Their group started out 80 strong, made up mostly of women already associated with other women’s groups, when Martha Mallery formed the Harriet Chalmers Adams Society in the mid-1980s.
When the organization met a week ago for its annual celebration of the explorer’s birthday, there were six members.
It’s a shame, really.
Harriet Chalmers Adams was a fascinating figure, a trailblazer from Stockton.
She traveled to South America with her husband, who worked for U.S. companies, and journeyed through jungles, met people who’d never before seen a white woman, and wrote of her adventures for National Geographic.
She was the first female correspondent to reach the front lines during World War I.
“She was probably a feminist,” said Beverly Fitch McCarthy, a society member who has done as much, if not more, for the women’s movement as anyone in Stockton since Adams.
“She probably was,” Mallery agreed.
They just didn’t use that name for it during Adams' lifetime (1875-1937). When Harriet was traveling the world, her forward-thinking sisters were called suffragettes and were fighting for the right to vote.
Mallery learned of Harriet when a neighbor bought a book called “The American Woman’s Gazetteer” at a garage sale. It had a piece on Harriet in it.
“I read the book and said, ‘That’s interesting,’” Mallery said. “I never knew about her and nobody else did, either. I went down to the library and found all the information.”
The news clips and copies of her articles published in National Geographic — since moved to the San Joaquin County Historical Society — stunned Mallery.
She’d gone through school in Stockton and never had heard of Harriet.
Mallery organized the Harriet Chalmers Adams Society in 1985, and it held an annual celebration in honor of Harriet’s birthday, Oct. 22. The society commissioned a bust of Harriet, done by Marlene Wylie Bradford, that resides in the Cesar Chavez Library.
They nominated Durlyn Anema-Garten, who wrote a young-readers book about Harriet, for a Susan B. Anthony Award. Anema-Garten continues to visit schools to share the story of the famed adventurer and explorer wearing a red dress — Harriet’s favorite color — and a jaunty hat.
And they continue to meet once a year to honor Harriet. This year the birthday cake also had a thank you to Mallery.
“There are a lot of people who know her because of you, Martha,” Anema-Garten told Mallery. “The book wouldn’t have been written without you.”
True, Anema-Garten did the legwork on the book, from Stockton to Washington D.C., to locate materials on the woman who died at 61 in 1937, leaving behind no children and a grieving husband who never pushed for his wife to be universally remembered.
That the Harriet Chalmers Adams Society has so few members is disappointing.
It would be sad to think that young women today take for granted the fights their predecessors waged on their behalf.
Women sitting at that table on Saturday — McCarthy, Pat Spreer, Sandy Carter, Cindy Milford, Anema-Garten and Mallery — have done a lot of the hard work, supporting the advancement of women through groups like the Commission on the Status of Women, the Women’s Center and the National Organization for Women.
They remember the days when women athletes didn’t have scholarship opportunities and there were limited professional choices for women. Female legislators were rare, much less a major party candidate for president of the United States.
Another thing they knew? The effort on behalf of women didn’t start with them. There were countless women of previous generations who loudly, or quietly, challenged the status quo.
Harriet Chalmers Adams was one of them. Somewhat of a tomboy who grew up in Stockton exploring California on horseback with her father, she was able to continue that adventure on a worldwide stage when she married Franklin Adams, also of Stockton.
Was she a feminist, too? Her quote in the preface of Anema-Garten’s book suggests she was.
“There is no reason why a woman cannot go wherever a man goes — and further. If a woman be fond of travel, if she has love of the strange, the mysterious and the lost, there is nothing that will keep her at home — all that is needed for it, as in all other things, is the driving passion and the love. And as for being hindered because she is a woman that sounds rather a stupid notion to me — she has proved that she can go where men go, and that lack of caution (which is a little of every woman) will take her out of the tent to discover something else, while her husband is sleeping, covered up to the ears and blankets and fur.”
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.