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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.