Librarians at the grand opening of the Napa County Library Bookmobile, 1939.
Librarians at the grand opening of the Napa County Library Bookmobile, 1939. NCHS Photograph Collection

Family, faith, and education have been key components of Napa Valley culture from the earliest settlers. Historic pioneering women participated in each of these aspects of community driving the formation of family alliances, development of churches across numerous faiths, and access to education from the one room schoolhouse to college.

Featured Pioneering Women

Portrait of Laura Somersal sitting on a log with a cup in her hands.
Courtesy of Sonoma County Library Western Sonoma County Historical Society Collection

Laura Fish Somersal (1892-1990)

For decades people came from near and far to study traditional basket-making techniques under Laura Fish Somersal, a fluent Wappo speaker.  Drawing from her ancestral Wappo and Pomo knowledge, Laura worked throughout the 1970s and 80s with linguists from the University of Santa Barbara compiling two books,  A Reference Grammar of Wappo and a compilation of Wappo Legends, published in 2006, sixteen years after Laura passed away.

Ellen Gould White (1827-1915)

Ellen and her husband James owned Elmshaven in Angwin where she resided from the 1880s until her death in 1915.  Considered a prophet and co-founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Ellen was a prolific writer with over 5,000 periodicals and 40 books to her name. Health and healthy eating were a major focus of her writings making her a leader in the Vegetarian Movement.

Portrait of Ellen Gould White writing at a desk.
Courtesy of Pacific Union College
Newspaper article from the Napa Register about the death of Dr. Anna Peck.
Courtesy of the Napa County Library Napa Newspaper Archive Database.

Anna Dixon Peck (1862-1959)

Anna was born in St. Helena and taught in Napa schools through the 1880s when she was elected Superintendent thirty years before women had the right to vote. Anna went on to graduate from Stanford Medical School in 1898.  She practiced medicine for many years following her husband Naval Commander Allan Peck to various hospitals associated with his military assignments.

Irene M. Snow (1890-1958)

A teacher for many years in Napa, in 1927 Irene was named principal of John L. Shearer Elementary School.  From there she went on to become the first female superintendent of Elementary School Instruction. Irene M. Snow Elementary School opened in 1959 honoring her career and contributions to Napa education.

Newspaper photograph of Irene M. Snow
Courtesy of Napa County Library Napa Newspaper Archive Database
Photograph of Molly Banz, wearing a pin for her organization, Molly's Angels of Napa County.
NCHS Napa Register Collection

Marlene “Molly” Gray Banz (1938-2013)

Although born in England in 1939, Molly moved to Napa when she was 35 and worked in restaurants, such as Elmer’s Pancake House.  She owned and operated three franchises for Colonial Lady Fried Chicken before opening Molly’s Fish & Chips and Molly’s Seafood Grill.  Molly is best remembered for her charity, Molly’s Angels, which provides transportation and support services for seniors.

Ivy Loeber (1880-1969)

Ivy’s grandfather Calvin Griffith moved to Napa in 1845.  Ivy was born in 1880 in St. Helena.  Her parents moved back to Baltimore when Ivy was a teenager, but Ivy chose to return to Napa as an adult.  Once back she dedicated herself to collecting and telling the history of the Valley.  Ivy was among the founders of the Napa County Historical Society and helped spearhead the restoration of the Bale Mill.

Portrait of Ivy Loeber sitting in a chair.
NCHS Photograph Collection
Studio portrait of Frances Grayson Crane.
Courtesy of the St. Helena Historical Society.

Frances Grayson Crane (1823-1908)

Frances was first married to A.J. Grayson, a renowned ornithologist who studied the birds of Central America.  She married her second husband Dr. G.B. Crane in 1872 and successfully farmed a 400-acre vineyard outside St. Helena.  Committed to education and curiosity, upon her death in 1908, Frances willed 15 acres of her land to the city for a new school.  In 1912 the St. Helena High School was finished and still stands today.

Sarah Graves Fosdick Ritchie Forbes (1825-1871)

Sarah left Indiana in 1847 with her family and new husband Jay Fosdick headed for Napa Valley.  They were part of the ill-fated Donner Party.  Sarah along with five of her siblings survived and made their home near Calistoga.  She set up the first school in the Valley. Her second husband William Ritchie was accused of stealing mules and hung six years later.  Sarah left the Valley with her third husband Samuel Spires, moving to Santa Cruz.

Portrait of Sarah Graves Fosdick as a young woman.
Courtesy of the Donner Summit Historical Society.