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Anna Morrison Reed

In the 1800s women were seldom accorded their own identity in print. Emblematic of that was the newspaper notice of a baby born on New Year's Day, 1879, in the town of Mendocino. The mother was identified in the local paper by her husband's first initial and his surname.

Anna Morrison Reed was an exception to that rule in early Mendocino County. She was born Anna Morrison on December 19, 1849, the oldest living child, out of eleven born to her parents, Mary Elmira Preston and Guy Bryan Morrison.

Less than five months after Anna's birth her father left Missouri on a wagon train bound for California. Only Guy Morrison and one other man from the outfit arrived in California alive that fall. In 1854, Mary and four-year-old Anna traveled by ship, via the isthmus of Panama, to the golden state. By this time Guy Morrison had made money in mining, owned 320 acres with cattle, horses, as well as mules, and had risen to the position of judge in Oregon Township of Butte County.

After the gold played out in that area ten years later, Guy Morrison sold out for $500, moving his family to a ranch near Wyandotte. After being largely educated at home, Anna earned a position at the Sewell Ranch District School in the spring of 1867, She was seventeen when she commenced teaching.

With her father suffering from malaria, Anna's teaching pay helped the family move to Timbuctoo, Yuba County, where they rented a home with financial assistance from Anna's paternal aunt. Anna called this place “Dreamland Home.” That gives hint to Anna's imaginative character. She had taken up writing poetry, submitting for the first time, during the Civil War, a poem called “Our Nation's Prayer” to the San Francisco Press.

In 1868, with the help of a doctor and a businessman in Sacramento, Anna gained admittance to Mrs. Perry's Seminary. She immersed herself in that educational opportunity for two months before illness in the family called her away. Though ill herself, Anna's mother, Mary, helped support the family with a pick, shovel, and pan, along with an affinity for finding enough specks of gold on the edges of the nearest stream.

Those spare flecks of gold purchased some of the bare necessities, but Anna felt it her duty to contribute more. As the only truly healthy member of the family she gathered and edited several essays she'd prepared then promoted her appearance at the town of Tehama in October, delivering her first public lecture to a nearly full house.

Unfortunately the 19th century was not filled with computer links nor YouTube videos of Anna Morrison's lectures. Apparently, she possessed an abundance of charisma in person. Writers of the period stated that she must be seen and heard to be appreciated. Of course, contemporary reviews referred as much to her features as her intellect. One appreciative newspaper contributor of 1871 wrote, “To those who have not seen her we can only describe her as a beautiful young lady, with cheeks like the petals of a rose, with a sparkling, loving, dark brown eye, beaming with intelligence, and rich dark brown hair.

“Her enunciation is clear, distinct and melodious, her language elegant and forcible, her smile winning and fascinating, her disposition most amiable, and her her whole life characterized by a noble devotion and true morality.”

Anna played the guitar as well as offering her lectures with either women's suffrage or alcoholism as central topics. As one might guess, she proved a staunch supporter of temperance in terms of the consumption of liquor. She was not opposed to drinking, just that it be done in moderation.

Her views changed over time. In her early lectures she stood by the concept of a woman's place being in the home, concerning herself only with family matters, while men entered the world of politics. She would have defended her leaving home and hearth for the lecture circuit on the grounds that it was financially necessary to sustain her family.

In the summer of 1872 Anna met John Smith Reed at Sawyer's Bar, during a trip to Siskiyou County. Scarcely a month later they were married in the Catholic Church in Marysville. John Smith Reed was born in Philadelphia, PA, 20 years Anna's senior. As a young man he made his way to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he shipped out on a whaling vessel. When it became apparent they would not receive remuneration for their toil, John and two shipmates jumped overboard and swam to shore on one of the Marquesas Islands. He was captured and returned to his ship. Months later, while at anchor in Peru, the whaler's captain relented, allowing John Smith to leave the vessel. He caught on with another whaler. When it reached San Francisco, he again jumped ship.

Its there that he assumed the last name of Reed to distinguish himself from a plethora of John Smiths. Through various endeavors, he supported himself in the early 1850s. This included walking from the coast of Humboldt County, at Trinidad, a hundred miles inland in search of financial opportunities. Mining concerns at Black Bear Creek and along the Klamath River proved successful. At the time of his marriage, John Smith Reed sold his share in those mines for just under $160,000.

After their honeymoon, Anna Morrison and John Smith Reed made their home in Ukiah, where their five children were born over the next eight years. Anna continued to write, publishing her first book of poetry, Earlier Poems of Anna M. Morrison, in 1880. Two more volumes followed in the 1890s.

An 1889 fire destroyed the Reeds' home and other properties. They moved to a ranch John had bought north of Laytonville. The fire and later financial woes in the sheep business caused that ranch to be repossessed by the Bank of Ukiah. In 1900 John Smith Reed died nearly as penniless as he entered California a half century before.

Past fifty years of age, Anna Morrison Reed found herself in similar economic circumstances as she encountered as a youth. Along with her elderly father, two grown daughters, two grandsons, and a nephew, Anna took up residence at the Wheeler ranch a couple of miles south of Ukiah then the Staples ranch north of the county seat another year later. The Republican Press hired her in 1902 to sell ads and subscriptions and to collect for each. She was also paid to write a column for this newspaper. Those pieces ran under a “Some Notes Along the Way” byline. In 1903 she switched to another Ukiah paper, the Dispatch Democrat, working and writing in much the same manner.

By 1904, Anna made enough money to put a down payment on the former Carl Purdy house, which became the extended family's home. That year she commenced publication of her own magazine, The Northern Crown.

After the death of John Smith Reed, Anna's views on a woman's place in society turned. Her writings and public talks favored women's suffrage and the right of any woman to follow a public path outside the family. Her position on alcohol altered somewhat. She concluded that wine grapes were fruits of the earth and that drinking wine in moderation could be a health benefit. In these later years, Anna became a paid spokesperson for the Grape Growers of Northern California to lecture against Prohibition.

A last volume of poems, Gethsemane and other writings, was published in 1915. It also included letters to Anna from fellow writers like Joaquin Miller and Oscar Wilde.

She continued publishing The Northern Crown while taking over as managing editor of the Ukiah Times newspaper and the subsequent Ukiah Times Journal, which she edited until nine months short of her death in May, 1921.

(click to enlarge)

Seemingly the only comprehensive work on her life remains, Anna Morrison Reed, edited by one of her grandsons, John E. Keller, who traveled with her on lecture tours from 1913-1919. According to him, Anna had an unusually powerful memory. Despite her high moral standards, she was not above stealing a beautiful flower from a park or someone's garden. She would breathe in deeply the flower's fragrance, well aware of her susceptibility to hay fever and its consequences. She stood only five feet, three inches tall, but often as not could be spotted in a large crowd because of the tall feathered hats she wore. Her dark eyes were accentuated by a constant twinkle. She was called an opportunist by some; however, she often sacrificed to help strangers in need. She favored Jasmine tea as her drink of choice, but in later years sipped a glass of Port wine in the evening.

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One Comment

  1. Roberta April 4, 2019

    I ran across one of her paperback book The Latest and Later Poems “1896 was Published in 1915 and signed front page in June 1916. Want if it’s worth anything

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