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Gladys Waddingham; Inglewood Historian

April 18, 1997|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gladys Waddingham, historian and icon of Inglewood who lived much of the history she meticulously chronicled in nine books, has died. She was 96.

Waddingham, who had no idea where Inglewood was when she was assigned to teach there in 1922, died Tuesday in an Alhambra care home.

A graduate and 1990 alumni Seal Award winner of Occidental College, Waddingham taught Spanish for 45 years at what became Inglewood High School. She had no children, but taught about 10,000 youngsters and outlived many of them, including Robert Finch, who was California's lieutenant governor and a presidential advisor, and Glenn M. Anderson, a longtime congressman from Southern California.

Waddingham was long retired when her fame began to escalate. She was a key founder and booster of the Historical Society of Centinela Valley and was active in the First Presbyterian Church of Inglewood, which got her started in writing.

Church leaders asked her to write the institution's history for its 95th anniversary. She agreed because "it was just something that had to be done."

The historical society soon demanded equal effort. Writing longhand and working at her kitchen table, Waddingham produced "The History of Inglewood," which now has sales in four figures.

Urged by friends, she next wrote the autobiography of her first 26 years, "A Kaleidoscope of Memories." Her final book was a second volume of the autobiography.

For many of her historic treatises, Waddingham simply used her memory and her diary. For "My Memories of Inglewood High," she supplemented those with a set of the high school's yearbooks from 1909 through the mid-1970s.

Waddingham emphasized the city's founding mothers in "The Women Who Made Inglewood."

"I got so tired of all these biographies written about men," she told The Times in 1995, "that end with one sentence: On such and such a day, he married so and so."

The city of Inglewood, her church and several area civic organizations heaped awards and praise on Waddingham. Her work was also honored by the California Historical Society.

As Inglewood changed racially and faced growing crime problems, Waddingham was sometimes criticized for ignoring the efforts of black politicians in recent years. But historians countered that she was merely recording early Inglewood as she had observed it and that Waddingham personally campaigned to urge white residents to remain as blacks moved in.

Until a year or so ago, when she went to a care home operated by the PEO Sisterhood, Waddingham had continued to live in the house her late husband had designed in Morningside Park.

The young woman who hadn't known where Inglewood was grew into one of its staunchest defenders. In 1995 she continued to insist that her neighborhood and her city were safe. When her hip was broken during a 1991 robbery, she said from her hospital bed: "This sort of thing happens everywhere. It isn't a matter of Inglewood."

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. May 5 at Inglewood Presbyterian Church, 100 N. Hillcrest Blvd. in Inglewood. It is sponsored by the church, the historical society and Inglewood PEO Chapter HN.

Memorial contributions may be made to a scholarship Waddingham started, the Francis and Gladys Waddingham Endowed Scholarship Fund, Occidental College Development Office, 1600 Campus Road, Los Angeles 90041.

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