The saga of my Great Grandmother Agnes’ life spanned a number of major world events, and that never rang more true than in the early twentieth century. To learn about the interesting first chapters of her life please check out The Early Years, Agnes Makes a Regrettable Choice, Agnes Rejoins Healdsburg Society, A New Family for a New Century, and A Sister Found and Lost.
THE GREAT WAR
In the years leading up to the United States entering the Great War in April of 1917, Agnes and Albert Wilson had become quite active in the progressive politics of the Pomona Grange of Healdsburg. However, once the country was directly involved in the global conflict, their focus shifted. They, along with so many other citizens of Healdsburg, jumped on the patriotic bandwagon and campaigns to sell Liberty Bonds were quickly organized.
Albert Wilson was among those contributing to the initial $57,600 collected in Healdsburg during the first Bond drive in June of 1917. In October 1917, 6 months into the war, a rally for the second campaign that began with a parade and concluded with speeches at the Opera House was held in Healdsburg. California Governor William Stephens was among the luminaries who spoke at the event which resulted in over $8,000 of pledged subscriptions. Albert Wilson was listed among the donors who purchased $500 worth. The following week, after an article was published in the Healdsburg Enterprise admonishing the town for falling short of its stated goal, an additional $100 was pledged in the names of Agnes and Helen Wilson. The next spring the Wilsons bought another $200 worth of bonds during the third drive. And in the fall of 1918 there was yet another $400 subscription by the Wilsons in the fourth and final campaign.
The fund raising rallies were not shy about exploiting ugly anti-German sentiment as they urged citizens to pledge funds to prosecute “the war against the Hun.” Investments made in the first three bond drives did eventually pay off the percentages promised. But those purchased during the fourth drive, which were to become payable during the 1930s, were defaulted upon.
Fund raising during the war was not limited to the sale of Liberty Bonds. The very successful Red Cross fund drive held in May 1918 yielded over $23,600 from Healdsburg, almost triple the district quota that had been set at $9,000. The Wilsons contributed $25 toward that organization’s important work that month.
At the end of the war it became apparent that the many of the American soldiers would be remaining in Europe for an unknown duration. A coalition of seven organizations; the Knights of Columbus, the Jewish Welfare Board, the American Library Association, the Salvation Army, the War Camp Community Service, the YMCA and the YWCA joined forces to raise money for the entertainment of those troops. The Wilsons donated $15 to this noble effort.
But donating money was not the only way that Agnes was supporting the war effort. She also did her bit by maintaining correspondence with at least one of the young men from Healdsburg who had joined the fighting. He was Harold Long, son of good friends Mr. and Mrs. John Long, with whom the Wilsons frequently vacationed at Jenner. The August 10, 1918 edition of the Healdsburg Enterprise published the full contents of one of Harold’s letters sent from Charlotte, North Carolina in which he describes not only his duties as an army cook, but also the interesting fact that the Southern states marked the end of the Civil War Memorial Day not with a celebration, but rather with a solemn day of prayer.
Meanwhile, the monthly meetings of the Social Neighbors Club continued which gave the ladies living on the Southside of Healdsburg an opportunity to do their socializing, lunching, and sewing away from the disturbing events across the Atlantic Ocean.
THE ROARING TWENTIES
After the Great War ended in November 1918 life returned to normal for the Wilsons. As Agnes and Albert approached their 60s, the frequency of visits with out-of-town friends and trips to the cottage on Tomales Bay with friends and family increased. In 1919, for example, the 4th of July was celebrated in grand style at the Wilson cottage at the coast. Revelers included Mr. and Mrs. Goodrich and their sons Erwin and Wayne, Jennie Taeuffer and her son, Claude Congleton, as well as the Frey family including Herbert Frey who would soon become Agnes’ son-in-law.
On a Monday afternoon in late November 1920 after attending her classes at Healdsburg High School, 18 year-old Helen Wilson married 21 year-old Herbert Frey in Santa Rosa, California. On Tuesday, the new Mrs. Frey returned to her classes as normal. However, by the end of the day the secret was out and the young bride was being showered with congratulations. The couple soon moved to the Frey ranch near Napa leaving Agnes and Albert Wilson once again with an empty nest. Helen and Herbert welcomed daughter Fernande in April 1922 making Agnes a grandmother again just a few months before her first granddaughter, Dorothy Taeuffer would marry George Lindel Harris.
Unfortunately, the Frey union did not work out and the couple divorced. By 1924 Helen and her daughter Fernande were spending much of their time with Grandma Agnes. By the time Albert Wilson’s surprise birthday party in October 1925 rolled around, a new companion, Redding Peterson, had appeared on the scene. In May of 1926 a wedding shower was held for Helen Wilson Frey with dancing and card playing for the thirty guests. Helen married Redding Peterson in San Rafael on June 5, 1926. Mae Garrett stood up for Helen as did George Nardi for Redding. Following their honeymoon, the couple joined Agnes and Albert at the cottage in Jenner for a visit.
As the frequency of trips to the coast and visits with out-of-town friends increased, so did the parties the Wilsons hosted on Bailhache Avenue. Visitors to the ranch came from as nearby as Marin County and from as far away as Oregon State. Even Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Bailhache traveled from their new home in Vallejo to stay with the Wilsons. In 1921 a group of thirty guests assembled for Agnes and Albert’s wedding anniversary where card games were played and the happy couple was presented with an “aluminum kitchen set and two beautiful cut glass vases.”
But the increased socializing did not signal a slow-down on Albert’s interest in innovative agriculture. The August 17, 1923 issue of the Healdsburg Tribune ran an article discussing local farmers who rejected common farming practices. In it, Albert was listed as one who did not favor irrigation, preferring instead to spread Petaluma chicken manure frequently. The article described the Bailhache ranch as planted primarily in French prunes, but that “Jefferson plums, olives, pears, alligator pears, walnuts, chestnuts, apples, figs, grapes, sweet corn and potatoes, with lilacs and ‘snowballs’ for good measure” were also being grown, and all on a mere 10 acres of land.
In the last couple of years before the Great War, Agnes had left the responsibilities of serving as officer in the Pythian Sisters to the younger ladies. Once the war had ended she took up active participation in the Past Chiefs Club, which was comprised of those who had held the highest office of the local chapter. The ladies would meet monthly to socialize and to play Whist as well as the related game of Bridge which was becoming more and more popular in the US. The Past Chiefs were also responsible for arranging the annual banquets held following the installation activities for the Knights of Pythias and Pythian Sisters. In 1928 the Past Chiefs put on a pantomime reviewing past shows they had presented to the Sisters. The entertainment they provided for over one hundred Sisters in February 1929 consisted of an original play entitled “School Days Recalled.” And Agnes was featured as one of the students.
Agnes returned to active participation in the Madrona Lodge of Pythian Sisters when in October 1929 she represented the local group at the District Convention at Willits. She was subsequently installed as Press Correspondent at the December 1929 meeting where the group was entertained by a young Smith Robinson performing a clog dance. Agnes served in the same capacity the following year while also continuing with her monthly meetings of the Past Chiefs Club.
All in all, the busy Healdsburg social whirl was proceeding quite nicely when in October 1929 the Stock Market crashed and, once again, everyone’s life would be changed. Find out more details in the next chapter coming soon.