Leon Worden

Women have always run the SCV

By Leon Worden
Friday, January 5, 2001

t's no secret that Santa Clarita is run by women.
    Women have been mayor more times than men, and women have outnumbered men on the City Council more often than not. Prior to cityhood in 1987, our contact with local government— Baxter Ward's office, then Mike Antonovich's— was a woman. Still is.
    We've had several women presidents of the chamber of commerce. Women are principals of a majority of our public schools. The head of our community college is a woman, under whose leadership it has excelled beyond anyone's wildest expectations.
    So I'm not complaining. If I were a woman you wouldn't accuse me of complaining, you'd accuse me of boasting. I'm merely stating what's obvious to anyone who follows local news.
    But what you might not have known is that it's always been that way. Newhall has always been run by women— even back when we used to call these parts “Newhall.”
    The other day the incoming president of the chamber of commerce, Doug Sink— a man, for a change— was looking for a bit of “historical” chamber information. Sink— financial wizard at REMO Inc., the world's biggest maker of drumheads— has been gearing up to take the gavel from his woman predecessor at next Friday's installation dinner at the Hyatt.
    While digging through some archives at the historical society's Saugus Train Station Museum at Hart Park for another purpose, out of the blue I hit paydirt.
    “Minutes of Newhall Chamber of Commerce. Organized Feb. 21, 1923.” Complete with constitution and by-laws.
    Interesting things lurk between the cloth-lined covers of this ledger-sized notebook, not the least of which concerns the formation of what today we'd call a strategic planning committee:
    “Resolution passed that the president appoint a committee of five, consisting of not less than two women, to outline a system of action for the next six months with a definite aim in view.”
    Three women were appointed, and it was left to them to pick the other two. Right there in the very first meeting of Newhall's very first chamber of commerce. In 1923. Ages before the first women's libber ever dreamed of burning her first bra.
    The committee got the job done inside a week.
    The front page of The Signal— published by a woman, Blanche Brown— reported the second meeting this way:
    “The business of the evening included... the reading of a lengthy plan of action by the Ladies Committee appointed the preceding week for that purpose. All agreed (the president) had shown good judgment in assigning this part to the ladies. The results showed who was boss in the homes in Newhall. It takes practice to lay out work for the other fellow efficiently.”
    Newhall has always had powerful women. Armantha Thibaudeau was a prominent mover and shaker and became the chamber's first recording secretary. Christine Woodard ran the ice cream parlor and was appointed to that strategic planning committee along with Marguerite Perkins, another community mucky-muck. There were more.
    The men weren't left out entirely. The organizational meeting was called together at Hap-a-lan Hall— the dance hall at Railroad Avenue and Market Street— by the Rev. Wolcott Evans, the Presbyterian minister who was perhaps the most respected man in town. He presided just long enough for Albert Swall, the hotelier, to be elected as the first chamber president.
    (Note to the new president: Chamber dues were six bucks. It's in the by-laws.)
    The early chamber set an agenda strikingly similar to today's. They had a committee we'd call economic development, and another for publicity. Its duty was to “carry out a definite campaign for bringing Newhall to the attention of tourists and Angelenos and work out an inexpensive advertising campaign to attract new residents.”
    Business owners were bent on ripping out all the darned trees that were obscuring the view of their shops— they succeeded— and wanted the state to pave San Fernando Road (then called Spruce Street). It happened three years later. They wanted better fire protection, and they wanted a water district. There was a Newhall Water Co., but they'd have to wait until 1953 for a water district.
    They organized town cleanup days akin to Pride Week, and they were determined to “make our school second to none.”
    They filed a permit asking the state highway commissioner to let them put some sort of signs over San Fernando Road, but the request was denied. They'd try and try, but the state consistently spurned any local effort to hang special-event banners over the road, which is still a state highway today.
    That is, the effort met resistance until October 2000, when a woman— Linda Johnson, on behalf of Assemblyman George Runner— hand-carried the request to Caltrans officials. It took 77 years, but finally, one of the first requests of the first members of Newhall's first chamber of commerce has been approved.
    Too bad Blanche and Armantha didn't live to see it.
    Leon Worden is The Signal's city editor.

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