Three actors, Jane Garbill, Judy Daugherty, George Koeoner, performing at Pretenders Playhouse.
Three actors, Jane Garbill, Judy Daugherty, George Koeoner, performing at Pretenders Playhouse. NCHS Photograph Collection.

The mineral waters and hot springs of the Valley have garnered a reputation encompassed by both health and leisure.  To augment and create a draw for residents and visitors alike,  the communities of Napa have built resorts and theaters since the 1850s.  Pioneering women have been very much a part of this, both in development and management of resorts as well as the creation and distribution of the arts.

Featured Pioneering Women

MFK Fisher standing behind the sign for the Napa Valley Wine Library.
Courtesy of Napa Valley Wine Library

M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992)

Mary Frances Kennedy or MFK gained fame with her book, The Art of Eating, but also wrote 26 other books.  On and off throughout her life she resided on her family’s ranch in St. Helena.   While in the Valley she founded the Wine Library.  Today, the Napa Valley Wine Library boasts an impressive collection of materials related to wine.

Helen Hoyt Lyman (1887-1972)

Helen, who lived in Napa Valley in her adult years, was a nationally recognized poet.  She edited the journal Poetry alongside publishing collections of her own poetry that between 1924 and 1946. Her book California Poets: An Anthology of 244 Contemporaries focused on fellow writers of the 1920s and 30s.

Helen Hoyt Lyman sitting in an armchair and reading a book.
Courtesy of St. Helena Historical Society
Frances Marion sitting at a desk with a pen in her hand, possibly signing a book.
NCHS Photograph Collection

Frances Marion (1888-1973)

Credited with writing 300 scripts and producing over 130 films, Frances won two academy awards, including Best Story for The Champ starring Wallace Beery in 1932.  Often visiting her father who developed Aetna Springs Resort in Pope Valley, Frances is credited with introducing Hollywood to Napa Valley, accounting for the many movies made here

Sophie Alstrom Mitchell (1858-1940)

Although born in Sweden, Sophie grew up at White Sulphur Springs Resort in St. Helena, which was run by her parents.  Sophie graduated from the Napa Ladies Seminary studying under nationally acclaimed artist, Virgil Williams.  Her Audubon-style paintings of local flora gained her a national reputation.  A complete portfolio of her work graces the Smithsonian collection.

Sophie Alstrom Mitchell holding one of her sons as an infant.
Courtesy of St. Helena Historical Society
Yearbook photo of Angela Pingitore
Courtesy of Yearbooks Collection.

Angela Pingitore (1898-1993)

Born in Calistoga, Angela was part of an extremely musical family.  Although her father managed a grocery he infused all his children with a love of music. The Pingitores moved to Oakland, where Angela’s musical skills garnered her the first violinist position in the Oakland Symphony. 

Louise Tessin Roats (1895-1962)

In an effort to infuse art and literature into elementary education, Louise painted a number of large murals of fairy tales at Shearer School in the 1923.  The beautiful murals were saved and placed in the administration building when the school was torn down.

One of the murals Louise Tessin Roats painted at Shearer School. This artwork seems to depict sleeping beauty, with a woman lying asleep in a bed with two men standing to the sides.
Colorized photograph of Dorothy Jaekle MacLean in a blue dress, standing in front of a hedge and a tree with a truck in the background.
Courtesy of the Napa Register

Dorothy Jaekle McLean (1909-2001)


Jessamyn West (1902-1984)

Jessamyn began writing short stories early in life. Although her stories drew from her family’s Quaker background in Indiana, Jessamyn lived in Napa with her husband, educator Harry McPherson in Napa. She leveraged her success, going on to write numerous books, including Friendly Persuasion, in 1945. The book was adapted into a film starring Gary Cooper and nominated for Best Picture in 1956.

Jessamyn West giving an interview for KVON radio station with an unknown female radio host.
NCHS Photograph Collection
Mae Woo photographed wearing a large pearl necklace.
Courtesy of Mae Woo.

Mae Woo

Known for founding the first Art Gallery in St. Helena in the 1980s, Mae has leveraged her love of the arts to elevate emerging artists. From its inception to 2019, Mae co-founded and was a major sponsor of the annual Napa Valley Film Festival.

“Through my investments and commitment to the arts, I can see the ripple effect years later.”


Karen MacNeil

Known for authoring The Wine Bible, Karen uses her journalist, radio, and film skills to elevate the culture of wine in the U.S.

“I am passionate about communicating about wine within its cultural context. Wine comes alive in the rich context of culture, history, art, and food. By talking about these links, we honor wine’s treasured place in human evolution.”


Photograph of Karen MacNeil with a flight of wine glasses and copies of her book, The Wine Bible, seated at a table.