Throughout the decades, my Great Grandmother encountered numerous challenges, but she was always able to persevere while at the same time still finding enjoyment and purpose in her life. The 1930s were a tough time for the whole country but, as always, Agnes made the best of the bad situation.
Details about her earlier life can be found in The Early Years, Agnes Makes a Regrettable Choice, Agnes Rejoins Healdsburg Society, A New Family for a New Century, A Sister Found and Lost, and Energy is Directed Toward Community, Family, and Friends.
THE GREAT DEPRESSION
The 1920s were a time of great economic expansion. American companies enjoyed record profits which they used to fund rapid expansion. But while corporate earnings soared, workers’ wages stagnated. By the end of the decade this economic imbalance had resulted in middle class folks amassing large consumer debt in order to obtain wonderful new modern conveniences such as automobiles and household appliances. Meanwhile, agricultural over-production had farmers struggling to get by with the low prices they were being paid for their products. Consequently, when the Stock Market plunged in October 1929, the US economy was not in a position to bounce back.
THE LADIES’ ACTIVITIES
When faced with the new economic reality, people began to rely more and more on social interaction and mutual aid for support. So it is not surprising that the ladies living on the Southside of Healdsburg chose this opportunity to revive the Social Neighbors’ Club. They resumed their monthly meetings where they worked on their fancy sewing while sharing fellowship and delicious refreshments. In addition to Agnes Wilson, regular members included her daughters Mae Congleton Taeuffer and Helen Wilson Peterson, granddaughter Dorothy Taeuffer Harris, daughter-in-law Birdie Hoar Congleton Taeuffer, and neighbors Nettie, Annie, and Helena Goodrich, Julia Gagliardo, and Jennie Bruce.
In the fall of 1931, since many of the club participants were members of Madrona Temple anyway, the sewing group was expanded and renamed the Pythian Sisters Sewing Circle. The monthly meetings continued, but now members were no longer limited to those living on the Southside of town.
The Past Chiefs Club which was comprised of ladies who had previously held that position in the local temple of the Pythian Sisters also continued their monthly gatherings. Pleasant afternoons were spent socializing and playing cards, with each member taking their turn at playing hostess. By 1932, 71 year-old Agnes’ health had deteriorated and the newspapers were reporting that she was suffering from a serious illness. Nevertheless, she was not about to allow this challenge to prevent her from discharging her responsibilities. So when it was her turn to host the group that year, the festivities were held at her daughter Helen Peterson’s home with her granddaughter Dorothy Taeuffer Harris lending a helping hand.
NUTURING THE YOUTH
At the end of the Great War in 1918, it had become apparent that not every man was equally capable of serving as a soldier. It was also being recognized that the old view, which held that a man’s position in society determined his abilities, was wrong. Soon numerous studies were undertaken to define and measure the determining factors. This lead to a similar observation about variations in children’s abilities. Consequently, in the 1920s numerous institutes were established across the country that began measuring and publishing data on average development of children. They typically began by documenting standards for physical growth before moving onto the more complicated study of cognitive development. Thus the modern Child Development Movement was born.
In 1930, Agnes’ granddaughter Dorothy Taeuffer Harris had two small children just starting school; 6 year-old Bobby and 4 year-old Mildred. That year sixteen mothers, all members of the Pre-School Mothers’ Club, a sub-group of the PTA, began a seven-session Reading Circle on Child Welfare. Once again Agnes embraced the new and modern outlook, this time concerning the philosophy for raising children. Not only did she attend the monthly gatherings, but she even presented several of the lessons herself, including the topics “Controlling the Stimulant and Removing the Cause,” “Child Self-Assertion,” and “Developing System and Order in the Habits and the Use of Materials Around the Home.” The program was capped off in June with a large all-day picnic featuring games, swimming and other outdoor activities held at Mirabel Park in Forestville which was enjoyed by 51 people including the group members plus their husbands and children.
CARING FOR THE ELDERLY
In 1924, the Knights of Pythias had purchased a 111 acre ranch in Los Guilicos near Santa Rosa, California, from Utah Senator and “Silver King” Thomas Kearns with the intention of establishing a retirement and rest home for elderly and disabled members. In addition to the historic 1858 Hood Mansion, the property included a fully functional farm, a large reservoir sufficient to supply drinking water as well as irrigation, and both a winery and poultry house to provide income. The Pythians made improvements to the ranch including building dormitories with large day rooms. Once the effects of the Depression began taking hold of the country, the need for this type of facility would be keenly felt.
Throughout her life, Agnes maintained a very close friendship with her ex-husband’s aunt Amelia Jane Congleton Smith Cook who was known to all as “Aunt Jennie.” In 1931, 86 year-old Aunt Jennie, who was no longer able to live on her own, moved into the Pythian Home in Guilicos. The newspapers reported on the family reunion held that August in honor of “Aunt Jennie Cook.” The day was marked with a picnic and those in attendance included the Wilsons, Amelia Greaver, Helen and Redding Peterson with their daughter Fernande Frey, Dorothy and George Harris with children Bobby and Mildred, Milt and Virginia Meredith, Walter and Blanche Kimes with children Calvin and Lorraine, John and Mae Taeuffer with son Norman, Elmer and Edith Greaver, and Fred and Edith Tovani.
Members of the Madrone Temple, Pythian Sisters of Healdsburg made regular trips to the Pythian Home to visit with the people living there. In March of 1931 they threw a card party for members of neighboring temples in Geyserville, Cloverdale, Sebastopol and Kenwood for the purpose of raising money for the Guilicos ranch. The 112 attendees that evening were able to raise $50 for the home. Picnics and luncheons featuring card playing were held in April and June of that year and again in April 1933 to provide entertainment and fellowship to the elderly residents.
In fall of 1932, members of the various Pythian Sister temples in the area initiated a project to preserve the fruit grown on the ranch for use by the residents of the home during the winter months. The activity became quite a point of pride and a competition to see which temple could pack the most each year. In August 1932, the group from Healdsburg “put up” 608 quarts of pears and about 1,000 quarts of peaches. The following year, in September 1933, the Healdsburg newspapers reported that Madrona Temple set a record by canning more quarts of peaches than any of the other temples. In 1934 they took it up another notch, when 25 of the Healdsburg ladies made two separate visits to the ranch to conduct canning. All together they put up 1,500 quarts of apples and 2,000 quarts of peaches and pears that year.
Even in the years leading up to the Great Depression, the overproduction of prunes was causing severely depressed prices. In 1932, California farmers began banding together to form statewide prune pools in order to leverage their combined tonnage during negotiations with the big packing houses. The United Prune Growers of California was launched in San Francisco in August 1932 with the hope of controlling output, keeping prices high, and creating prune by-products. That month the Healdsburg newspapers announced that 3,062 acres of land in the Healdsburg district had been contracted, including the Wilson’s 10 acres on Bailhache Avenue. However, it wasn’t until the deadline to amass the required 170,000 tons (or 85% of the state total) had been extended by 10 days and additional pressure had been brought to bear on packers to release growers from open contract agreements in place that the pool was successfully established.
Meanwhile, the Giannini Agricultural Foundation, the philanthropic organization created in honor of A.P. Gianni, founder of the Bank of Italy (which would became the Bank of America) and well regarded advocate for small farmers in California, was setting up the California Prune Pool. This collaborative organization brought experts from the University of California, farmers, and packers together to work to divert surpluses into prune juice and other by-products as well as to improve the wrinkly fruit’s image via a nationwide sales campaign.
Unfortunately, the cooperative efforts of California farmers had limited success in the Depression era financial environment. Nevertheless, Albert Wilson continued to pursue his innovative farming methods. The May 10, 1934 edition of the Healdsburg Tribune reported that the 20 year-old self-rooted prune trees grown from root suckers by Albert Wilson were exhibiting strong resistance to oak root fungus, which was currently plaguing local farmers. In January 1937, Professor Leonard H. Day, noted expert in root stock from the University of California at Davis visited the Wilson place. While he was there he purchased thirty specimens of Albert’s self-rooted trees to be used for study and experimentation.
YOU CAN ALWAYS RELY ON FAMILY
Throughout the Depression, fishing trips to the coast, visits to friends living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and excursions with chums from near and far continued for Agnes and Albert Wilson. But as their grandchildren grew up and great grandchildren were born, the size and frequency of family gatherings increased. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners hosted by John and Mae Congleton Taeuffer, or in alternating years, George and Dorothy Taeuffer Harris, which included four generations on both sides of the family were held on Magnolia Drive throughout the Depression. The annual New Year’s celebrations were typically held on Bailhache Avenue hosted by either Agnes and Albert Wilson or alternatively, Redding and Helen Wilson Peterson. Birthday celebrations were also family affairs. Since Agnes and daughter Mae shared a Valentine’s Day birthday, the annual parties held for them were always joint celebrations.
Each November, the ladies of the family; Agnes Wilson, Mae Congleton Taeuffer, Helen Wilson Peterson, Dorothy Taeuffer Harris, along with other Congleton descendants would make a trip to the Pythian Home to celebrate Amelia Jane “Aunt Jennie” Congleton Smith Cook’s birthday. Sadly, the party for Aunt Jennie’s 91st birthday in 1936 would be the last one that Agnes would attend.
ALBERT WILSON GOES ON ALONE
In 1937, Agnes really began to slow down. Although she still attended many of the events of the Pythian Sisters and those of the Past Chiefs, for the first time she did not take her turn as hostess for the group. Though she was only 76 years old, her health had begun to fail and in September the newspapers were reporting that she was seriously ill. Agnes Vanderwalker Call Congleton Wilson passed away at her home on Bailhache Avenue on October 8, 1937. Her funeral was held at the Chapel of Fred Young and Company, with Madrona Temple, Pythian Sisters conducting the services. She was laid to rest in Oak Mound Cemetery in Healdsburg alongside her son Claude A. Congleton and grandson Claude F. Congleton.
Despite her tendency to keep things well in order, Agnes died without leaving a will. Since the five acre portion of the ranch that her father John Call had purchased in 1874 from the original Spanish Land Grant had remained in her name alone, probate would have divided it between her widowed husband and her two daughters. But Mae Congleton Taeuffer and Helen Wilson Peterson recognized that their mother would not have wanted the farm to be broken up. So quit claim deeds were quickly signed to ensure that Albert would retain sole ownership and that the Bailhache ranch would be kept together.
Albert Wilson spent the next twelve years continuing with the social activities he had shared with Agnes during their 47 year marriage. He attended gatherings at the Pythian Home, participated in card games at his daughter’s home, and traveled to San Francisco and other Northern California cities to visit with long-time friends. Soon daughter Helen and her husband Redding Peterson moved into the ranch house to help Albert, where they frequently entertained guests who traveled from the Bay Area to visit. And although Albert had “only” been her step-father, Mae Congleton Taeuffer’s family gatherings were never complete without beloved Grampa Wilson in attendance.
On March 18, 1949, 86 year-old Albert Allen Wilson passed away at his long-time home on Bailhache Avenue. Friendship Lodge, No. 91, Knights of Pythias officiated at his funeral at the chapel of Fred Young & Company and he was laid to rest in Oak Mound Cemetery next to his beloved Agnes.
In December 1986, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance to protect historically significant trees. In July 1990, the chestnut tree measuring 58-feet high and 54-feet across with an almost 20-inch diameter trunk that Albert and Agnes Wilson had planted so many decades before on the Bailhache Avenue ranch was officially designated as a Heritage Tree. It was also recognized as being the largest chestnut tree in California. Thus a small piece of Agnes and Albert Wilson’s lasting influence on Healdsburg history was recognized, many decades after they had passed.
Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar: 11 December 1930, 12 February 1931, 21 February 1931, 7 January 1932, 16 February 1932, 14 April 1932, 23 June 1932, 1 September 1932, 29 December 1932, 14 September 1933, 10 May 1934, 9 August 1934, 21 February 1935, 26 December 1935, 29 January 1937, 13 August 1931, 8 November 1934, 14 October 1937, 14 March 1938, 27 June 1938, 27 March 1939
Healdsburg Tribune: 24 December 1929, 1 February 1930, 20 February 1930, 27 March 1930, 19 April 1930, 8 May 1930, 9 June 1930, 2 January 1931, 7 March 1931, 22 December 1931, 22 January 1932, 5 August 1932, 16 August 1932, 10 November 1932, 24 April 1933, 23 December 1936, 6 November 1935, 12 November 1936, 30 September 1937, 30 December 1937, 2 February 1939, 9 March 1939, 25 March 1949
Sotoyome Scimitar: 12 December 1929, 26 July 1934, 7 October 1937, 14 October 1937
Sonoma Democrat: 24 January 1874
s.giannini.ucop.edu by A. McCalla
Agnes Wilson probate record
JSTOR.com: “Child Development: An Historical Perspective,” journal article in “Child Development“ Vol. 27, No. 2 (June 1956) pp. 181-196
1930 US Census