Phoebe Hearst (in Chinese robe) with ladies from the YWCA

Phoebe Apperson Hearst

George Hearst

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Phoebe Hearst and friends camping in San Simeon

Senator and Mrs. Hearst's Study, Washington D.C.

Newlywed Phebe Hearst, photograph by Morse in SF




In 1895, Phoebe (Phebe, at birth) is here on camel-back with her good friend Dr.Reisner in the Valley of the Kings.  It was during the first archaeological expedition in the Valley ever.   At her expense, the world would be explored, studied, housed and put on display and still viewed today, much of it at a museum named in her honor Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology on the University of California’s Berkeley Campus.  That Herculean contribution to history and culture is just the smallest strand of what was an extra-ordinary life full of adventure, love, wealth and influence.  By the time of this photo, she was a U.S. Senator's widow, caretaker of a vast estate, and a multi-million-heiress.

As a couple, Phoebe and George were not just in the front seat of the operation that settled the West in the late 1800's, they were driving the coach much of the time.  Yet few Americans have ever heard of them and if they have heard of them, what they were told was most likely fabricated "yellow" history or what Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument refers to as “guidisms”. 

While a tour guide at Hearst Castle and researcher for authors Vicki Kastner and Catherine Davis I became aware of just how easy it is, for some, to rewrite the past.  With access to files of Phoebe’s and her secretary’s, which were preserved by the Bancroft Library, it was possible to finally piece together her true history.  The Life and Personality of Phoebe Apperson Hearst by Winifred Bonfils has been the only published biography to focus on Phoebe to date and that book is a literal mockery of her very important life.  William, Phoebe and George’s only child, ordered Adele Brooks (Phoebe’s secretary) to turn over her biographical files immediately after his mother’s death in 1919 according to Hearst researcher, Ben Procter.   Willliam turned over those files to Winifred Bonfils aka Annie Laurie, the original sobsister with obvious orders to produce some of her famous “yellow” literature.    Winifred semi-truthfully, and completely ironically, proclaimed to an awaiting public that she had finished the biographical assignment in a matter of days despite the fact that more than eight years had elapsed since Phoebe’s death.   The unveiling of the biography of the “Fairy-Godmother of Berkeley” was held at Mills College.    Will had only one-thousand copies published and they were sent to friends and institutions, such as libraries, around the United States.  The book’s cover was designed by John Henry Nash of white leather with gold vellum stored in a velvet bag and, in this manner, held in the inner sanctums of lofty institutional libraries only seen by a lucky few.  Phoebe and George's life stories have largely remained hidden under that elaborate spell cast once upon a time, until now. 

            Since leaving the Castle’s guide staff, I have continued to write about her and I look for every opportunity to share Phoebe’s legacy and local connection to the community.  Herein is a collection of the articles written for Rancho Paso Magazine.







William Hearst 


History through Yellow-colored Glasses

            How did Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the first American woman to warrant the lowering of federal flags upon her death when she passed in Pleasanton, California on April 13, 1919, disappear so completely from our cultural and historical memory? Her philanthropy and foresight in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries should be known by every American.

While a tour guide at Hearst Castle I tripped over Phoebe Hearst quite by chance. No matter that the monument, Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, is dedicated to her and her son. Forget that the houses and gardens are filled with countless and priceless pieces from her fine collections. Despite this, the Park’s guides and its guests know next to nothing about a great lady whose largesse and compassionate vision helped shape a young America and a new California. The mystery of Phoebe Apperson Hearst’s disappearance from the annals of history has roots far beyond the boundaries of the San Simeon Ranch, which she and her husband bought in 1863, now the coastal location of Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument aka Hearst Castle.

I undertook specific research into Phoebe’s life, as an experienced guide, when I was asked by a guest on one of my tours about an obscure little plaque embedded into the Main Terrace in front of the Castle. New castle guides receive months of training on everything on the property, from the types of pipes used in the buildings to the historical periods represented by the art on the monument’s grounds, no one had discussed the dedication plaque installed in 1958. I would become a trainer for State Park employees and an acknowledged researcher in one of Vicki Kastner’s books and an unpublished work by the late Catherine Davis for UC Press when I shared the information I found while researching that plaque. It reads:


Presented to the State of California

in 1958 by the Hearst Corporation,

in memory of William Randolph

Hearst, who created this Enchanted

Hill, and of his mother, Phoebe

Apperson Hearst, who inspired it.”


The plaque credits Phoebe with inspiring the castle.  It does not say she inspired her son and by all accounts, she did not inspire her son.  But she did inspire the architect, Julia Morgan.  William Randolph Hearst began construction of Hearst Castle in 1919 after the death of his mother when, as the only child, he inherited the family fortune.   The public is told that the castle and its elaborate guest- houses were to be a residence for himself and his companion, Marion Davies. He was involved in the film industry as well as the newspaper business and no doubt, wanted an eye-popping place to entertain. He left his wife and five sons in the East, well provided for, in other elaborate homes. After William’s death, the property was deeded to California, becoming a State Park in 1958.

I discovered that Phoebe Hearst wanted the construction of a memorial after her death. She had specific plans drawn up to have her art collection permanently displayed in an especially designed gallery at the heart of the campus of California’s first public university, where she had a home and where her beneficence had earned her immortal devotion. William abruptly cancelled those plans after her death and instead he commissioned that cancelled project’s designated architect, Julia Morgan, a friend and protégé of Phoebe, to design and build Hearst Castle. Julia Morgan stayed unwaveringly committed to this isolated project and its difficult client for more than twenty-eight years, no doubt, because of her devotion to Phoebe and her intention to make the Castle a memorial for her mentor.

Hearst Castle is a nationally-credited house museum displaying countless objects d’art collected from around the world by Phoebe and her son. It is visited by approximately 750,000 international visitors a year and interpreted correctly, the castle and its collection could be a fitting tribute to Phoebe’s interest in art and culture from many places and eras and her desire to preserve past civilizations for the purpose of education. A love of art and history and its preservation was but a fraction her life and Phoebe fully appreciated that an adequate biography would be needed in order to tell the complete story of her and her husband’s achievements; once again her wishes were not carried out according to plan.

If not for 21st century research tools and the digitization of historical documents, the truth would still be hidden in the archives.   But now we can celebrate one of the women, not only responsible for founding the PTA, but for putting kindergartens in public schools.  She funded the first archaeological expedition in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and underwrote the first university scholarships for women in California; the “Phoebes” which are still awarded to this day.   She paid for much of Helen Keller’s education, saved Mt. Vernon for historical posterity and remarkably these monumental contributions to our modern world just skim the surface of Phoebe Hearst’s very influential life.

She was also, and most proudly, the first female regent of the University of California, replacing Charles Crocker after his death in 1895 and serving until her own passing. It was this political position that warranted the lowering of federal flags when she died, one of the many victims of the influenza epidemic, in 1919 surrounded by loved ones, after a lifetime of service her last words were “I am ready to go”.   Even that utterance, like everything Phoebe did, was loaded with meaning and sentiment and a concern for those around her.  Viva Phoebe!

First Lady of the American West



Phoebe Elizabeth Apperson was born in rural Missouri on December 3, 1842. Her parents, as children with their families, had arrived in the fertile Midwest valley and settled along with the others in the 1820’s. Her neighborhood marked the furthermost progress in the growing boundaries of a young America and her birth foretold a greater expansion no one could have imagined.

Aside from the occasional visit from a friend or family member and the weekly trip to Sunday school, young Phoebe’s days were filled with chores and lessons. Phoebe enjoyed reading more than any other activity. The travelling ministers would bring books in their saddle bags to these rural district settlers and Phoebe would devour everything they could carry. She was even known to churn butter with one hand while holding a book with the other.

When a family friend returned from the gold fields of California in 1861, Phoebe’s young life took a dramatic turn. Phoebe, not easily impressed with suitors according to local lore, was smitten with this older and accomplished adventurer. George Hearst more than 20 years her senior was equally taken by a woman he had last seen whilst still a young girl when he left home on horseback to find his fortune in 1850 on the heels of the 49ers. George’s discoveries of gold, silver and copper at Ophir, Comstock, and Anaconda had already put California and the Far West on the American map before statehoods made it official.

Phoebe’s imagination knew no boundary and she had desired more education than her rural area provided.  At nineteen, she was already the teacher in the district’s one room schoolhouse. Previous to her teaching assignment, she served as governess in a nearby town for a French family that operated the local steel mill. While serving as governess, she learned French and never lost her love for the language or the culture. Much later in her life, Phoebe kept an apartment in Paris half of each year while she financially and personally supported many American students in the arts and sciences, including architect Julia Morgan. Only an occasional daydream had taken her to the distant, but according to neighbors’ tales and friends’ letters, reachable paradise on the Gold coast of America. After a very short courtship and despite her family’s protests, George and Phoebe married June 14, 1862 and in September for the first time Phoebe left Missouri. She was off to that coast of her dreams, where her new husband had many friends awaiting their arrival.

The long trip began with a train from Missouri to New York. They then caught a ship to Panama. Their trip across Panama by train made the boonies of Phoebe’s youth seem quite civilized. Then another ship finally brought them to their adopted home state and to Phoebe’s first sight of San Francisco. Phoebe eternally romanticized the thrill when she caught her first glimpse of Russian Hill. In 1915 Phoebe would help organize the celebration of the opening of the Panama Canal when she was the Honorary President of the Women’s Committee for the Panama Pacific International Exposition. Phoebe’s immense support of that one event, while already in her 70’s, is so voluminous that it is the subject of a book entitled “Problems Women Solved”, and they did!

The new couple’s welcome after their long sojourn was a raucous one. San Francisco of 1862 was a city where George Hearst was already a famous success and a celebrity to poor and rich alike. Known for not only his geological prowess which has remained legendary, George Hearst was also known for his incredible charity, his sharp wit and a total fidelity to old friends and family. Phoebe’s dreams had come true; she had found the prince of her novellas, the fortune of her fantasies and a geographical paradise that surpassed anything she had read or imagined. She was only twenty years old, and it was just the beginning.

The following year, in 1863, Phoebe gave birth to their one and only child, William Randolph Hearst. As anyone in the world can well imagine, her hands were full from the beginning. She, and her husband, were partly responsilbe as they spoiled him beyond belief (held his 10th birthday several days in a row because he wanted it, etc.), continuing in to adulthood when they bought him the newspapers and magazines that made him powerful, and formed all the connections with the luminaries of the 19th century that made Hearst media famous.

George Hearst was well connected politically in California. He had served in the State Senate and stayed active in the political game after his term in office when he became owner/editor of the San Francisco Examiner. When a United States Senator from California, John Miller, died in Washington D.C. in 1886, Governor Stone appointed George to finish the term. George won a consecutive term in his own right. Newspaper articles and oral histories illuminate the breadth of the Hearst influence while the couple lived and entertained in the nation’s capitol.

One story delightfully brings home the influence that this unique crossroads of largesse and hospitality had on American culture, as told by one of their long-term houseguests the young Helen Hillyer.  While the new Senator and his wife were living in New York, waiting for their newly purchased home in D.C. to be remodeled, the butler Robert Turner brought Senator Hearst an introduction card anonymously inscribed “ It is now proposed to further discuss the robbery” .  Knowing that the author Mark Twain, of recent Huck Finn success and an old friend, was in need of a printing press the Senator said “let Mr. Clemens in”. Hearst and Clemens knew each other from Early California days and entertained everyone, at that dinner party and many others, with tales of their hot times in the Golden, and Silver West.

In the recently released Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I you can read the account where Mr.Twain gives credit to George Hearst for influencing his independent (non partisan) political opinions. Imagine! As one might expect from the humorist, he did have one complaint with Hearst hospitality. As a guest one evening for dinner in their D.C. home, Mr.Twain noticed that while he and Phoebe and her guests were being served a fine five-course French meal, Mr. Hearst was being served his especially prepared ribs, hominy and grits. The fellow Missourian made clear his desire to be served the same on any future visit.

Fairy Godmother of American Education




Phoebe Apperson Hearst, UC Regent and Benjamin Ide Wheeler,  UC President at University of California Commencement at Berkeley, 1913

Phoebe Hearst knew that the road to personal independence, and occasionally wealth, begins with a good education. Her immense love of learning combined with her husband’s limitless resources created some of our Country’s most influential and endearing educational institutions before Phoebe had the right to vote. From kindergarten to graduate school and at all points in between this invisible woman’s influence is felt by every American student.

Phoebe’s first job was as a tutor, then a teacher, in Meramac, Missouri a town that neighbored her rural home. From that position, at the age of nineteen, she was whisked away to our continent’s wild Barbary Coast to San Francisco, California and the sudden life of wife and mother. In the California of 1862, women were rare and children even more so. Despite that, Phoebe raised William Randolph Hearst to be an educated and progressive member of society. One could certainly argue, in fact many have written, that the future famous publisher always carried a bit of San Francisco’s “pioneer” spirit with him throughout his life. Her concern for children and society extended, fortunately for the rest of us, beyond the porch of their first family home on Lombard Street.

Because of Phoebe’s capable background and her young son’s temperament most of William’s schooling was done at home or abroad with her at his side. But this did not limit her interest and faith in public schools. Public kindergarten was not even considered in those days and the private kindergartens that did exist, in the larger areas, existed only thanks to charity. Phoebe Hearst, along with Sarah B. Cooper, was committed to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Association and supported the classes for students and the training for their teachers from their inception. Federal support for this institution for 5-year olds only became available when Phoebe, in Washington D.C., made it happen.

As a Senator’s wife, Phoebe entertained the Secretary (then Commissioner) of Education, the Honorable William Torrey Harris, and proposed a new and younger year in the public school system. She argued the importance of bringing in the young children of non-English speaking immigrants as early as possible into the American system creating an English speaking bridge for the entire family. The Secretary accepted her offer to finance a model, Columbia Kindergarten Association, to be observed by Congress and with her urging they accepted this introductory year into our public school system. When she inquired of the Secretary years later as to how many of the kindergarten teachers in the current education system had been trained in her post graduate classes, his answer was “90 percent”.

When Phoebe was in Washington D.C., her personality and entertainment prowess brought her in frequent contact with the most powerful people in the city.   President Cleveland and his young wife were the first First family to get married in the White House and the first to have babies while in office.  Phoebe had a most powerful and eager ally in First Lady Frances Cleveland or as her friends (and the adoring public) called her “Frankie”. When Phoebe co-founded a new organization with Alice Birney, a Congress of Mothers, she invited them to D.C. for their first national conference. The First Lady invited them to the White House and with this extra-special invitation turned their expected guest list of two hundred to a quick two thousand and today the PTA has that first meeting to thank for being the largest, oldest and one of the most influential volunteer organizations in the United States. Phoebe gave large sums of money to many worthy organizations but never without "input". When she met with Alice Birney regarding the financing of the Congress of Mothers Phoebe advised her to change its name and membership to include men and teachers, hence the Parents and Teachers Association. Phoebe understood very well in 1897 that nothing would be accomplished in Washington D.C., or anywhere else, if the men were not invited and involved. This woman who grew up in the boonies knew what she was talking about!

Phoebe also understood that education should not end at high school graduation. She earned the immortal moniker “Fairy Godmother” for her good works on the first public university campus in California, Berkeley. Her first investment there was an endowment for the first scholarships for women in the state of California which are still handed out today and referred to endearingly as the “Phoebes”. Her concerns for the new female students on the campus were the reason she invited her friend Thomas Edison to Berkeley. She required his talents to install electric lamps along the walk from the library to the women’s dormitories to assure their safety after late night studies.

A few years later, Phoebe sponsored an architectural competition that rebuilt the entire Berkeley campus in the likeness of the East coast and European universities she had visited and admired.  When Phoebe began her philanthropy on the campus in 1891 it consisted of seven buildings on a patch of land crossed by dirt paths.  Eventually, her largesse and vision brought California and the academic world a modern Athens of the West.  She paid the professors’ salaries, donated vast collections and countless other contributions. She even built a house for herself on the campus designed by Bernard Maybeck and fit for a Fairy Godmother. She used this fantastical hall to entertain the female students at least bi-weekly with food and entertainment. These young women may have never caught on that the entertainments were an intrinsic part of their unique Berkeley (California) education.

Hearst Hall at UC Berkeley (left) Wyntoon at Mount Shasta(right), two unique yet similar commissions for PAH by Bernard Maybeck

Phoebe’s desire for preservation of the past, however, is what offered our society, as a whole, its greatest opportunity for an education. Phoebe had come from one world to another, as it were, from her childhood in Missouri to an adulthood surrounded by all the wealth and power of the world. Phoebe understood that only the lessons of our collective past would enable us to conquer the potential of our future. This is probably the reason that civilizations, here and abroad, were studied meticulously by professors on Phoebe’s payroll beginning in 1895 with an expedition by one of her personal physicians, Dr.Pepper from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Native civilizations from Florida to Italy, Colorado to Greece were studied and collected by him and future anthropologists hired by Phoebe. The only Egyptian Medical Papyrus that exists on the North American continent (one of 8 medical papyri in the world) is named for an expedition that Phoebe funded, the first to explore the Valley of the Kings, when it was found. The ancient treatments described on the scroll are the basis for much of the medical teachings young doctors receive today. Today that Papyrus and a third of everything that her teams of archaeologists collected on their missions (per Phoebe’sadvice)became the property of the University of California and can be found at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology on the Berkeley Campus. The museum is understood to house the finest collection of anthropological finds this side of the Mississippi.



Sekhmet, goddess of fire, war, love, dance and mediciene, crowns an Egyptian-themed fountain off of the Main Terrace designed by Phoebe protégé, Julia Morgan, architect of Hearst Castle.



Fairy Godmother of American History

Adolphe Thiers, Lafayette and Washington at Mount Vernon

The Hearst name has taken a place in American history books for decades but not for the achievements that Phoebe and George Hearst would have expected. Instead of mining discoveries and educational philanthropies, the family name has become synonymous with their son William’s yellow journalism, international meddling, open marriage and extravagant seaside home.

Phoebe and George had witnessed first-hand some of America’s largest struggles and finest accomplishments from the front seat. In fact, they were not mere spectators but active participants on both coasts in the early years of our young Country’s growth and they left indelible marks everywhere. Alas history is written by the survivors and William Randolph Hearst determined, for reasons not understood to date, that the herculean feats of his parents should be buried inside yellow accounts of their lives. These oft-cited tomes were privately published and personally disseminated by William to a limited number of friends and institutions. It took the onset of the internet age to be able to locate the information necessary to reconnect the dots of the original Hearsts’ fantastic history. How ironic that Phoebe so admired the history and artifacts of all cultures, particularly American, and that she spent so much of her own forgotten life endeavoring to preserve all that she could.


As a young girl, Phoebe pored over books of all kinds, and was an avid student, and a teacher to students in Missouri and her own son, of the history that surrounded and preceded her. When she grew older and gained experience on her own shores and abroad she began to appreciate the responsibility that was placed upon those in power of the purse (and the government) to preserve the feats of our past and the legacies of those that accomplished them. Phoebe threw herself into all levels of historical preservation at points around the globe including the first expedition to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Two of America’s earliest and most beloved monuments have their present status thanks in large part to Phoebe’s influence. Her philanthropy and direction are responsible for the Washington National Cathedral and George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon.

According to its website Washington National Cathedral is “a grand spiritual center where Americans unite to worship and pray, mourn the passing of world leaders, and confront the pressing moral and social issues of the day”.   Phoebe’s interest in the monument however was her desire to build a school for the young daughters of diplomats assigned to our Nation’s Capital. She had been looking for a location for the school along the east coast when she heard of the desire to build a Cathedral in D.C. She immediately offered the money to purchase the property if they, in exchange, would agree to build her desired school next door. They quickly accepted her conditional donation and the groundbreaking was conducted by President McKinley with the Cross of Peace being erected, in the place where it still stands, to commemorate the end of the Spanish War. Phoebe attended the school’s graduation ceremonies annually and in 1917, at the age of 74, she was made an honorary graduate. A stunning portrait with an incredible likeness painted by her dear friend Orrin Peck, hangs prominently in the school’s entrance. When George Washington laid the plans for the capital of his country, it included a great university and a great church. Once Phoebe helped fulfill a part of that long-delayed dream of George Washington, she laid her sights, her money and decades of time into restoring and preserving his beloved home at Mount Vernon.

Phoebe’s service as a Vice-Regent on the historical monument’s council began during her husband’s years in the U.S. Senate and continued until her death and to this day she remains one of the most remembered conservators in the home’s long history. When asked by the Bishop William Nichols in 1917 whether California had ever done anything for Mount Vernon, the Superintendent Mr. Dodge replied “A California lady has done more than any one person in the Country”. Since Phoebe's first visit at council she sought to provide, not just a better historical preservation of the former home of the Nation’s first president ,but a better habitation for the many employees that worked there.

George Washington’s former plantation is a 43 acre property accessible (before the automobile) by the Potomac River. There was a grave danger to employees due to the swamp-induced malaria at the front door. For their protection, Phoebe paid to drain the swamp, built a sea wall to hold the water back and covered its wharf at the riverfront entrance for the comfort of guests. Phoebe personally sought out original pieces of furniture from the historic home that over the years had been sold into other hands and paid top dollar to bring them back to her hero’s homestead. She covered the cost to connect the home to the Washington D.C. exchange telephone service and then covered the cost of service for five years in advance.   She once again brought her personal friend into her philanthropic endeavors and invited Thomas Edison to fit the former President’s home with electrical wiring, even to the objection of many of the women on the council. Fortunately, Phoebe’s respected common sense prevailed when she implored the women of the danger of fire with the home’s former kerosene provided light.

Few stories reveal the diversity of resources extended by that “fairy godmother” Phoebe Apperson Hearst than one found in Elswyth Thane’s book Mount Vernon: The Legacy. It includes an anecdote about a last minute visit to Washington’s estate by Spanish royalty . In 1913, with little notice, the aunt of the young King Alphonso XIII, Infanta Eulalie, arrived at Mount Vernon accompanied by the Secretary of State (William Jennings Bryan) on Mount Vernon’s regularly chartered boat. In order to arrive ahead of the guests, Phoebe lent her swift yacht Vamoose to the ladies and they arrived in plenty of time to greet the special guests. During her visit, Phoebe was among the few women who could make the princess feel at home by speaking with her in her native French tongue.

Today Phoebe’s love of knowledge and its preservation is shared in a Learning Center named for her at Mount Vernon, the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Learning Center. In the twenty-first century, Phoebe’s foresight gives students and visitors from all over the world the ability to read digitized versions of America’s founding documents.


Fairy Godmother of American Beauty

William Keith “Dean of California Painters”. Keith’s most influential patron was PAH

The portrait of Phoebe that still hangs in the entrance of the National Cathedral’s School for Girls in Washington D.C. was placed there over a hundred years ago. It was painted when Phoebe Apperson Hearst was 68 years old by a 33 year-old artist whom she had known since his birth. She made her first voyage to the West coast, over the future Panama Canal, with Orrin Peck’s mother and older siblings in 1862. Phoebe Hearst in later years paid to send him abroad to Germany for his formal training in portrait and landscape painting. Throughout various seasons of Orrin’s life he lived in a separate guest building at Wyntoon, a castle right out of a fairy tale and was known fondly as the "jester" for his jovial personality. The house at the base of Mt. Shasta, along the river of the same name, is the only residence built by Phoebe still owned by the Hearst family. Orrin Peck’s personal correspondence is housed at The Huntington Library in Southern California and it reveals a very close relationship between him and his patron. He referred to her often as his “other mother” and his nickname for her was “Rosebud”. This intimate relationship was not unusual in the course of this very special godmother’s generous and global philanthropy.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst’s life was a canvas. Even before she took control of the Hearst family fortune after the death of her husband in 1891, Phoebe had been very independent. She was a well traveled student of the Old World and a builder of the New . Her voluminous letters home, as a young wife, included detailed accounts of the modern contraptions she studied at various international exhibitions across Europe. These descriptions were of utmost interest to her innovative husband. Senator George Hearst not only sat in the highest halls of federal power on our Country’s East coast, he mined and managed the wealthiest enterprises on the West coast. When he died suddenly of cancer in 1891, Phoebe conjured her vast experience and education to manage a vast estate of millions that her husband had seen fit to leave in her steady hands. No single American man or woman, before or since, has expended their fortune as a currency to purchase beauty, and preserve it, more successfully than Phoebe Apperson Hearst.

Although our State’s first public University would become Phoebe’s home court when she became its first female regent, Berkeley would not be the only birthplace of Phoebe’s countless protégés. She found compatriots worldwide in her pursuit of art and inspiration. A beautiful fountain sits in the courtyard of the Main House at Hearst Castle. Within the fountain sits a beautiful statue, Galatea on a Dolphin. It was commissioned by Phoebe and carved out of marble in 1882 in Italy by Italian sculptor Leopoldo Ansiglioni. Everyone knows that the statue sat, at one time, in Phoebe’s garden in Pleasanton. What is less widely known is that Phoebe sat as a model for Ansiglioni. Her bust, carved by Leopoldo, sits in the entrance of the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology in Berkeley. In fact, according to one of my fellow tour guides that is fluent in Italian, there is an interview (in Italian) with the artist that she has read in the archives at Hearst Castle where Ansiglioni discusses how Phoebe was the model for Galatea riding the dolphin. Italian sculpture was one of many artistic mediums that Phoebe helped put into larger circulation.

In 1892, Phoebe Hearst went to Spain to be part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, the Columbian Celebration. She made many friends among the Spanish people and Spanish royalty. In private audience Phoebe met with Queen Christina, the mother of the future King Alfonso XIII. Alfonso was only six at the time and his mother, Maria Christina of Austria was head of State until he became of age at sixteen. It was at this time that Phoebe became especially interested in Spanish art and architecture [an interest which she never lost and an influence that permeates Hearst Castle thanks to its architect, and Phoebe’s protégé, Julia Morgan]. Numerous associations with Spain and with the Spanish people made the Spanish-American War [that her son started “you provide the pictures, I’ll provide the war”] an especially painful time for Phoebe. Perhaps, that is why she embraced an opportunity to do something really memorable for the Spanish people and for the literature of Spain. The Complete Work of Cervantes in Spanish, at her expense was printed, by Rudolph Scheville. So important is Cervantes work to the Spanish language it is commonly referred to as la lengua de Cervantes. It was the work of American artists and authors that most interested Phoebe.

Daniel Chester French, an American sculptor, is best known for the likeness he sculpted of Abraham Lincoln that sits in the Lincoln memorial in our Nation’s Capitol. The first time that French was brought to the attention of American public was at Phoebe’s suggestion in 1886 for a much smaller commission. Phoebe and one of her fellow (Senate) spouses, Jane Stanford, were co-chairing the George Washington Memorial Society. The society was tasked with presenting the country of France a “thank-you gift” for the Statue of Liberty, which had been presented to the United States a year earlier and was now an icon in the New York harbor. His life size equestrian statue of our Nation’s first president is still on display today in the centre of Paris.

Phoebe absolutely adored sculpture. She collected pieces that were banned elsewhere (such as Boston) and displayed them proudly in her home and courtyard. One of her favorite sculptors was Weinman. Descending Night is a popular piece by German-American sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman and a popularly sold copy sits in the Assembly Room of the Castle. He is best remembered for his artistry on the Walking Liberty Half-dollar and Mercury dime. He worked on the Jefferson Memorial and the Supreme Court Building. He also carved a bas relief in bronze of Phoebe, perhaps as a gift of thanks for all her many commissions. That likeness of her still hangs in Wyntoon, a Hearst estate. Scores of artists (and scientists) in every field received a helping hand from the generous lady out West.


PAH, Ansiglioni, UC Berkeley                          Galatea on a Dolphin, Ansiglioni        

Madonna of the West        


Madonna of the West (Charles Grafly, sculptor) in the Palace of Fine Arts (Bernard Maybeck, architect) during the PPIE, 1915

Phoebe Hearst’s roles as California’s favorite hostess, most generous financier and honored diplomat collided for the fortune of her adopted state when San Francisco was selected by Congress as the site for the Panama Pacific International Exposition. This celebration of Balboa’s historic discovery of the Pacific and the more recent opening of the Panama Canal was to be held for almost the entire year of 1915. Phoebe’s reputation got her an invitation, along with President Taft, to participate in the groundbreaking ceremonies on October 14, 1911.   In turn with other luminaries, Phoebe threw a historical shovelful of dirt into the keepsake box in front of a cheering crowd of thousands. A huge stage was about to be built on which San Francisco would entertain the world, proving that the city had not only recovered from her calamity but was ready to join the ranks of the world’s finest cities.

Just a few years earlier San Francisco had suffered a near mortal blow with the 1906 earthquake and succeeding fires. The perfect opportunity for economic and spiritual renewal arrived when the city was suggested as a host for the upcoming World’s Fair, or Exposition being hosted by the United States. In 1907, Phoebe’s son, William Randolph Hearst, was a Representative from New York in the U.S. Congress and with a little prodding from his mother, no doubt, led the majority on a vote for the site of the Exposition to be held in San Francisco rather than New Orleans. The Panama Pacific International Exposition (P.P.I.E ) would exceed everyone’s expectations and even set the record for the largest number of people congregated together on the West Coast up to that point.

Anyone familiar with San Francisco can attest to the ethereal aura of its Palace of Fine Arts. As a young military wife living on the Presidio of San Francisco I frequently took my three sons there because the “Exploratorium”, a hands-on museum for children, was housed in the building. Both the interior and exterior of this historical place has a beauty that words can barely describe. So imagine my surprise when I was told by a fellow military wife, that the Palace was built as a temporary structure for a ‘fair’ almost a hundred years ago. She continued that it was intended to be demolished along with the rest of the Exposition in 1916 but for some reason not widely known it was spared. Crazier still, I would only find out the reason why this building designed by Bernard Maybeck might have been preserved while researching Phoebe in my duties as an official castle guide at a California State monument decades later.

Phoebe was chosen as the honorary president of the Women’s Board of the PPIE, serving alongside Mrs. Sanborn (Helen Peck), the actual president of the board. Helen, along with her brother Orrin, her mother and two other sisters traveled with George and Phoebe Hearst over the isthmus of Panama on their trek from the east to the west coast in 1862 and had been under Phoebe’s wing ever since. By 1915 Helen Peck Sanborn was a San Francisco society woman and a philanthropist in her own right when elected as the Women’s Board’s President. She served faithfully until her husband became fatally ill in the final months of the Exposition. Phoebe promptly took over the business of the Women’s Board entirely. Phoebe was involved in every aspect of the planning, fundraising and even the displays at the exposition. Her personality demanded knowledge of every detail and she made certain that no plan failed for lack of funding. Phoebe’s finest and most consuming role, however, was as diplomat-in-chief of the Exposition.

Over the course of the three years between the groundbreaking in October 1911 and opening day February 20, 1915, Phoebe entertained thousands of foreign dignitaries in her luxurious homes at Wyntoon and Pleasanton in an effort to woo the world’s enthusiastic participation despite the War that was brewing. The book Problems Women Solved by Anna Pratt Simpson prints the guest lists. It is a virtual international who’s who of powerful people and celebrities of the early twentieth century. Her elaborate entertainments continued through the entire Exposition. She rented an entire floor of the St.Francis in San Francisco and entertained many guests there as well.

Phoebe Hearst earned the moniker “Fairy Godmother” in most everything she did. The PPIE is no exception. Its theme was "The Dream City". It was intended to represent San Francisco’s other-worldly rise from the ashes. The art and sculpture abounded, Bernard Maybeck and other world class architects designed the buildings in pastel hues with travertine walls. Even the sand that lined the paths was burned in a kiln to match the hue of the travertine. The lighting of the Exposition was like none before it and would set the standard for all others to follow. Instead of the strings of lights that are so familiar in a carnival setting, spotlights were strategically placed to create light and atmosphere. The architectural centerpiece of the grounds (635 acres) was the Tower of Jewels. It rose to 435 feet and was covered with over 120,000 dangling pieces of hand cut jewel-colored bohemian glass backed with mirrors. The 3/4 to 2 inch colored "gems" sparkled in sunlight throughout the day and were illuminated by over 50 powerful electrical searchlights positioned in the San Francisco Bay at night with an additional barge emitting fog to carry the light at those rare moments when Mother Nature was not providing the fog herself.

It was a particular pet project of Phoebe’s that is perhaps the reason that the Palace of Fine Arts was preserved as a beautiful memory of that fairy tale event forever. Phoebe had led a drive throughout the state to raise money for a statue, “Pioneer Mother”. It represented the forward vision and protective nature of the woman making her family’s home out West. She led a drive among the State’s school children (and their families) to put up a penny each which paid for the statue, commissioned by Charles Grafly. Referred to by many as the Madonna of the West the statue sat in one of the Exposition’s most prominent locations at the center of the Palace of Fine Arts. The larger than life statue is still on display in San Francisco, but now in Golden Gate Park, making the palace and the statue all that now remain of that fabled Dream City.

In the months leading up to the Exposition Phoebe penned her only known published piece for the short-lived California Magazine entitled “A Field for Women’s Activities”. It was another one of her many efforts to entice the world to the fair and to her adopted State. For all of us who have made a home here it is a restatement of the obvious appeal of California that few have ever put into such beautiful words.



Phoebe Apperson Hearst breaking ground for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1911





The YWCA takes hold in the West                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Phoebe Apperson Hearst with shy protégé Julia Morgan, architect of Hearst Castle and Asilomar, at Asilomar.  Photo undated  (Cal.Hist.Soc.)

From the beginning of her philanthropic work, Phoebe Apperson Hearst was interested in the Young Men’s and the Young Women’s Christian Associations, both in California and in Washington D.C.. She saw first-hand, as the first female regent of our State’s first university system, the importance of the organization. American parents of the late 19th century were understandably concerned about sending their daughters off the farm or out of town for their education in the big city. The YWCA offered hospitality and direction to these young independent women on all American campuses, including Berkeley.

By 1911, Phoebe was participating in the summer camps of the YWCA and began to realize more and more fully that the general public did not understand how beneficial these organizations were to American citizens. To most, the Y meant religious exercises and missionaries, but Phoebe was determined to give a wider publicity to their work. In 1912 a fire took down the California Y extension’s summer meeting place, the Hotel Capitola in Santa Cruz. Phoebe transmuted the tragedy by displaying her seemingly boundless hospitality and that ‘golden’ flair for publicity when she hosted their Western Conference at her home that spring. With that one deed, Phoebe endowed Americans with another beautiful and permanent institution for men and women for generations to come.

Phoebe assumed all expenses of 1912’s ten-day encampment that took place on her estate in Pleasanton at the Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, with the agreement that those in attendance would pay the normal sum they paid the Hotel Capitola of one dollar a night, or $10 each for the girls attending the entire session. This money was held as the nucleus for a fund to establish a permanent camp for the new Western Conference of the YWCA.

Phoebe had a tent city built on a hill a couple of hundred feet above her home, under a beautiful sloping grove of old oaks, that ranged in age from one hundred to three hundred years old. The contractor who had put up many of the subsidiary buildings on her vast estate built the campsite. Their starting point was a very large platform to hold a great tent that had been used often for picnics, barbecues at Fourth of July and other summer anniversaries at the Hacienda. It was large enough to seat approximately 350 people. In the shade of the trees, within an easy radius of the main tent, was constructed 73 small tents, each large enough for four girls. Inside each of the red and white striped tents were placed four comfortable iron beds, mattresses, and other furnishings as well as electricity and running water. A huge dining room was arranged with kitchens and refrigerators and every provision needed for supplying diverse and abundant meals, three times a day.

Their months of planning and hard work resulted in a picturesque and accommodating camp, with views that included the beautiful Livermore valley and a low range of hills on the opposite side. Phoebe purchased the tents, the beds and all the other furniture that was used, as well the equipment needed for the dining room and kitchen. She intended to donate, and did donate, all of this to the Western Conference of the National Y Organization. Attendees of the following year’s encampment in 1913, and many thereafter, stayed in those same tents that had been relocated to the newly-built, permanent site of the Western YWCA at Asilomar near Pebble Beach, California. The Social Hall was one of those first permanent buildings ready for 1913 and is named for Phoebe. Thousands of people, every year, are fed and educated at Asilomar under another quiet legacy of Phoebe Hearst.

The conference was held from May 17- 27, 1912. Phoebe promised everyone that Northern California rains would be over by then and attendees would be able to count on beautiful, dry weather. She secured the services of the steward of the infamous Bohemian Club for the period of the conference, and under his direction arrangements for the catering for approximately 350 people were made. They contracted for the supply from adjacent farms and orchards, for the necessary amount of beef, lamb, pork, and poultry, together with fresh fruit and vegetables, hundreds of dozens of eggs, hundreds of cans of milk and tons of butter. From San Francisco Phoebe ordered the necessary additional supplies of groceries, ice and etc. Phoebe had at her disposal a large number of automobiles, carriages and other conveyances that were in the great stable and the garages on the place. More was needed and she hired the services of others from nearby and by the middle of May every necessary arrangement had been made.

When the first day of the Conference arrived, a special train brought the whole company, leaders and delegates, to the little flag station of Hacienda, which was a public train station on the private grounds of Mrs.Hearst. Her automobiles met them there. In addition to the many leaders who were staying in the house, there was the usual number of house guests and family, and so every day at luncheon and dinner the great dining room had over 30 persons at the table. YWCA delegates were invited down from the hill, daily, to either lunch or dinner at the Hacienda, while the same number of houseguests would be invited up to join the Conference in the dining tent on the hill. The delegates in attendance at the camp included girls from various California colleges; Pomona College, Stanford, University of California, the University of the Pacific, and Southern California were among them. There were Japanese and Chinese, and American Indian girls among them.

Phoebe’s plan for publicity was always priority number one during the ten day camp. She had connections with the publishing world, and reporters from all the papers were made welcome at her estate during the Conference. Everyday an article was printed about the lectures or the services or whatever else might be going on. Phoebe’s laser focus was fully in play, and Americans in the twenty-first century continue to benefit from her foresight.

In addition to the Y’s regular meetings while encamped at Phoebe Hearst’s estate May 1912, the girls arranged three very beautiful pageants on the hill. Phoebe had trunks full of beautiful costumes of different nations; Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Swedish, French, Dutch and Indian that she had bought either abroad or in this country and she allowed the girls to use them. On these special Pageant Days Phoebe entertained her friends from San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. Sixty to seventy guests would arrive by train and then be treated to a luncheon on the hill. The beef was barbecued and the girls would make home-made ice cream; they had a professional cook and pastry cook and the meals were worth the visit alone. After the visitors watched the Pageant, they would attend a tent meeting where the association was explained, and then taken home.

Throughout the encampment a small number of the girls would occasionally be brought down to Phoebe’s house to spend the afternoon. They were personally escorted by members of her household through the Hacienda, and shown the exquisite tapestries, pictures, books, and other objects d’art. After touring the home they would stroll through the gardens, which were in full bloom with flowers of all kinds, and then ended with a visit and (if they chose) a plunge into the great swimming tank built under a glass roof, which had been designed by Julia Morgan for William Randolph Hearst’s five sons who spent much of their childhood with Grandma. The tours continued many times daily until all the women had been given the opportunity to visit the house.

After several days of beautiful weather, at about 3 o’clock one morning, Phoebe was startled wide awake by the dripping rain which she had promised would never come at that time of the year. There would be no more sleep for her. As soon as it was daylight she woke everyone and sent to Pleasanton for all the umbrellas and rubbers in the place. Extra comforters, extra sweaters, extra blankets, they were all taken up on the hill.

What Phoebe thought a calamity, became a perfect delight to the girls. Every possible provision for making them comfortable was made immediately. The tents already were watertight, except in a few cases, and fortunately the rain did not last long. The delight to the girls was that up until now they had been forbidden to start camp fires because of the dryness of everything at that time of the year and the number of trees and tents made the idea of a big campfire an even greater danger. Now with the ground drenched and the trees wet, Phoebe felt that it was perfectly safe, and beautiful great big camp fires were built around which the girls gathered each evening until everything was dry. They had their songs all the time, even wrote a few, and had lots of music. A doctor that camped with the girls reported at the end of the conference that there was less sickness through that camp than they had any record of at any previous conference. One reason that this doctor particularly mentioned was that the girls had been so beautifully fed.

There were many administrative people, representing the international Y organization, at the Hacienda during the ten days of the Western Conference. They came from New York and various places throughout the United States; there was even an attendee from Canada. Each afternoon, up on the hill, they would attend a service and a talk and Phoebe’s fleet of automobiles, something still a novelty in 1912, would take everybody at the Hacienda who wanted to go up to those services.

A young man from Southern California, who was engaged to one of the girls, wrote up a personal letter to Phoebe and enclosed a small check. He asked her if she would be kind enough with this money to see that a bunch of flowers was given to his fiance every other morning while she was there! When you consider that Phoebe had 350 people to look after and entertain -- but every other day during the girl’s stay, a bunch of flowers was sent to the girl’s tent. Phoebe had a soft spot for love and romance and in fact, was known of something of a matchmaker throughout her life. The only one it seemed she could never influence was her strong-willed son, William. In fact, when Phoebe found out about his affair with Marion Davies a few years later, she changed her will and reduced his inheritance. She did not want him to have an East coast wife and also have a West coast household with his mistress. She gave her homes in Pleasanton and Mt.Shasta to other relatives (grandsons and niece) and left her son the piece of land in San Simeon where they used to camp. All of Phoebe’s darkest fears about her son’s private personal life became a public reality after her death.

Phoebe was on the National Field Committee of the YWCA, on which Mrs. John F. Merrill also served. Three were taken from that Committee, to form a special committee, to select a site for a permanent encampment for the Western Conference. They spent quite some time going over the suitable parts of the country before they finally picked out the spot that they would eventually call Asilomar in near Pebble Beach. These committee members then asserted their influence to get a much reduced price. Using the money which had been collected, $10 from each girl, almost $3,000 total, and additional funding from Phoebe, the committee secured the site.

Asilomar’s name was chosen as part of a contest after the purchase was completed, among college students. Helen Salisbury of Stanford suggested the name that in Spanish meant “refuge by the sea”. Julia Morgan was chosen to lay out the landscape of the place and she designed the assembly house there, which was built with the least possible expanse that was consistent with beauty, nature and safety, typifying the architecture of the American Arts and Crafts movement. The Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall was the first building to open the following year. Besides the money and Phoebe’s own work in helping to select the site, she gave the entire equipment of that camp, all the lumber that was used in the platforms and the buildings was taken down and sent down to Asilomar and used down there. The furnishings, the equipment of the dining room and kitchen, including the tents were given to the Y to be used for many years to come.

Mrs.Merrill went on to be Asilomar’s first director beginning in 1913 and for the next eleven years. In her will, she bequeathed $25,000 to the Y and in 1928, while working on Hearst Castle and a hundred other projects, Julia Morgan used this money to construct her last (and largest) building on the site, Merrill Hall. Today Phoebe’s Social Hall is still in use as Asilomar’s Headquarters. Tourists and students, by the tens of thousands, continue to benefit from the foresight, fortune and creativity of these women almost 100 years later.




The Phoebe Influence

Phoebe Apperson Hearst was the first woman to hold political office in California. She had settled in the state with her husband, a famous 49er turned Senator. After his death, she wisely managed the vast fortune they had amassed and assured that it was used to establish everlasting benefits for all Americans. Phoebe had a soft spot for education and her pet project was California’s first public university and its first campus in Berkeley. Her impression on her favorite place became even deeper when she was selected in July 1897 as a University Regent by Governor Budd to serve out the rest of the term which was vacated by the death of Charles F. Crocker, vice-president of the Southern Pacific Railroad. She would continue to serve through succeeding administrations until her death in 1919.

Phoebe Hearst’s contributions to public education and to California’s first public college campus have been covered in these articles throughout the past year, but this month in celebration of her birthday, the first public reprint of an official tribute from her fellow Regents and the entire UC community on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of her birth on December 3rd 1912 follows:

“THESE GREETINGS, from the Regents, the Faculty, the Alumni, and the Students of the University of California, to


on her seventieth birthday, being the third day of December, in the year Nineteen Hundred and Twelve; of the University, the fifty-third.

‘Phoebe Apperson Hearst, gentle mother of the University, on this your birthday we come bearing greetings of honor and of love. In the older days of this University a little company of scholars fed the flame of learning here in a bare and humble precinct. But your eyes beheld the vision of a broader day, when thronging thousands would gather from all the Americas and from lands beyond the sea to enter into communion with the ardent spirit of the age and the loftiest spirit of all the ages and to quicken their minds and souls for the full living of life and for service to their fellows and the State.

“Let us lay the foundations broad and deep”, you said, “let us plan not for today that fades already, but for ages yet to flower”. The ministry of beauty was yours. Other minds have kindled and will enkindle from your aspiration. Future generations coming in unending pilgrimage to these academic groves will carry hence the gospel of an architecture and an art, fit enhancement and fit expression of what God has wrought here in this fair seaward prospect from the threshold of the hills.

‘From all lands you have gathered here the sculptured stone, the pictured clay, the metal hand-enwrought, the fabric all interwoven with symbol and tradition-things which tell the story of how men have lived their lives through the changing ages.

‘From the presses of medieval printers, from the cells of monkish illuminators and Oriental craftsmen you have garnered rare and beautiful volumes: from the wonderland of human beings, strange plants and birds and beasts; from the workshops of Germany and France, apparatus for constructive researches in science; from the depths of the hills you have quarried enduring granite to rear a mighty inhabitation for the mining arts; to the service of the community you have given scientists, men of affairs, and artists in color, form, sound and the written word, all trained for the work in the world by your fostering care.

‘But first and most you have given to your time fit ensample of good womanhood-neighbor, friend, wife, mother-mother in tender affection to a very host of young and old, of people and of causes and of aspirations. Diligent in toil, faithful in responsibilities, generous in affection, modest and simple in demeanor, forgetful always of yourself and thoughtful always of others, good citizen, wise counsellor, lover of truth, beauty, righteousness and wisdom, now do we say with hearts overflowing with affection, that of all your varied service to the world, most precious of all is the testimony of your life in its living to the goodness and beauty of woman”

Her handwritten answer (on Hearst Building, San Francisco CA stationary):

“Friends of the distant and of the later days, it is a privilege to be with you and to feel for even an hour that closeness of touch which the rush of life makes almost impossible except when on an occasion like this,  the cares of the day laid aside, we can talk in the familiar, heart-finding way.  In view of the anniversary we are celebrating you might think that the gift of so many years would make me strong in courage but my quaking knees and unsteady voice admonish me that I had better take refuge in a house of paper and read out of its windows the few words of greeting and of thanks.

“Our dear hostess has said so many kind things that I should have to live until twice my present age to be worthy for from her early childhood she has been wont to exaggerate my virtues and to be blind to my faults.

“But the tender sentiment back of all falls upon my heart and I say, Thank God for friendship for all it brings, for all it takes, for its understanding of the unspoken word.”

                                                                                                                   PAH, 12/3/1912


Despite the official affection and tributes just 100 years ago this month, I would never have heard about Phoebe Apperson Hearst if I had not trained to be a tour guide at Hearst Castle. The thousands of guests that I led through the Castle, with a few Berkeley exceptions, would have never heard of Phoebe but for their tour. Yet every American has been influenced by her (and her husband’s) fortune and her foresight. Happy Birthday Phoebe Elizabeth Apperson Hearst!

As we commemorate a birthday from the past it is fitting to recognize a passing in the present. Phoebe Apperson Hearst’s great granddaughter, Phoebe Hearst Cooke, passed away November 19, 2012 in Templeton of pneumonia at the age of eighty-five. She and her twin brother George (who passed away this year) were Phoebe’s eldest great-grandchildren, born to the eldest son (George) of William Randolph Hearst. Phoebe’s five grandsons spent a great deal of their childhood with her. I have a copy of a telegram from William, from Paris to his mother sent September 21, 1912, assuring her that a stammering expert insisted that George go to school with the rest of the boys. William also stated that if she would promise to come to New York (where he lived) for the holidays that George, William and John (the twins were born in 1915) could stay with her in Pleasanton, California until then (they were probably at the birthday party at Berkeley where the above greeting was read). Phoebe was much more than a grandmother to William’s five sons. They passed their grandmother’s philanthropic spirit along to their children and Phoebe Hearst Cooke, born in 1927, was an excellent example of the result.

Phoebe, the younger (Hearst Cooke), was a local hero and an entrepreneurial celebrity in Woodside, California where she started the Sundance Vaulting Club. She was an excellent horsewoman and devoted much time and money into her support of young female riders and their horses here and abroad. Her generosity was famous for its lack of bounds. Rest in Peace, Phoebe(s) Hearst.

                                      Phoebe Hearst Cooke (1927-2012)





Fairy Godmother Training

Little Phebe Apperson was raised in a frontier homestead in a young America. Her parents’ household would not have been considered rich or poor, but discipline was paramount in an area where survival was contemplated daily. When it came to her chores she was instructed to ‘begin without hesitation, continue without lagging, and stop only when the work was done’. For other areas of her young life, the prime rules were: ‘to be on time, have good manners and respect older people’. This Midwestern creed passed down to Phebe through her parents while being raised in the “boonies” of America would continue as one of the guiding principles for a woman that would build and visit some of world’s finest ‘castles’ and become one of the most influential philanthropists in America’s history.


There were not many occasions for frivolity in her childhood but one story from the annals of Missouri history captures a truly Cinderella moment for Phebe. This would become a model, perhaps, for the type of enchantment that she would eternally endeavor to replicate for thousands of young people across a larger United States, especially at Berkeley, throughout her adult life:


Colonel A.W. Maupin of Union, Missouri would often recall his visit to the Apperson home in 1855. The Colonel was then deputy sheriff and a widower. He had been assigned to serve some sort of paper upon Randolph Apperson, Phebe’s dad. He had ridden a mile in the midst of the forest when he came upon a one-story cabin; eighteen by sixteen feet with a little “lean-to” for a kitchen……The deputy sheriff rode to the door and shouted “Hello!” In response to his call, a girl of exceedingly beautiful features and who was clad in homespun (handspun fabric) came to the door. The papers were duly served. The acquaintance of the young couple progressed so rapidly that the young Maupin found the courage to invite the fair maiden to attend a ball which the county officials were to give in the court house in Union, 30 miles distant, two days later. She replied that she knew of no way of going to Union. The ardent young gallant was not to be baffled thus. He told her that he was one of the committee on arrangements, so he could not leave himself, but would send his own carriage for her. His persistence was rewarded. Phebe Apperson was the belle of the ball, which lasted continuously for one day and two nights. The young people took turns sleeping and dancing, so that the merriment continued for thirty-six hours. This was the greatest social event of Phebe Apperson’s girlhood. (Taken from the Missouri Transcript, March 12 1897)


It would not be Colonel Maupin or any of the other fine suitors that came to call on Phebe who would capture her heart and finish her training for future greatness. Phebe found her prince charming when her future husband, George Hearst, returned from the West, many years after the marathon ball in Union Missouri. He truly was a knight in shining armor when, twenty years her senior, he swept her off her feet and right out of Missouri as the Civil War approached her home-front in 1862. They eloped to a quick ceremony performed by one of George’s many friends, a judge, in the closest “city” of Steelville. Then they kept going…. to the New York harbor, over the Panama isthmus by train, and then all the way to San Francisco. There Phoebe was greeted by more geographical beauty, luxury and friends than she had ever dreamed possible.


George was part of the original wave of 49ers and by the time of their marriage he had already used his timing and geological skills to his advantage and gained a fair share of the West’s newly available largesse and its wealth of minerals. His valuable underground skills were honed while still a young man growing up in Missouri. The Native Americans that he met near the local lead mine there uniquely respected him as “the boy the earth talks to”. Eventually he would stake claims at Comstock, Ophir and other record breaking lodes of his day and current lore.

One of the most lucrative and famous, and one of Phebe’s earliest fairy godmother training grounds was the Hearst Homestake mine in Lead South Dakota . In recent years, like so much of Phebe’s and George’s life, Lead, SD has been given a bright yellow brush in the fictional series Deadwood on a network partially owned by Hearst media. Rather than the vicious and greedy landlords that are depicted in the show, Phebe (with George’s support) launched some of the most successful and long lasting social works programs in the country from her experience in that town.


The wealthier that the mines and the Hearst family became the more that Phebe felt compelled to put her compassion for the miners and their families into practice, and put her cash into play on the ground in the miners’ own neighborhoods. She built an opera house that provided family entertainment and held a library on the second floor. She built a hospital and then trained doctors (some women!). All medical services were provided free of charge. With her training as a schoolteacher, she felt certain that the best way to bring these new immigrant miners into the American fold was to educate and create a sense of community. Phebe considered kindergarten classes the earliest chance for children, and their newly arrived American parents to learn our national values and traditions. Eventually Phebe would be responsible for not just the local kindergartens that she supported on the sites of all of their metallurgical investments; in 1893 she would urge the Secretary of Education in Washington D.C. to make them a part of every American’s educational experience.


Politicians tell us today that our infant of a country sits on the precipice of losing its cherished heritage of public wealth, public education and public opportunity only 236 years after its founding. It has never been more urgent to remember the Americans that bequeathed that heritage to us and how they came to discover its importance. George and Phebe Hearst were such Americans. Phebe’s trainer, backer and only love, George Hearst, was a sitting Senator in D.C. when he died of cancer February 28th, 1891.

Citizen Phoebe Hearst

 Phoebe Apperson Hearst, California’s most beloved, albeit adopted, daughter shaped American life through her endowments and philanthropy. Her generosity and gentility in the late 19th and early 20th centuries earned her the moniker “Fairy Godmother” on both coasts of a recently settled United States. Senator George and Phoebe Hearst had defined the term “good American citizen” before the phrase gained popularity. It can therefore be understood how, despite an attempt to bury her legacy, Phoebe’s influence could not be totally obscured because, with her husband’s financial and emotional support, she created, developed, funded and promoted institutions and ideals that are still today at the heart of our civic culture; family, community and church. William Randolph Hearst, their only child, was never such a citizen. Yet, somehow, “Citizen” has been associated with his name since the 1941 release of Citizen Kane.


The immortal movie by Orson Welles was the best thing that ever happened to William Randolph Hearst’s image and the worst thing that ever happened to the image of his parents and, for that reason, most likely a movie that William admired if not supported. According to Ambrose Bierce (a journalist, famous for his candor), William was a shrinking violet of a man with a high, grating voice and a weak handshake [sic]. He yearned to have the bellowing presence of a “Charles Foster Kane”. Headline stories written in William’s papers at the time of the movie’s release about how much “The Chief” (his nickname) hated the movie’s depiction successfully and eternally instilled in the public” conscience a symbiotic relationship between these two very different men. Yellow journalism has many angles and they all work. Another telling sign of William’s possible involvement in the making of Citizen Kane is the “yellow” treatment of his parents in the film as an abusive father and a flaky mother. Although he depended on them for financial support, William spoke to his parents, and about them (in his letters) in a very patronizing tone, and was usually asking for “more” money. He openly resented having to ask for something that he felt should have been given. When his father died in 1891, he did not leave anything to William. Along with his fortune, George left his son’s financial care in Phoebe’s hands because of his concerns about his maturity. At the age of 28, William frequently needed the assistance of his parents to be bailed out of various legal and social dilemmas, too lengthy to enumerate here but a topic which typically consumes a large portion of any of his many biographies.


Despite these historical shenanigans, Hearst media continues to promote William as the corporation’s visionary and founder and routinely gives his parents the yellow brush at best. In the HBO series “Deadwood”, George Hearst, an original 49er, partner in Comstock, Anaconda, Homestake and many other historical mining operations, U.S. Senator and founder of Hearst Media is portrayed as an ignorant, abusive tyrant. HBO is partially owned by Hearst Media. Phoebe was recently played, as usual, as a nouveau-riche, shallow flake in The Julia Morgan Project, an award-winning Berkeley production where, as a bit character with a 2 minute appearance, she tells Julia Morgan that she just had to “pinch a napkin” from a Parisian restaurant because she wants to “get some made exactly like it”. How sad that their beautiful relationship and Phoebe’s generous personality would be portrayed so poorly and particularly since Berkeley is a place where Phoebe’s benefactions are felt by the entire community every day. These are both just a few examples of yellow journalism disguised, and celebrated as history. A bit of the truth is that while Julia was living in Paris (1896-1899), waiting to be accepted into L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, she became very homesick. As the first woman to seek acceptance to the lauded institution, it took three years for that school’s hierarchy to allow Julia to “pass” the entrance exam. She wrote to Phoebe about her longing for home and doing what she could, Phoebe hastily bought an apartment in Paris and stayed there until Julia was accepted at last, some months later. Phoebe, encouraged her to enter the school, supported her while she was there and for the rest of her life remained Julia’s largest patron. Even after Julia’s graduation Phoebe, fluent in French since her youth, continued to spend an average of 6 months a year in the “City of Lights” entertaining famous friends, artists and students alike.

Fast forward to 2013…In just a few weeks, seventy-plus years after the release of Citizen Kane, the Hearst family will openly celebrate their admiration for the movie when the Corporation releases its first biographical documentary, pushing yellow journalism into its third century. Citizen Hearst will be screened at the Castle ($400/ticket) and in San Luis Obispo (first come, first serve) as part of the San Luis Obispo Film Festival and then possibly released to the general public. Any adult need not see the film to know what the storyline will be. William Randolph Hearst as the single, central character, will be presented as a visionary god-like man with one understandable weakness, his love for a “Hollywood bombshell”. If this were just an attempt to put a smart varnish on a ruthless business man and his anti-social behavior, it could be ignored. But it is much more. It is intended to throw another layer of disinformation on the graves of his parents. Created with all the slick production value that Hearst Media can muster, the “documentary” was made last year to celebrate the Corporation’s 125th anniversary ignoring the fact that in 1887 William was 24 and had not yet come into ownership of his parents’ businesses.

Citizen Kane is a classic production, far aside from its supposed parody of a particular ruthless rich man that lived with his talentless “second wife” on a hilltop. It is studied by serious film students today for the details that are not first noticed, but felt, by the uninformed viewer such as the lighting and camera angles. Is it not plausible that the only real biographical value of the movie was also delivered under the radar? Only avid students of Hearst history have the key to pick up on the largest, and maybe the only, literal connection between the Kanes and the Hearsts, and that key is Rosebud. Rosebud is the name of a town near George and Phoebe’s place of birth in Missouri and it was Phoebe’s well-known nickname. Rosebud was also the infamous word that was written on the sled that slowly burned in the final, and most discussed scene of Citizen Kane. Placed by Orson Welles in Charles Foster Kane’s fireplace, it perfectly represented William’s ongoing destruction of his family’s history, his mother in particular and was perhaps the only thing to which “The Chief” truly objected. Still today, Rosebud remains a confounding and memorable crux at the heart of one of Hollywood’s most studied films, symbolizing the quiet persistence of Phoebe’s legacy, the true Citizen Hearst.

Karen Harris is an author and biographer of Phoebe Apperson Hearst.

Note: Ironically, George and Phoebe’s great grandchildren, twins George Hearst and Phoebe Hearst Cooke, passed away in San Luis Obispo County last year June and November 2012 respectively after an exhaustive battle with one another over their family inheritance.



Fairy Godmother of the Club Movement



Long before they had the power of the vote or the authority of public office, women found civic strength in their numbers and they exercised it within organized clubs.  In the mid-1800’s, American women were educating themselves, through book-sharing, debates, essay contests and guest speakers, first at each other’s homes and eventually in well appointed clubhouses.   With their ever expanding skills and a wealth of cooperation these women began to write the future of a fairly uncivilized United States.  Their neighborhood clubs became the Suffrage movement, the PTA, the YWCA,  Kindergarten associations, Friends of the Reading Room (later Library), and other modern American institutions.   Of course, our own Phoebe Apperson Hearst was at the forefront of many of these movements and when the club craze hit California’s golden shores in 1888, the Godmother gave money, but even more importantly her imagination and valuable time.   San Francisco’s Century Club quickly attained world class status. 


Phoebe had been influenced by her recent, and ongoing, exposure to parlor politics in Washington D.C.  Her husband and California politician, George Hearst had been appointed by California’s Governor to the United States Senate in 1886 and was then subsequently elected to a succeeding term.   The Washington newspaper (not owned by her husband or son) declared her entertainments to be some of the most elaborate, and most successful, ever seen in the Nation’s capitol.   One New York Times (also not owned by her husband or son) article once described, in luxurious detail, a formal ball given at her New Hampshire Ave, D.C. address celebrating the anniversary of George Washington’s birth complete with powdered wigs for all the guests.  Her philanthropic pursuits eventually involved Presidents, first ladies, and other national figures.  While a Senator’s wife in the international spotlight, Phoebe gained a powerful, working knowledge of how monumental ideas become reality, by working TOGETHER!  Thanks to the recently completed intercontinental railroad the Senator and his wife, were able to split the seasons and their attention between San Francisco and Washington, D.C , two urban centers which represented the span of a still unsettled continent. 


LOCAL NOTE: The Senator and his wife divided their time, while in California, between a large, elaborate home in San Francisco and a newly built farmhouse (The Senator’s House) in San Simeon.  Designed for summer respite from the heat of the city, Phoebe enjoyed camping with her husband and son on the hillside above the simple but elegant two-story home.  Their idyllic camping location under the oaks, along the coast, is where her son William would later build Hearst Castle.  The Senator's House, as it is still called today, continues to be occupied by Hearst Family members at different times throughout the year.

In 1888, while at home in San Francisco, Phoebe founded The Century Club of California and was promptly elected as its first President.  The club membership then voted to have her represent them at the very first meeting of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in Seneca Falls New York on April 24, 1890 where Phoebe was then elected by her national counterparts as the new club’s first treasurer.  The choice of Seneca Falls for the meeting was no coincidence.  It was the location for the first convention of the Women’s movement in 1848.   These energetic clubwomen intended to be heard, and by meeting at the Woodstock of their day they guaranteed that their meeting would gain the prompt attention of the media, and therefore future club members and organizers. 


In the twenty-first century, our lifestyles often seem to take care of themselves.  Rarely do we take a moment to consider all of the planning and hard work that went behind the many organizations and institutions that keep our society humming.  Rarer still do we imagine that, as individuals, we have a civic responsibility to continue these movements, but that was indeed the message of these groups and their movement.  Rather than one-time events, or the success of a single individual, the institutional changes that took place in America in the 1800’s happened through the collective hands of groups of motivated and dedicated members.  Over 120 years later the Century Club and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs still proudly exist and still provide education and social opportunities for their members and support for the women, children and men in communities across America, a strong testimony, lasting through three centuries, to what a gathering of neighbors can do.   




Pheobe was Here!


 Historical celebrations can almost always be connected to a story about Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and so is the case with the 125th birthday of our humble hometown.   Despite an early life of modest means, Phoebe died in 1919 one of the richest, and most powerful women America would ever know.  Her influence reached into every hometown in America but it is our great fortune in California to have a closer relationship with this matriarch and as we have one of her former homes in San Luis Obispo County, her influence is closer than almost anyone thinks.


Phoebe had grown up in the literal “boonies” of the United States, having been raised in the middle of Missouri, an area settled by Daniel Boone’s party at the turn of the 19th century.  As an adult, Phoebe trekked west, coming to California with her groom, a 49er 20 years her senior, in 1862.  Afterward, she maintained the Golden state as her own for the duration of her life.  Despite Phoebe Hearst’s ownership of an international publishing empire, there is but one sampling of Phoebe’s journalistic writing.  It is an editorial inviting the women of the United States to come and visit California, written in 1915 as part of an advertising campaign for the Panama Pacific International Exposition.   But thirty-five years earlier, before the famous spike was fastened in Promontory Point, Utah, such a journey was not for the seasonal traveler.  But once the railroad ran shore to shore many such visitors would follow their curiosity to California.  Tourism took over and small towns up and down the state began to incorporate, including a former rancho along the Salinas River, Paso Robles.


It was 1871, when a childhood friend of Phoebe’s, Clara Reed Anthony, made her first trip to California.  Clara’s father, Dr Silas Reed, was a St Louis physician, who had seen Phoebe’s father through a protracted illness many years earlier.  He also served as Surveyor General for the states of Missouri and Illinois in the early 1800’s.   As young women, Clara and Phoebe had taken opposite directions from their hometown near Rosebud, Missouri when Phoebe married George, and Clara married Dr Nathan Anthony.   George Hearst was a former neighbor who made it big in the California Gold Rush.  Clara’s husband was from a prominent family of Boston physicians, and so the two girls who had been family friends from birth now lived on opposite coasts for going on 10 years.  During her summer long visit, Phoebe took Clara on a whirlwind tour of her adopted State, bringing her straight-a-way to Paso Robles for a month of healing waters, quiet living and a renewal of their lifelong friendship. 


The postcards and magazines of the day heralded their destination as one of many awe-inspiring stops on the increasingly travelled “Trail of a Thousand Wonders”.  The wonders they advertised were the abundant, natural phenomena in all corners of California.  From the gargantuan redwood forests of the Northern quarter through the Salinas valley and down to the Pacific Ocean at the Southern border, California was rife with geographical wonders that awaited the wide-eyed “citified” tourist of eastern origin.  The trail that connected these wonders was El Camino Real, also known as The King’s Highway, today’s Highway 101.  Nature’s cathedral could be found along the road at every stop, but a particularly popular spot for beauty and health was the area to be later known as Paso Robles. For almost a hundred years, locals talked about the healing powers of the “magical” hot springs along the Salinas River. 


The area where the waters ran through El Rancho del Paso de Robles was known as simply “Hot Springs” but as far back as 1795, the area had been known as “California’s oldest watering place”  -the place to go for springs and mud baths.  The San Francisco Bulletin carried a story about the springs in 1864 and by 1868 they were coming to Paso Robles from Oregon, Nevada and other Western states for its healthful promises.

The Blackburn brothers were the owners of El Rancho de Paso Robles, a 25,000 acre land grant,  and they quickly saw an opportunity to develop their land with sales of small parcels.  Construction began on what would become known as the Paso Robles Inn so that their potential buyers would have a comfortable place to stay and they issued a pamphlet that advertised “El Paso de Robles Hot and Cold Sulphur Springs and the Only Natural Mud Baths in the World”.  The pamphlet, and the healing waters, worked.  Settlers were attracted to the area and orchards, dairy farms, vineyards and cattle ranches began to dot the landscape.  By 1889, these settlers became the founders of our community and lobbied and won formal incorporation.  Now this former Rancho Resort had official standing with a still infant State of California and its own place in 20th century American history.


Over the years, Phoebe had many opportunities to visit the town and witness its progress as the population, and the bathhouse grew.  Presidents and celebrities alike sought out the healing effects of the natural elixir under our feet in the years that followed.  One after another of the bathhouses burned down and eventually public bathing went out of vogue.  Even Paso’s public mineral baths were converted to our current municipal pool.  One hundred and twenty-five years later, Paso Robles continues to wrestle with ways to “contain” the sulphur springs, particularly since the ’03 earthquake. 


When Phoebe came here with her dear friend Clara in 1871, she left an 8 year old William (Randolph Hearst) in Santa Clara with her parents.  She could have scarcely imagined that in decades to come, more tourists would travel to the hotels of Paso Robles with tickets in hand to see her son’s former home (Hearst Castle) on the coast than most any other tourist attraction in California.  No, I don’t think Phoebe could have ever dreamed!




Phoebe Hearst- A Woman's Struggle for Equality



(Official photo, Library of Congress) member, national advisory council of congressional Union for women suffrage; Vice Chairman, National Women’s Party


Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842-1919), widow of Senator (and 49er) George Hearst, was an early suffragette and feminist.  Her paternal grandfather, at 17, fought in the Revolutionary War and her mother, at age 6, was part of the group that settled, with Daniel Boone, in the Cumberland Gap of Missouri in the early 1800’s.  The little girl who was raised in the “Boonies” would eventually build monuments in her Nation’s young Capital, on both coasts of its continent and many points in between.  This herculean support left America dozens of institutions including the PTA and the YWCA.  She built the Berkeley campus, California’s first public university and wrote its first scholarships for women.  Her belief in the importance of youth led to a public school system with kindergartens and gave thousands of young people access to various higher schooling which continues to further intelligence across the globe.  These feats continue to be painfully underrepresented in current chronicles of history despite leaving her fortune and legacy in the hands of her son, and only child, William Randolph Hearst who ran a huge media empire.  Few have heard the name much less recognize the influence that one woman has had on every American life.  One of her most overlooked contributions is the immense support that Phoebe Apperson Hearst gave to the early Women’s movement, even when she was threatened with grave danger. 


It was said of Phoebe throughout her life that the largesse of her munificence was matched only by the compassion that accompanied her gifts.   Where many would understandably be distressed at contributing to an eventual lost cause, Phoebe’s only disappointment in such a case lied in the recipient’s inability to turn around, no matter her help.  Hers was a pure love of humanity.  What she endeavored to endow Americans with was, above all, independence and mobility through education and discipline.  These sentiments made the Suffragette Movement specifically, and feminism in general, natural causes that Phoebe not only exemplified in her own life, but wholeheartedly supported with her money and her time.  Feminism is defined by Webster’s as “advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men”. Phoebe spent her life building institutions that continue to promote the “feminist” equality today.    She raised, educated and travelled with half a dozen nieces and scores of young women.  Together with other politically and socially minded women she toured European schools and institutions to gain inspiration and then she used that inspiration to build American counterparts.


Phoebe Hearst, joined by Helen Keller, whose higher education she provided and Maria Montessori became leaders of the nation’s Kindergarten Movement in the late 1800’s seeking to maximize the particular value of the very young, malleable mind toward society’s overall development.  They focused on the education of the young and the training of young women as professionals that would be fully prepared to carry these valuable lessons to all communities in any of the far flung corners of what was a still-expanding United States.  That same group of women became an intrinsic part of the burgeoning national movement for equality at the ballot box.  It was increasingly clear to these enlightened women that if they were ever to hold sway on those issues that concerned them and their children they would all have to have the vote now.  The National Woman’s Party and its off-shoot, the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, both headquartered in Washington D.C  were organizations formed by Alice Paul and administered by boards of notable women committed to gaining the vote. Phoebe was an active advisory member on both boards at their national level.  These political groups had one purpose, the passage of the Susan B. Anthony amendment, now known as the Nineteenth and they were not afraid to protest.  A new and “unladylike” tactic adopted from their British sisters set them apart from most of their American contemporaries and so did their ultimate goal of a constitutional amendment as opposed to the state-by-state path to equality.  


In 1913, just one day before President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, over eight-thousand of these suffragettes marched with banners and floats down Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House, attracting half a million onlookers, greatly reducing the crowd that met  Wilson’s train and bringing a national spotlight to their cause.   He felt pressured to meet with the women, but despite three meetings in the ensuing two months with the group’s organizers, the new President claimed he was not convinced that an amendment to the constitution was necessary.  For eighteen months through the years 1917-1918, over one thousand “silent sentinels”, also organized by the Congressional Union, picketed the White House day and night with various suffragette banners, many reading “Mr. President- How long must women wait for liberty?”  After the country entered World War I, the women’s messages became more pointed asking how a leader could ask American men to die for democracy when American women did not yet have the right to vote.   The aggression of the spectators escalated alongside the urgency of the protesters’ tone. 


On the morning of July 22nd 1916,  Phoebe was scheduled to lead a group of marchers in San Francisco’s Preparedness Parade down Market Street.   She awoke that morning feeling slightly under the weather and for a moment doubted whether she should participate.  However, Phoebe Hearst received more than half a dozen threatening letters in the morning’s mail.   When she read the words that she had “better stay home from the parade or else”, she declared that “there had never a better day for a march”. She donned her flowered bonnet, grabbed her flag and the diminutive seventy-four year old woman left her apartment for the parade’s staging area.   Halfway through the route, just blocks from where she marched, a bomb went off, killing ten people and wounding forty more.   She and her entourage of women in white, carrying parasols in one hand and flags in the other, marched on with other brave participants to the parade route’s finish.  In 1918, in Washington D.C. Alice Paul was jailed for seven months for picketing, or as the charge read “obstructing traffic”.  While incarcerated she organized a hunger strike.  When threatening her with a stay in the “insane asylum” failed to end the strike, her jailers resorted to force feeding her.  Later that same year President Wilson finally announced that now it was time for an amendment.  These remarkably strong women were not the only ones that understood the high price that had been paid by so many to reach that goal. 


We must honor the price paid by early American women to attain the rights we take for granted today and remember the reasons that attaining the rights were worth sacrificing life and limb.  Without a voice in the halls of power, women’s needs and the needs of their small children were not considered important enough for debate much less solution.  Members of organizations that were long established to aid the health and welfare of these vulnerable groups knew first-hand that without the power of the ballot box, no matter how rich the individual, the group as whole would languish.  A hundred years later, we all have the most powerful democratic tool at our disposal thanks to many brave men and women; we dishonor them when we fail to utilize it. Our greatest equalizer is the right to vote!




 The "God" in Fairy Godmother



A Madonna hanging in Hearst Castle  & in 1910 hanging above Phoebe’s bed in her Pleasonton home

One conundrum of Hearst Castle is its profuse display of religious symbols, symbols that are viewed by the guests while listening to stories about the mistress for which the “home” was supposedly built and the general debauchery that occurred there as part of the life of William Hearst and his Hollywood guests.  I even had a guest exclaim on one of my tours “this is the real Madonna Inn”.    William Hearst was not religious. He went to church once as an adult, when he married a showgirl at the age of 39 but he did not design the interiors of his San Simeon estate. 


Rather the architect Julia Morgan was the one that chose the home’s contents from Phoebe’s (and William’s) collections.  Julia purposely chose abundant Madonnas, Popes, reliquaries, mythological symbols, even sacraments worn by priests, designing a veritable museum of religious worship. These choices were not intended to represent William’s taste, but Phebe’s, creating a subliminal theme to the home’s interior design.  Julia Morgan maintained a lifelong commitment to Hearst Castle, despite its impossible client, and designed it to look like a church in form and content because she was constructing a long overdue memorial to a truly saintly woman.


As a little girl, Phoebe Apperson’s family was devoted to weekly church services on the prairie.  With the church some distance from her home, and her father’s position as a Sunday school teacher, this commitment consumed a great deal of time.   As an adult, Phoebe continued the family’s immense religious commitment in a very personal and unique way, as a philanthropist and a student.  She funded and built churches across the United States and shared even more religions.   This former teacher of a one-room schoolhouse understood that religion, like education, built strong character and tight communities.  She funded archaeological expeditions throughout the Americas and other continents that underscored the importance to her, and to the many future students of archaeology and anthropology that have studied the artifacts since, of worship even in the World’s ancient civilizations. 


Always in search of truth and adventure, Phoebe funded and participated in the first pilgrimage of Westerners to visit the early martyr and head of the Baha’i religion, Abdu’l Baha imprisoned in Akka, an island off the coast of Israel.  At Phoebe’s expense, this group had spent months in preparation, privately learning with a missionary about the beliefs of this Persian religion before their months-long journey.  Her butler, Robert Turner, travelled with the group.  When the guests were invited into his cell, the group left Robert in the waiting area.  It is written, as part of Baha’i history, that “the Master” then sent the group of wealthy white pilgrims back into the waiting area and received the black butler as his sole guest for hours before again inviting in the rest of the group.  Robert Turner is a revered early member of that religion, as the first African American convert and many other members of that group of pilgrims became famous western pioneers of the faith.   Phoebe would recount the experience as some of the most memorable days of her life and she is referred to even today in that religion as “Mother of the Faithful”.  When Abdu’l was released from prison, he made a famous journey to the United States to lay the cornerstone for the first American Baha’i temple in Chicago.  During that visit he came to Pleasonton, CA (1912) to see Phoebe and brought her a rug, on display today in the North Wing of Hearst Castle.


The National Cathedral in Washington D.C. is the largest church that Phoebe funded, but she built many smaller, lovely churches all over the country.   One striking example of her generosity and philosophy is found in a church she built in Pinos Altos, New Mexico just outside Silver City in 1898.  Today the church is maintained by the Gold County Artists Guild and recent pictures of the building’s wooden beams, cathedral ceilings and stained glass windows can be seen on their website.  The site also relates how Phoebe gave the church to the community with the stipulation that a reading room (non-lending library) be built as part of the church and that all of the miners, regardless of their religion, would be permitted to use that room.   This act was repeated in mining towns across the country.  Designed in the Arts and Craft style, the building’s attention to detail and the beautiful materials were hallmarks of Phoebe’s involvement. 


The Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco was an especially personal project for Phoebe.  She was good friends and co-conservators with fellow Californian John Muir.  Swedenborg was a scientist and inventor that saw nature as our present connection to the divine, to worship and understand.  His grandson, Joseph Worcester, came to San Francisco from Boston in the 1860’s sharing this “new-age” vision of Christianity entwined with nature, Phoebe, Muir and many others were intrigued.  Phoebe contributed to the building of the church that still stands in Pacific Heights and was recently named National Historical Landmark for its structure hewn entirely from its own natural surroundings; the rocks and trees of the property.  The centerpiece of the church’s interior is still the wooden Madonna Phoebe commissioned as a church-warming gift. 


Phoebe was on a divine mission, desperate to put beauty and knowledge into more common currency.  That mission was accomplished and today, millions of people a year are put in awe with the legacies she left behind, whether they know where that beauty came from or not.  Even Hearst Castle, thanks to Julia Morgan and beyond the stories told by the tour guides, continues to give a very personal and historical education along with its beauty.   In one final, unintended act of religious devotion, Phoebe passed from this earth April 13, 1919 on Easter Sunday.


Nuremberg Madonna, Vischer,  A bronze copy was donated to the Swedenborgian Church, San Francisco by Phoebe Apperson Hearst in 1895


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Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842-1919)