School nurse Jeanette McCain and school secretary Ruth Northrop. NCHS Photo Collection.
School nurse Jeanette McCain and school secretary Ruth Northrop. NCHS Photo Collection.

Through service organizations, associations, and in politics women have helped grow and steer the communities of Napa Valley.  It is through many of the Valley’s causes that pioneering women have championed and led.  Since before women had the right to vote they have been elected to office and served. Napa Valley women have served in the military, the police force, and as firefighters.

Featured Pioneering Women

Elizabeth King with other members of the Napa County Bar Association in 1930.
NCHS Photograph Collection

Elizabeth King Robinson (1905-1953)

Born in Napa in 1905, Elizabeth’s father was a Superior Court Judge, and her brother a lawyer.  Elizabeth graduated from Hastings College of Law in 1929 and came back to Napa to practice in the family firm.  She was the first woman city attorney in California and the first female bankruptcy referee in the United States, and first woman appointed as trustee for the Napa State Hospital. 

Diane Dillon

Known for 20 years of County Supervisor leadership, commitment to land stewardship, and a passion for preservation, Diane has always encouraged women’s involvement in local government.

“It is important for us to let folks know how progressive Napa is — how women in this community support each other and are truly the backbone of our ongoing success.”


Photograph of Diane Dillon wearing a suit jacket and nametag.
Courtesy of Diane Dillon
Photograph of Margaret Melvin from a flyer of the Republican Ticket, 1910.
NCHS Photograph Collection

Margaret Melvin Ferguson (1877-1954)

In 1912, eight years before women had the right to vote, Miss Margaret Melvin, a young, well-respected Napa teacher ran for Napa County Superintendent and won.  Eighteen years later, veteran educator Margaret Melvin Ferguson ran against and lost to another teacher, Eva Holmes.

Francisca Tischer

Napa’s first female Judge, Cisca has built a career in making connections and relationships toward resolving disputes.

“I recognize being the first was a big deal and it is important for me to recognize those who helped me and encourage others to try regardless of the outcome.”

Portrait of Francisca Tischer wearing her court robes.
Courtesy of Francisca Tischer
Photograph of Ginny Simms taken for the Napa Register.
NCHS Napa Register Collection

Virginia “Ginny” Hemphill Simms (1906-1995)

Ginny came to California in 1942.  She graduated from Stanford University in Political Science and moved to Napa in 1955.  Ginny was active in the Land Trust, Ag Preserve, and Planning Commission, as well as Aldea, the local youth organization. In 1972 Ginny was the first woman elected to serve on the County Board of Supervisors.

Lillie Hitchcock Coit (1843-1929)

Nicknamed “Firebelle Lil” by San Francisco Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5, Lillie had a lifelong interest in firefighting. In 1851, Lillie bought the 1,000-acre Larkmead Ranch in the upper Napa Valley.  She entertained widely creating one of the Valley’s first salons that included artists, authors, and socialites.  Lillie left funding for a monument to the courage of San Francisco firemen.  Shaped like a fire hose nozzle, Coit Tower is a San Francisco landmark.

Lillie Hitchcock Coit posing wearing a tall Fireman's hat and a black top coat with a badge.
Courtesy of Museum of the City of San Francisco
Jennifer Gonzales in her police uniform, seated with two golden retriever dogs in front of the Napa 9/11 Memorial.
Courtesy of Jennifer Gonzales

Jennifer Gonzales

Napa’s first female Chief of Police, Jennifer uses her career experience to help continuously improve how the police connect and help the community.

“Our day-to-day work is impactful in ways we might not even consider until someone comes forward years later to tell us how we impacted their life.”


Charlie Toledo

Known for her Human Rights activism, Charlie is laser focused on working collectively toward finding holistic solutions.

“I am committed to holistic solutions and collective action that addresses what happened to the Indigenous Peoples and what is happening to rural communities in terms of access to human rights, the rights of Nature, and Earth as a living being.”



Charlie Toledo standing near a railing with a sunset view and a tall pine tree in the background.
Courtesy of Charlie Toledo
Rita Bordwell standing next to what appears to be a doorway wearing a brimmed hat and smiling.
NCHS Photograph Collection

Rita Harren Bordwell (1885-1975)

Rita, born in Napa, was hired as a secretary for the first labor union office in Napa.  She went on to write a history of the labor movement in Napa as well as a history of the fire department covering the years 1859-1962.  Along with her publications, Rita organized the Firefighter’s Museum and contributed recipes to Napa’s first Firehouse Cookbook.  Her dedication garnered her an honorary Firefighters Association membership.