PHOEBE APPERSON HEARST AND THE CALIFORNIA REDWOOD PARK
By Robert C. Pavlik
The history of the redwood preservation movement has been well documented, and a few prominent individuals associated with the cause of saving the redwoods are well known. There is one person, however, whose name has faded from the limelight, perhaps in part because her role was largely financial and behind the scenes. Nevertheless, she is deserving of remembrance and recognition.
Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842-1919) is not usually affiliated with the efforts to preserve native coast redwoods, and yet, given her background and her many worthwhile charities, it makes perfect sense that she would be involved in a cause so "Californian." Born in Missouri, wed to mining and real estate magnate George Hearst, and mother to the flamboyant newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, Phoebe Apperson Hearst was a giver and a doer and a supporter of numerous individuals, institutions, and organizations.
Her generosity largely targeted educational causes, of which the preservation of a grove of redwoods near Santa Cruz she also considered an educational benefit for the people of the state of California. Arthur Taylor, author of the book California Redwood Park (1912) wrote of Big Basin, "This forest is an aggregation of arboreal wonders. It is moreover a cathedral, a university, a sanitorium, a source of solace to the soul, an inspiration to the intellect, a tonic to the body." Such sentiments had great appeal to Progressive Era reformers like Mrs. Hearst, who perceived in the private funding of kindergartens, parks, museums, and universities, the betterment of the public at large.
In the beginning, it was not just men who first came to the aid of the great trees, but women, highly educated and energetic women who organized and lobbied to preserve an important part of the state's natural heritage. Women such as Josephine Clifford McCracken, Carrie Stevens Walter and others wrote articles in national magazines, led field trips to Big Basin, and organized campaigns to save the redwoods, and through their actions and influence helped convince lawmakers and the governor (all male at the time) to pass legislation in 1901 for the acquisition of a California redwood park.
Phoebe Hearst's role was low-key, yet essential to the Sempervirens Club's success. It was Mrs. Hearst who, through her unstinting generosity, underwrote the cost of the campaign, an unselfish contribution that lasted more than two years and that amounted to several thousand dollars. While she did not seek public recognition for her largess, she was honored in the dedication in Taylor's book:
As a recognition of her generous and timely aid
and inspiration in the acquisition and development
of this forest park, for the people, this work is
respectfully dedicated to
MRS. PHOEBE A. HEARST
And so it is to her everlasting credit, and to our benefit, that Mrs. Hearst took a quiet yet critical role in the Sempervirens Club's lobbying efforts to acquire Big Basin. To adapt a phrase used in reference to the first director of the National Park Service, Stephen T. Mather, it can be said of Phoebe Apperson Hearst that "there will never come an end to the good that she has done."
Copyright 2008 Robert C. Pavlik All Rights Reserved