Fullerton’s Female Trailblazers!
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Doris Tennant Westcott
After graduating from Fullerton High School, philanthropist Doris Tennant Westcott enrolled at the University of Southern California where she was chosen in 1929, as the first Helen of Troy, representing the university at all social functions. During World War II she joined the WAVES as California’s first woman in stripes.
A sixteen-year resident of the city, Frances Wood decided to run for the Fullerton City Council in 1970. Having served on the Parks and Recreation Commission, she was very concerned with park and community development, and lobbied for a much-needed library expansion. In a surprise upset, she defeated the incumbent Louis Reinhardt, becoming the first woman to sit on the council. After being reelected in 1974, she served as mayor (another female first) for one term. Frustrated that when people called her office and “thought I was the secretary”, she committed herself to mentoring women who wanted to enter public life.
In 1959, Fullerton Police Chief, Wayne Bornhoft, hired Fullerton’s first female officer, Geraldine Kelley Gregory, primarily to work with adult females and juveniles. A top-ranked lady cop in Philadelphia, Geraldine arrived in town with an impressive list of recommendations, including one from FBI Director J Edgar Hoover.
Jewel Plummer Cobb
Jewell Plummer Cobb assumed the Cal State University, Fullerton Presidency Oct 1, 1981. One of 140 applicants, she was only the third female to serve as president in the CSU system, and the first African American woman to lead a major university west of the Mississippi. She was often jokingly referred to as the “Queen of Concrete”, for the sheer number of buildings she was able to get funded and constructed during her tenure as president, including the Engineering and Computer Science buildings, the Ruby Gerontology Center, and the on-campus student housing that now bears her name. She made it a point to shake the hands and congratulate every student that graduated from CSUF, over 27,000 at last count. When Cobb retired in 1990, she said that she hoped to be remembered “as a black woman scientist who cared very much about what happens to young folks, particularly women going into science.”.
LaVerne Lindsay aka Sharon Lynn
Sharon Lynn, known as LaVerne Lindsay when she graduated from Fullerton High School in 1920, was a well-known silent film star. She successfully transitioned to talking pictures in the 1930s starring with leading actors like Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, and Will Rogers. One of her best known parts was playing the devious foil to the clueless Laurel and Hardy in Way Out West (1937).
In 1919, Lillian Yaeger opened a Dodge Brothers dealership in Fullerton. One of the first people in Southern California to drive a car, Yaeger was one of Fullerton’s first automobile dealers and Orange County’s first service station operator. She was known around town for her spectacular swearing. Her residence at 108 West Brookdale Place is said to be haunted by her ghost.
America’s first woman filmmaker, Lois Weber (1881-1939) began her career as an actress, but in 1913 she began directing films and by 1916, working at Universal, she was one of the highest paid directors in the world. In 1917 she formed her own production company, and her career flourished until the early 1920s. Her films, which focused on such controversial and serious issues as birth control and abortion, brought her into constant conflict with distributors. Her second husband, Col. Herbert Gantz, built a large Spanish Colonial Revival home (named the El Dorado Ranch) on 100 acres for her. The house now serves as the residence of the president of CSU Fullerton (225 West Union).
Several books about Lois Weber and her movies are available in the Local History Room. CLICK THE IMAGE FOR THE BOOKS
The city’s first beauty queen was May Heaslip (center of photo), who was selected Floral Queen to preside over Fullerton’s ten-year anniversary on July 3, 1897. The city celebrated the event with literary exercises, athletic contests, and a picnic dinner, culminating with a grand floral parade down Harbor in front of 2,500 Fullerton residents.