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Women's Day : Torrance to Honor Its Forgotten Founders

March 22, 1987|ANN JOHNSON | Community Correspondent

Jared Sidney Torrance may have founded a city but it was his wife, Helena, who founded Torrance Memorial Hospital in 1925.

Just 11 years later, when Mollie Dowd became the first librarian of the Walteria branch of the Los Angeles County Library, the fledgling institution had 500 volumes.

When she retired 30 years later, the library shelves were stacked with more than 10,000 books.

Then there's film and television actress Rosemary De Camp Shidler, who conducted play-writing contests for 19 years during the 1950s and 1960s at Torrance High School. The bound collection of plays--written and produced by students and critiqued by a team of college theater professors--is still at the high school.

Ceremony Today

Dowd, Shidler, Torrance and 41 other women will be honored for their significant and often unsung contributions to Torrance history in a ceremony at 2 p.m. today at the Torrance Historical Society Museum, 1345 Post Ave.

The museum owns a new, permanent collection of materials on women's contributions to the city, recently gathered by the Torrance branch of the American Assn. of University Women.

"These women were performing all kinds of social services for the community," said Dorothy Settlage, an association member who headed the history project. "Without them, we wouldn't be as far (along) as we are now. I think this is very important."

Today people are accustomed to having community services provided by a network of organizations with paid workers, Settlage said. But until recently it was left to volunteers--usually women--to provide many of these services. Women, she said, founded hospital auxiliaries, cooperative nursery schools and Salvation Army missions, preserved landmarks and helped protect the environment.

For example, Evelyn Carr and Grace Wright led repeated campaigns to separate Torrance's schools from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Their efforts resulted in the formation of the Torrance Unified School District in 1947.

The 44 honorees, 15 of whom are dead, including Torrance, represent many occupations, said Cecilia Laxton, first vice president of the Torrance Historical Society, which runs the museum.

They include a bank president and a nurse, a judge and a teacher, a mayor and a student.

Rosalind King, whose husband operated a nursery, just laughs when asked why she is being honored. "I guess it's because I've been here the longest," she said. King moved to Torrance in 1917, when she was 7 years old.

It was a "pretty little town back then," she recalled. "Everything east of Crenshaw (Boulevard) was bean fields and oil fields."

King, a lifelong member of First United Methodist Church of Torrance, was present at its ground breaking in 1921 and washed dishes at its monthly 35-cent-a-plate fund-raising dinners. She said she still washes dishes at church functions and does just about anything else asked of her.

The project to recognize women in Torrance's history began more than a year ago, Settlage said. The original idea was merely to assemble a temporary display on women's contributions at the museum to celebrate National Women's History Month, as well as Torrance's 75th anniversary.

'No Material on Women'

Settlage said she expected the museum to have enough information for the display, but found that "there was no material on women."

In June, Settlage wrote 135 Torrance organizations asking them to nominate women to be included in the research project.

"I thought if we got 25 names, we would be doing well," Settlage said. "We ended up with 44."

Twenty-four researchers from the association, the museum and the community sought information directly from the nominees as well as from family members and library, museum and Chamber of Commerce materials.

Laxton said the project has added important resource material to the museum such as meticulous scrapbooks that Carr and Wright kept on the founding of the Torrance school district.

"We've turned up a lot of firsts that people weren't paying attention to . . . memorabilia, letters of commendation, pictures--things that are priceless," she said. The collection, which has not been formally named, will be made available to other researchers.

Pictures of the women will be on display through March at the museum and at the Civic Center branch of the Torrance Library.

Laxton said the museum had long seen the need to recognize women in Torrance's history and was happy to help in the effort.

"Without women," she said, "many things just would not have happened."

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