Traditionally, the historical record focused on men and their accomplishments. Napa Valley’s history is no different. Our histories are full of “founding fathers” and “men of vision.” In contrast, women’s accomplishments were often couched as “against all odds.”
In the 1850s economic census Napa boasted three midwives. In the 1880s economic census, less than a decade after the Napa Insane Asylum opened, there were 33 attendants employed, half were women.
Yet, in 1918 Register of Physicians, only 5 women were registered as doctors in Napa County.
Businesses in Napa were captured in five economic census before 1900. The combination of Business Directories and Economic Census data reveals how women ran businesses and participated in the workforce throughout the early historic decades of Napa.
Interestingly, in the 1890 and early 1900s when women’s suffrage was gaining traction, Napa’s Business Directory stopped noting women owned and run businesses.
The widespread use of telephones created numerous jobs for women, specifically as operators. In WWI, General Pershing pressured the War Office to allow women on the front lines in France to run the phone system, because of their superior skill and speed at the job. The 223 operators who volunteered for the Signal Corps became known as the “Hello Girls.” Yet, even though they were honored for their heroism, they were denied pensions until 1977.