragua—the last 13 miles by donkey—and sailing on to San Francisco aboard the Sierra Nevada. They then made their way to Butte County, California, where her father had gone ahead to work in the mining industry. Mary joined her husband in frontier living, offering midwifery services to supplement the family income. With only a few months of formal schooling, young teen Anna began earning money teaching and writing articles for the local press. When her parents contracted malaria, she had to step in to support the family that had grown to six, taking on an intense lecture circuit for the next two-and-a-half years. During that time, she spoke to the small-town residents of every county in northern California except Modoc. Lecturing allowed her to save enough money to purchase a family house in her name for $250 in Timbuctoo, Yuba County. She called it “Dreamland Home.”

     In 1872, she married John Smith Reed (1829-1900), a local Ukiah businessman and one of the founders of the Bank of Ukiah. At that time, Anna took a break from lecturing but was still very active in the local and state temperance movement. In 1889, a fire destroyed their Ukiah home and a large music hall built by Mr. Reed. The family retreated to their ranch in Laytonville, but John never fully recovered from his business losses and died a broken man on February 10, 1900. Anna continued to work to support her family, which now included five children. It was during this time that she became the first woman to deliver an annual address before the State Agricultural Society of California in Sacramento on September 14, 1893. She also was appointed by the California state legislature to the seven-member State Board of Lady Managers for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She traveled extensively throughout the northern counties, in some cases with a child in tow, to stir interest and raise money for the creation of exhibits that would showcase the unique bounty of her home state for a world audience.

     In 1904, Anna again bought a house for her family. Her 1914 diary entry, written on the date of her final payment, is triumphant despite other expectations:

Feb. 2: Paid the last payment on my home in Ukiah—the Carl Purdy Place, $7,48.50, today. Also placed a homestead upon it. The first home that I have owned personally since I sold “Dreamland Home” at Timbuctoo, in Yuba County, that I bought in my girlhood, with money that I had earned lecturing and writing for the Press. I bought it from Judge Redfield, and sold it after my marriage. The $30,000 home to be given me, in my own name, after my marriage never materialized. Had my husband kept his promise to me, it would have been better for both and all concerned.

     Anna actively campaigned for women’s suffrage beginning in 1904, the same year she published the first issue of the Northern Crown. She would be the managing editor for the next 16 years, tackling the progressive issues of her time—“women’s rights, including suffrage; the education of young children;  organized labor; urban graft, along with the need for political reform; the environment, notably forest management; and temperance” (Thompson, 93). [Issues of the Northern Crown are available in hard copy at the Sonoma County History & Genealogy Library or online via the Internet Archive.] A fearless advocate for women, she spearheaded fundraising efforts for the Pioneer Mother Statue that debuted at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. The statue stands today in Golden Gate Park as a testament to the perseverance of the early women pioneers of California, including her mother, Mary E. (Preston) Morrison.

     California women won the right to vote in 1911. Anna Morrison Reed ran for the California State Assembly in the 6th district as a Democrat in 1918 (Check out Her Hat was in the Ring! for more examples of women who ran for political office before 1920). Although she did not win the race, she found other ways to make her voice heard and help steer her contemporaries toward the progressive ideas of her time. She died in San Francisco on May 23, 1921, having witnessed the passage of the 19th Amendment.

     Pauline C. Thompson, the author of a master’s thesis (1993) on Anna Morrison Reed and herself a lifelong Occidental resident, paints a realistic picture of Reed as “a feminist, but not a radical feminist” (Thompson, xi)—a product of her times. No matter her work as lecturer, editor, or World’s Fair lady manager, “she always maintained that home and family were her most important concern” (Thompson, xi). Thompson, who drew extensively from Reed’s diaries for her research, acknowledges that her study of Anna Morrison Reed only captured one segment of the female population of California in the late 1880s to early 1900s—the majority white, middle-class. Nonetheless, she felt it a significant piece of California women’s history to tell: “That she was a remarkable woman, there is no doubt. There is also little doubt that she was a survivor and an opportunist, perhaps as much because of her frontier experiences as her own inner resources” (Thompson, xiii). Thompson’s thesis was accessed through a generous Interlibrary Loan from California State University East Bay. Sonoma County Library is looking to acquire its own copy.



Keller, John E. (Ed.). (1978). Anna Morrison Reed. Lafayette, CA: John E. Keller.

Thompson, Pauline C. (1993). A ‘California girl’: the life and times of Anna Morrison Reed, 1849-1921 (Unpublished master’s thesis). California State University, Hayward.

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