Tulare County Women of History

On Wednesday Night, March 11, the Tulare County Library held a reception to kick off their “Women in Tulare County History” exhibit. To honor this eclectic group of 10 women, a photograph and profile of each of their lives is displayed on the second floor of the library outside the Annie R. Mitchell History room. The exhibit runs through June 4. Exhibit hours are from 1-5 pm, Tuesday through Friday.

Choosing the 10 finalists was a collaborative effort of volunteers and History Room staff, who searched the historical documents in the Annie R. Mitchell History Room. The volunteers used their knowledge of local history and sometimes picked the brains of others around them for women to profile. The goal was to show a variety of women from different backgrounds. There were many of great women educators from which to choose, and the exhibit includes two of them, but they also wanted to show other experiences, such as mountaineers, artists and politicians.

Three of the women being profiled in the exhibit are still alive. One of them, Lali Moheno, attended the opening reception and entertained the group with stories of her mother and the history of the Farmworker Women’s Health Conference which she founded. She told of how her mother and father were field workers but managed to send five of their eight living children to college. Moheno inherited and learned from her mother how to be politically active and make a difference in people’s lives, especially women working in the fields. Moheno expressed her gratitude to the library staff for being included in a group of such accomplished women.

To honor her mother, who died prematurely because of several preventable health problems, Moheno has organized a yearly conference to educate women on the health services available in Tulare County. Moheno’s mother died because she did not have equal access to medical services or insurance, and her goal is to try and prevent the same thing happen to other farm worker women.

She organized the first Farm worker Women’s Health and Safety Conference luncheon 13 years ago and hoped that 50 women would show up. Two hundred-fifty women showed up and she had to call her husband and borrow his credit card. Since that first conference, the event has expanded to more than 1000 attendees. Now Moheno doesn’t have to ask for her husband’s credit card but receives donations and vendor fees to cover the cost of the lunch.

This year’s conference will be Friday, November 6, at the Visalia Convention Center. She puts on the conference in conjunction with Tulare County Health and Human Services. The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s office also play a large role at the conference so the women can acquaint themselves with local law enforcement and learn about how to stop domestic violence and curtail gang activity.

Another honoree, Rose Ann Vuich, who passed away in 2001, was introduced by her dear friend, Consuelo Prado Alvarado. Vuich was the first female state senator in California. When she was elected there was no women’s bathroom in the senate building.

After retirement in 1992, Vuich returned to her hometown of Dinuba and lived with her brother. Neither had children, and Alvarado offered to take care of them as they aged. Throughout the years, Alvarado’s children became Vuich and her brother’s grandchildren and both families spent holidays and birthdays together.

She reminded the group that the interchange of State Route 41 and State Route 180 in Fresno is named the Rose Ann Vuich Interchange and that Dinuba named a park in her honor.

Alvarado also introduced a second honoree, who is one of the three still living, Ester Hernandez. Hernandez is an artist who also grew up in Dinuba who is a leader in the Chicano civil rights arts movement. Alvarado was a close childhood friend of Hernandez’. Hernandez was not able to attend the reception herself, but Alvarado brought a sample of one of Hernandez’ most famous art pieces. Alvarado brought a small replica of the well-recognized “Sun Maid” painting that shows the Sun Maid girl as a skeleton, as a result the use of pesticides in grape growing.

Jean Shepard, is the third living honoree and was a country and western singer born in Oklahoma and raised in Visalia. She was inducted into the County Music Hall of Fame in 2011.

The exhibit coincides with Women’s History Month, which became a national event starting in 1987. This exhibit showcases extraordinary women of Tulare County from 1855 to the present through a series of posters.

Other honorees, as revealed in an article by The Fresno Bee include:

  • Josephine Allensworth, wife of the founder of Allensworth, the only town in California founded and run by African Americans. She made sure Allensworth had a library.
  • Anna Mills Johnston, the first woman to climb Mt. Whitney, in 1878, despite a physical handicap, accomplishing the feat with three other women and five men.
  • Eleanor Calhoun, a well-connected actress of the late 1800s, who married a Serbian prince and has been dubbed “the princess of Visalia.”
  • Mary Garcia Pohot, a Wukchumni basket weaver, singer and Native American story teller. Her basketry is on display at the Tulare County Museum in Mooney Grove Park.
  • Ina Stiner, a Porterville high school teacher and school librarian who wrote books about Porterville history, especially pioneers.
  • Annie Mitchell, a Visalia historian and educator who wrote several books about Tulare County history and for whom, the history room at the library is named.

Lisa Raney, reference librarian and coordinator of the project, said, “during the first stage of our research, we came up with a list of over 20 women, who were noteworthy for achievements that they had done on their own – I wanted to be sure that the exhibit highlighted women for their achievements. Raney wrote in the Visalia Times-Delta, “Other women strongly considered for the project were Elsie Crowley, teacher and principal in Visalia schools for 41 years; Mary Graves Clarke, surviving member of the ill-fated Donner Party; Alice Royal, born and raised in the Allensworth Colony and a strong advocate for Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, and Graciela Martinez, whose lifetime of service to farmworkers and others underrepresented in society includes working in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and with Proyecto Campesino.”

For more information on this exhibit, contact Lisa Raney at 713-2723 or the reference desk at 713-2703. The Visalia Library is located at 200 W. Oak Ave, Visalia, CA 93291.

The Tulare County Library serves all the citizens of Tulare County with locations in 15 communities, five book machines and an online presence at www.tularecountylibrary.org.

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