Their Stories

She Can Handle Both Home Page Button

Charley Parkhurst (1812 - 1879)

Charley was perhaps the first person who had been assigned female at birth to vote in California. Their assigned gender was not widely known until after their death, when the news became sensational.

Charley, was a gender non-conforming stagecoach driver who had a reputation for being fearless and tough. After retiring from driving, Charley became a farmer and lived out the remainder of their years in the South County, where according to the Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel: “We have seen several people who assert that they always considered “Charlie” neither man nor woman, but both.”

Possibly Charley Parkhurst


Sing Sing

Eliza Farnham (1815 - 1864)

Eliza 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 …”

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.

Georgiana Bruce Kirby(1818 - 1887)

Georgiana Bruce Kirby was a suffragist, abolitionist, reformer, and teacher. She arrived in Santa Cruz in 1850 at the request of Eliza Farnham.

In 1852, she married local tanner Richard Kirby, and they had five children. She was the founder of the first local woman suffrage society in 1869, and was an officer of the society along with Harriet Blackburn, Lida DeLamater, Della Pierce, and Mary Jordon.

In 1870, she was a delegate to the State Convention of Female Suffragists in San Francisco, where she announced “the formation of a society [in Santa Cruz] of thirty lady members and 300 names to the petition [to the Legislature].” She was elected to serve as a vice-president.

She reported on local lectures by leading suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. In 1874, she became the spokesperson for the newly formed Santa Cruz Temperance Union, and crusaded for its interests in Sacramento.

Georgiana Bruce Kirby

Ellen Van Valkenburg (1827 - 1922)

Ellen Van Valkenburge was the wife of Henry Van Valkenburg, who had established a paper mill on the banks of the San Lorenzo River in 1860 (where Paradise Park is today). Henry was killed by a widow maker during the storms of 1862. His wife Ellen, who was pregnant with their third child, was left to run the business. Unfortunately, the mill had to be sold under foreclosure later that year.

Ellen went on to become one of the founders of a local temperance movement, “Friends of Universal Suffrage.” In 1871, she tried unsucessfully to register to vote because she had become, "under the most painful circumstances, a widow" and for the next ten years was "obliged to manage her own affairs, pay her own taxes, and struggle along alone to bring up her family." (Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, September 30, 1871.)

Santa Cruz Surf, May 2, 1896

Santa Cruz Surf,
May 2, 1896

Ellen Sargent (1826 - 1911)

Ellen Clark Sargent, was a leading voting rights advocate and a friend of many suffrage leaders such as Susan B. Anthony. Her husband, California Senator Aaron Sargent, introduced the 19th Amendment in 1878.

Ellen fought for equal suffrage and in 1896, the year that California voters would reject the proposition, she was President of the State Women’s Suffrage Association which held a two day Women’s Suffrage Convention in Santa Cruz in May of that year.

She was also a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

Ellen never voted, as she passed in July 1911, in San Francisco, during the California campaign.

Ellen Clark Sargent
Previous Button
Next Button