William S. Hart

Photo of William S. Hart is courtesy of the Hart Museum.

By Beth Werling

Before Clint Eastwood, before John Wayne, William S. Hart not just personified, but created the prototypical Western hero during the silent film era; the good bad man who lived by his own code of honor. Hart promoted this image offscreen as well, filling his home with Native American memorabilia as well art by Remington and Russell depicting his idealized vision of the West. He ensured that his vision of the West became legacy when he bequeathed his mansion and its contents to the County of Los Angeles following his death on June 23, 1946. Visitors today can visit his Newhall home and experience a romanticized portrait of the West through the lens of one of the genre’s earliest stars.

Beth Werling is curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.


We are terribly saddened to hear of the death of extraordinary bookseller Bill Reese of William Reese Company in New Haven (https://www.williamreesecompany.com). William Deverell shared this tribute:

I remember when I first visited the shop on Temple Street. I was twenty-one years old, and I had never been to a bookstore like Bill’s. It was like being in the rare book stacks of The Huntington, except everything was for sale. Priceless, extraordinary books and manuscripts – beautiful, rare, exquisite. I did not want to leave. Over the years, Bill would always have a good word or wise counsel; he knew so much about history and scholarship, in and of the West but well beyond, too. About a decade ago, I made a point of buying a long run of his shop’s amazing catalogs – each item described with exquisite scholarly care. He will be missed so much, by so many. He made a great difference in the world of books and scholarship, and he did so with endless generosity of resources and spirit.

In 2010, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America interviewed William Reese about his career and the antiquarian book industry:

Congratulations to the ICW recipients of the Foulke Fellowship! Established by USC Alumna Roberta Persinger Foulke (BA/MA History 1936), the Foulke Fellowship funds travel and research for doctoral students delving into issues related to women and gender in the field of history. Our recipients shared a few words about how these fellowships will help further their research about California and the West:


Laura Dominguez


Photo of the International Institute of Los Angeles float (circa 1930s), courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Shades of L.A. project.

This project contributes to the study of gender, immigration, and settler imaginaries in Southern California through its investigation of the International Institute of Los Angeles, an immigrant-serving agency founded in Boyle Heights in 1914 under the auspices of the Young Christian Women’s Association. In addition to analyzing the organization’s contributions to social work and settlement, the paper seeks to understand the aspirations and consequences of this distinct Americanization project and its engagement with the settler colonial making of Los Angeles. This research pays particular attention to the Institute’s efforts to navigate its competing goals of cultural preservation and assimilation through its built environment during the interwar period. The Foulke Fellowship will primarily support new research in the Emory Bogardus Papers in USC’s Special Collections, as revision of the seminar paper for publication.


Gary Stein

Country Women

Cover of Country Women magazine, courtesy of Gary Stein.

While the feminist movement of the 1960s-70s took hold in urban centers, some women ensured its growth in the country, where large portions of the counterculture could be found. In Northern California, thousands of back-to-the-landers had migrated to coastal rural towns such as Albion and Mendocino, exalting the rural farmer as the antithesis of the urban-industrial order. Yet, women in Albion noticed men arriving on their farms and immediately exerting a sense of power with traditional gendered-divisions of labor in mind. They formed an all-woman collective, examining their gender roles in a patriarchal society. Initially formed as a “consciousness raising” group, the collective began publishing a monthly periodical called Country Women. Embracing the personal as political, the journal emphasized practical country skills along with women’s liberation and empowerment. It would ultimately reach readers across the world. This summer, I intend to travel to the counties of Mendocino and Humboldt to conduct research on the former collective, Country Women. I will investigate the built environment, conduct interviews, and familiarize myself with different bodies of literature. My research will examine normative behaviors across gender, cultural, and spatial lines. It aims to uncover the essential role of “country women” in furthering social and environmental reform, including “do it yourself” environmentalism and the widening of the women’s and gay/lesbian liberation movements. In doing so, my work will explore the connections, often overlooked, between rural life, counterculture, feminism, and grassroots activism.


Daniel Wallace


Detail of map of Omaha, Nebraska, 1887, courtesy of The Huntington Library.

Thanks to the generosity of the Foulke Endowment Fellowship, I will be able to further my research on a story of sex, divorce, race, and power in 1912 Omaha. The work surrounds an alimony suit involving Mary McKeen and her former husband, coal magnate Charles Hull. Hull sued McKeen and her husband in an attempt to get out of paying the $91,000 (over $2 million in today’s money) he owed to her. When the McKeen’s fought back, their lawyers began interviewing a who’s who of Omaha movers and shakers, including powerful businessmen, country club employees, and even the gamblers and prostitutes of Omaha’s notorious Third Ward. As the story unfolds in the archive, we get a sense of Hull’s affairs across town. Not only was he cheating on Mary, he was also having affairs with other married women. But perhaps most shocking was his behavior toward the lower-class and often black women, who worked at the country clubs, and his treatment of the multi-racial prostitutes of the Third Ward. The suit comes to an end when top officials at the Union Pacific Railroad, who did business with both Hull and Mr. McKeen, were afraid of the havoc the lawsuit would wreak if more prominent men would become exposed, and had Hull drop the case. I believe this research can make a valuable contribution to our understanding of the power dynamics related to gender, sex, divorce, and race in the early 20th century American West. But it can also help us understand our own moment, as it examines the ways women of different races, occupations, and economic classes were treated by not only licentious men in power, but by society and the law more generally.

For more information about these Foulke Fellowship recipients, visit their profiles on the ICW site, which also includes their contact information.

By Stan Fonseca

The Coachella Valley, roughly one hundred miles east of Los Angeles, has long been renowned for its beautiful scenery, for its warm climate, and for its close association with the wealthy of the West Coast. The dry desert valley, however, is also home to a more surprising phenomenon: the highest number of golf courses per capita in the world. Aerial views reveal that the desert landscape resembles a squiggling mass of fairways intertwined around housing developments and bleached desert. Since the construction of the first eighteen-hole course, the Thunderbird Country Club in 1951, more than 125 have been built over the last seventy years.

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Thunderbird Country Club’s first hole. Palm Springs Villager, Pictorial Edition, 1957. Palm Springs Historical Society

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, residents of the Valley witnessed the desert seemingly bloom before their eyes into the unlikeliest of forms: manicured green fairways, lined with imported palms and artificial lakes. This was, of course, no spontaneous blossom; developers worked hard to build country clubs in the Coachella, and likened their success to the building of a “Desert Empire.” West Coast business moguls, Hollywood figures, and wealthy retirees flocked to the Valley to purchase property in these new, exclusive country clubs. Golf, in the Coachella Valley, has been more than just the frivolous sport of the rich; it was the defining driver of land development, infrastructure, migration, and exclusion in the desert region.

Building golf courses was an environmental project that necessitated vast infrastructural and ecological change in the valley. In almost every way, the Coachella Valley was not suited for golf: high temperatures, low rainfall, and rocky soil would not support grass; the valley’s flat floor made for unexciting terrain; frequent high winds blew sand onto courses and redirected shots. As each course was developed, developers dug deep wells that could draw up millions of gallons from the Valley’s subterranean aquifer. When the aquifer ran dry, they purchased water from the nearby Colorado Aqueduct; by 1969, they had used over 32 billion gallons of Colorado River water to feed their courses. New courses, opening at a rate of roughly one per year, sought to outdo the others in their ostentatious display of mastery over the desert—an “arms race” of environmental transformation. When Bermuda Dunes Country Club installed two artificial lakes in 1957, for example, La Quinta Golf Club was not to be outdone: in 1959, it stocked its own lake with imported trout and attached fishing poles to its golf carts.

The environmental transformation of the desert was only part of the business of attracting the wealthy to the Coachella Valley. To do so, club owners also engineered a new social landscape: the residential golf club, in which members’ homes opened up onto the fairways. Thunderbird Country Club invented the design, and it was quickly copied both in the Valley and across the country. Of the nineteen Coachella courses opened between 1951 and 1967, fourteen employed this new design. However, an essential aspect of the residential golf club was its exclusivity; members and owners alike desired a homogeneous social world reserved for the wealthy and the white. Thunderbird, among others, explicitly denied membership to all nonwhites and non-Christians. Each club built opaque social boundaries surrounding their courses to keep out the unwanted. Often, dense hedges of Tamarisk trees would be planted along the borders, rendering the course invisible from the public eye.

As the world of country clubs grew throughout the 1950s, they began to flex their muscles as a political bloc to pave the way for more course construction. Developers were hungry for more land in the Valley, but fully half was reservation land belonging to the local band of Cahuilla Indians, the Agua Caliente. Bureau of Indian Affairs regulations prevented developers from leasing the land, and the Agua Caliente were ambivalent about the rapid pace of development. However, the “country club set” had a powerful new member: none other than President Eisenhower, who bought property in the Eldorado Country Club in 1957. Lobbyists in the Coachella Valley leveraged their golf connection to put their proposals directly to the President’s ear.

In the last year of his term, Eisenhower changed Bureau of Indian Affairs policy to allow the partitioning of Agua Caliente reservation land to individual members of the band, and to allow those individuals to lease their land for up to 99 years. Developers in the Coachella Valley made full use of the change in policy, and signed several long-term leases with Agua Caliente over the next decade to build courses, hotels, and homes. Band members, however, were rarely paid the full worth of their land; conservators & guarantors took, on average, 44% of the profits promised by developers.

Another political triumph for Southern California country clubs came in 1960 when the state passed a ballot proposition lowering the taxes on golf course property. The proposition would exclude golf courses from “highest use” taxation—meaning their taxes would not increase as urban development occurred around them. Bob Hope, an avid golfer and Coachella Valley booster, was the primary lobbyist and the “face” of the proposition. In his ballot argument for the tax break, Hope wrote that “Proposition 6 is designed to save these courses and their benefits to you and your family as wooded, planted open space areas giving greenbelt breathing space to California’s growing cities.” However, the law, in effect, benefited private country clubs whose gates were barred to the vast majority of the public. The proposition’s most immediate impact was in Los Angeles, where “highest use” value was greater—but, over time, it allowed golf development in the Coachella Valley to continue unabated by rising taxes.


Bob Hope & Son, Palm Springs Villager October 1956. Palm Springs Historical Society

The growth of golf courses in the Coachella Valley is a curious case. In many ways, their proliferation across the valley was a continuation of a wider settler-colonial project; it involved the disenfranchisement of Native peoples; land, power, and capital falling under white control; and a narrative of carving out Paradise from an arid wasteland. However, the settlement of the Coachella Valley was also a novel form, in that the primary goal was not access to material resources or agricultural land. Instead, it was fun, leisure, and the opportunity to create and maintain a homogeneous culture of the white and wealthy.

Golf in the Coachella Valley thus offers a fascinating avenue to think about power as it has played out upon the landscape in American history. As an environmental project, golf courses sought to replace one version of nature—a desert ecosystem seen as a wasteland—with one that was more comfortable and accessible to its users. As a social project, they were both a site of power themselves, in deciding who did and did not have access to the courses, and also a site that linked together wider networks of the powerful, as with the lobbyists who had Eisenhower’s ear while on the course. Both the environmental and social aspects of these country clubs have had long-reaching effects, in the Coachella Valley as well as in the wider world.

Stan Fonseca received his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. He joined the PhD program of the USC History Department in the fall of 2017. His interests include cultural, social, and environmental history in 20th century America.

By Gary Stein

Graduate school is a marathon. There are numerous “markers” along the way, certain mementos of the necessary hills to climb in order to reach the finish line, PhD in hand. There is finishing coursework, becoming a TA, passing your qualifying exams, honing in on a Prospectus for your dissertation, and finally, completing the dissertation – in many respects the final lap and main event and group relay all rolled into one.

I am currently in my 2nd year, so I am almost done with coursework and am in the midst of my 2nd semester as a TA. I also came to USC with an MA in History, so I have been holding the baton for some time now and am working on crafting a dissertation topic. In this post, I hope to articulate some of the ideas brewing in my head at this moment (though as many grad students know, one week can bring an entirely different set of ideas, hopes, doubts, dreams…than the one before it). I will share some of my experiences that have led me to this point and have (for the most part!) enhanced this long and winding process.


“River cabin,” built by former communard at Salmon Creek Farm in Albion, Mendocino County, CA. Photo taken by author.

“Building a Communal Environment: Back-to-the-Land in Mendocino,” my Master’s Thesis, analyzed the 1960s-70s back-to-the-land movement in Northern California, particularly in the coastal rural towns of Mendocino County. A key intervention of the thesis was highlighting the contributions of back-to-the-landers to the modern environmental movement and their role in heightening the ecological consciousness of mainstream society. It argued that back-to-the-landers, like those in Mendocino, did not merely “drop out” and live communally for a short, insignificant period of time. They remained politically and socially active and committed to ecological principles and working cooperatively within a group. I looked at back-to-the-land communes that lasted for over 20 years, contributed to the proliferation of food co-ops, the availability of organic foods, and the fight against agribusiness and corporate agriculture. These migrants helped shape the culture that endures in the North Coast region. They built their own unique dwellings using as little of the earth’s space and resources as possible and succeeded in legalizing their structures. They fought to save local forests from clearcutting, over harvesting, and the spraying and injecting of herbicides, and they continue to fight for these and other environmental initiatives today.

Their main objective of moving to the country was effecting change through lived experience, making the personal political. The idea proved central to the activism of the 1960s and is an important component of modern environmentalism, in addition to the more familiar legislative and institutional gains. This work led me to think about different conceptions of the environmentalist ethic and how different modes of living causes, or becomes, conscious efforts to preserve and/or improve the landscape. I am interested in analyzing who gets to be included in those decisions as well as the groups that have historically been excluded or disregarded.


Poster for “hike-in” protesting Disney’s proposed development of Mineral King. Courtesy of USC Special Collections, collection no. 0037, Mineral King Development Records.

I continue to be fascinated by people’s relationship with, and perceptions of, nature. I have previously written about the Civilian Conservation Corps, post-WWII suburbanization, and the development of natural and historic preservation in the 20th century. In our Western History seminar with Professor Bill Deverell, I wrote about the formation of the Pacific Crest Trail, a “wilderness way” connecting the borders of Mexico and Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. I then looked at the fight over Mineral King, a proposed ski resort by Walt Disney in Sequoia National Forest in the mid-1960s. The Forest Service had traditionally adhered to Gifford Pinchot’s “wise use” model, prioritizing timber and other commodity resources. But I argue that this began to shift in the 1930s, in part due to the work of the CCC and the formation of the PCT, which opened up numerous national and state parks and forests and contributed to greater wilderness preservation efforts and a growing appreciation for outdoor recreation. This pushed the Forest Service to value non-commodity resources such as outdoor recreation. But it also led the Service to utilize the “wise use” model for recreational development, such as Disney’s plans for the massive ski resort. The proposal was protested by the Sierra Club and young environmentalists who incorporated the values and grassroots activism of the movements of the 1960s to their fight to save Mineral King. The proposal was eventually defeated and Mineral King became part of Sequoia National Park, under the supervision of the Park Service.


CCC enrollees receiving a lesson in the use of the saw. Reforestation camp, unidentified location, 1933. Courtesy of USC Special Collections, collection no. 7000.2, Hearst Corporation Los Angeles Examiner photographs, negatives, and clippings.

As I consider and prioritize larger questions within my own work, some or all of this could become central to my dissertation, or I could end up going in another direction. That, in part, is the process of graduate school. It can be exciting, enlightening, frustrating, and daunting. But I have gained a lot from the entire experience, and though I still have a long way to go, I can sense the final lap on the horizon. I am grateful to have worked in Western Environmental history, examining how people are shaped by their environment as much as they shape the world around them. And as a native of Queens, NY, I am thrilled to continue learning about the culture and environment of the American West and its integral place in American history.

Gary Stein received his undergraduate degree in history from Queens College, a City University of New York (CUNY) and his Master’s in History from Claremont Graduate University. His Master’s Thesis received the Center for Communal Studies Graduate Paper Prize in 2017. Stein joined USC’s Ph.D. program in 2016. 


Photo of Governor-elect Jerry Brown at his Los Angeles campaign headquarters in 1974 is courtesy of
UCLA Library’s Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library.

By Miriam Pawel

On April 7, 1895, the Los Angeles Herald ran a story to celebrate Otto von Bismarck’s eightieth birthday, noting that “a world shouted as he crossed this rarely touched milestone of time.”

On April 7, 2018, another long-standing ruler, master politician, and statesman of Prussian ancestry marks the same milestone: Edmund G. Brown Jr. turns eighty. Eighty is no longer quite as noteworthy as in Bismarck’s day, of course, and even Jerry Brown cannot match the Prussian leader’s reign of almost three decades.

But Brown has certainly left his mark on California, breaking records along the way: The youngest California governor in modern times when he first took office in 1975; the oldest ever when he returned as governor in 2011; the longest-tenured governor in state history; and the only governor elected four times. Between Jerry and his father, Pat, the Browns will have ruled California for 24 out of the past 60 years.

Bismarck was in good company, the Herald noted in its birthday tribute, offering a round-up of other octogenarians: Pope Leo still wrote Latin sonnets, William Gladstone wrote essays, and Verdi had just received acclaim for Falstaff. Brown will leave office at the end of this year. Given his classical education and eclectic interests, there’s no telling what he might compose in his next act.

Author of the 2014 book “The Crusades of Cesar Chavez,” Miriam Pawel is an author, journalist, and independent scholar. She is currently working on a book about four generations of the Brown family in California.

California Flood Mazurka Sheet Music

Sheet music that shows effects of 1861-1862 flood courtesy of the Bancroft Library.

Congratulations to William J. Cowan who just received the USC Russell Endowed Fellowship and the USC Graduate School Summer Research Grant. Cowan is working on his Ph.D. in the USC History department and we asked him to share a few words about his research and this honor:

These funds will be used to continue my dissertation research about the Pacific Slope Superstorms’ of 1861-62. I will be exploring several archives in Oregon, notably the Special Collections in Eugene and the holdings of the the Oregon Historical Society in Portland. During that trip I will also be visiting several historic sites, including the “lost” towns of Canemah and Champoeg–both of which were destroyed in the Pacific Slope superstorms of 1861-62. I will also use this opportunity to venture to the Bay Area to visit the California Historical Society’s archival collections and to pay a return visit to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. These collections include key eye-witness accounts of the devastating winter of 62 and its aftermath.

I am humbled and grateful to be a recipient of the 2018-19 USC Russell Endowed Fellowship and the USC Graduate School Summer Research Grant. It’s an honor to represent the Department of History and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. I applaud this year’s nominees and congratulate my fellow Graduate School awardees. Many thanks to our department’s Directors of Graduate Studies, Steve Ross and Richard Fox for supporting my nomination, our Academic Advisor Melissa Borek Calderon for directing the submission process, and to Bill Deverell and Peter Mancall for their continued counsel and their confidence in me and my work.

You can follow Will Cowan’s research on Twitter at @williejcowan or contact him at wcowan@usc.edu.