Dr. Ethel Priest examines a student while a young woman assistant observes.
Dr. Ethel Priest, school physician. NCHS Photograph Collection.

From the earliest historic settlement of Napa Valley, records reveal there were nurses, midwives, and women doctors working throughout the Valley.  When the State Insane Asylum was opened in 1876, one-third of the attendants were women.  When Queen of the Valley hospital opened in 1958, it was managed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange.   Not only have women been at the forefront of healthcare in Napa Valley but they have regularly contributed to science through botany, geology, engineering, and environmental sciences. 

Featured Pioneering Women

Clara's milkvetch, a purple and white flower with a long stem.
Clara's milkvetch. Courtesy of the California Native Plant Society

Clara Pike Blodgett Hunt (1859-1932)

A school teacher and amateur botanist, Clara discovered the rare species of milkvetch, Astragalus claranus, found exclusively in Northern California.  Willis Jensen named the plant for Clara, submitting his description to the International Plant Names Index in 1925. Commonly known as Clara’s milkvetch, today it is listed as an endangered species.

Dr. Anna Gutzwiller McBean (1883-1920)

Anna was born in St. Helena in 1883.  She received her medical training at University of California, Berkeley and went on to work as a physician in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Bernardino.  Practicing medicine during the Influenza Pandemic of 1919, she contracted tuberculosis and died in 1920 at the age of 37.

Portrait of Dr. Anna Gutzwiller McBean wearing a high-necked dress.
Courtesy of St. Helena Historical Society
Sister M. Bernadette wearing her nun's habit and holding something in her hands.
NCHS Napa Register Collection

Sister Mary Bernadette, C.S.J.

Sister Bernadette came to Napa in the 1950s and helped transition from the older Parks Victory Hospital to the more modern Queen of the Valley Hospital in 1958. As part of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, Sister Bernadette was its first administrator, establishing the hospital’s reputation for excellence. Sister Bernadette was re-assigned in 1966 but returned for the 25th Anniversary in 1983.

Linda Cantey

Known for her work with the Firewise Foundation, Linda uses her aerospace engineering and business acumen to build grassroots consensus and community support.

“Surviving fire catastrophes requires whole communities working together with common goals and a willingness to change behaviors.”

Photograph of Linda Cantey.
Courtesy of Linda Cantey
Moira Johnston Block standing in front of a scenic view of the Napa River.
Courtesy of Friends of the Napa River.

Moira Johnston Block (1934-2021)

As the President of Friends of the Napa River in 1993, Moira led the charge to clean up the river with the slogan, “Make it your front yard, it’s been your backyard for too long.”  Joining in the rethinking of Flood Control toward restoration as well as protection, Moira was instrumental in helping create a Flood Control model that is nationally recognized.

Jamie Davies (2934-2008)

Jamie and her husband Jack set about revitalizing the historic Schramsberg winery in 1965 restoring the family house and the reputation for sparkling wine. Her dedication to preservation led the couple to spearhead the citizens’ committee that lobbied for the nation’s first Agricultural Preserve.  In 1968, 23,000 acres were protected by the ordinance. Today over 32,000 acres are in the Ag Preserve.

Photo of Jamie Davies.
Courtesy of Schramsberg Winery
Copy of an old photograph of Emma Eels.
Courtesy of the Sharpsteen Museum

Emma Eels (1830-1909)

After the death of her husband, Emma discovered the soil on her farm just west of Calistoga made an excellent scouring compound.  In 1888 with seven women friends, Emma established the Callustro Co. marketing their products. Callustro’s popularity caught the attention of a Chicago manufacturer, who contracted to buy the company and then swindled the women, forcing the company into bankruptcy and eliminating the competition.