While March is National Women’s History Month, Oakley is paying tribute to local women who have made the young city what it is today. Although Oakley was incorporated as a city in 1999, it was actually founded in 1897 and offers a rich history that includes contributions from both men and women.
“Women of the City of Oakley were particularly important in the establishment of early charitable, philanthropic and cultural institutions in the city,” Anderson said as she read the proclamation at last week’s meeting, which took place on March 8, International Women’s Day. “Women of the city of Oakley have been leaders not only in securing their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity, but also in the abolitionist movement, the emancipation movement, the industrial labor movement, the civil rights movement and other movements, especially the peace movement, which create a more fair and just society for all.”
National Women’s History Month originated in Northern California back in 1978, when the Sonoma Valley Unified School District decided to host a weeklong celebration of women’s contributions to history. The idea spread and in 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation declaring National Women’s History Week the week of March 8, and the celebration was extended to a full month in 1986.
Women such as Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Abigail Adams and Oprah Winfrey are often acknowledged in a long list of women who affected history, but local pioneers such as Mary O’Hara and Sarah Sellers are worthy of recognition as well.
Anderson invited Oakley residents Liberty Union High School District Trustee Joanne Byer and Oakley Elementary teacher Cindy Tumin to share stories about Oakley’s historic female figures at last week’s meeting.
Byer is a modern Oakley pioneer. As a high school district trustee, she played an instrumental role in bringing a high school to Oakley, and after more than 30 years as a representative, she told the meeting attendants that this will be her last term, ending in December of 2012.
Byer’s dedication to Oakley is a family trait. Her mother, Louise Allington, played a key role in bringing a pay phone and postal drop boxes to Oakley, both of which were deemed extraordinary conveniences for their time. Her mother was also responsible for the creation of Norcross Road, which became a more direct route to Oakley Elementary that is still used today.
Byer also noted that women in Oakley who were members of the local chapter of the Soroptimist club played an important role in Oakley and far East County’s history by hosting a fashion show fundraiser that raised enough money to purchase the Jaws of Life for the local fire department – the first of its kind in the area.
Tumin agreed: “We have a long history of women being involved in our community and we’re very proud of that.”
Tumin acknowledged Sarah Sellers, wife of Samuel Sellers, who is remembered as the first woman in California to serve on a school board, representing Oakley residents on the Iron House School District Board. She is also known as a silkworm farmer – tending as many as 30,000 silk worms at a time – who helped bring the silk industry to California.
Mary O’Hara, wife of Oakley pioneer James O’Hara, was the first president of the Ladies Improvement Club, which is now the Oakley Women’s Club. The club was formed in 1913 and helped establish the town’s first public library in 1916 at the corner of Acme and Second streets, in a building currently known as the White House.
To learn more about the history of Oakley and far East County, take a trip to the East Contra Costa Historical Museum this summer. The museum’s 2011 season kicks off on Saturday, April 2.