Publication Date: Friday, April 13, 2001
Phoebe Apperson Hearst
Phoebe Apperson Hearst
(April 13, 2001) Friend of education, benefactress of Pleasanton, she lived in her Hacienda outside of town for 20 years and died 82 years ago today
by Jen Stevenson
More than a century ago, from her sprawling palace nestled amid the gnarled oaks and grassy curves of the Pleasanton foothills, Phoebe Apperson Hearst would look out over her property at a landscape barely blemished by human habitation.
Today, where her beloved Hacienda del Pozo de Verona once stood, golfers play the luscious green fairways of Castlewood Country Club, as sharp hammer blows cut through the spring air, signaling the construction of a new generation of luxury estates along Foothill Road.
Were Mrs. Hearst to stand on her magnificent Spanish-style ivy-strewn veranda and look out over the Valley today, in the distance her eyes would fall upon a new addition to the landscape - a terracotta and teal edifice filled with the voices of young children. This is the newest addition to the Pleasanton Unified School District - Phoebe Apperson Hearst Elementary School.
On March 26, after seven months of conducting classes in rows of brown portables flanking the side of neighboring Pleasanton Middle School on Case Avenue, the 39 teachers and support staff members and 408 students of Hearst Elementary were moved in to their new home.
The chattering of children can be heard, as kindergartners through fifth-graders pour from classrooms that still smell slightly of fresh paint onto barely scuffed cement walkways and mill around on their brand-new playground. No doubt their delight as they explore their new place of learning is the most fitting tribute to her memory that Mrs. Hearst would have ever wanted.
Phoebe Apperson Hearst is one of Pleasanton's most famous former residents, even 82 years after her death in 1919. She is still actively honored for her generosity and her dedication to education, among other philanthropic causes - both in Pleasanton, and around the nation.
Born Dec. 3, 1842, in Franklin, Mo., Phoebe Elizabeth Apperson was the charming daughter of a respected and affluent family. Her path was destined to cross that of her future husband, George Hearst, even before her birth: Her parents were close family friends with the Hearsts, who also lived in Franklin.
George was 22 years old when Phoebe was born, and his good-natured personality made him a favorite with the neighborhood children, including Phoebe. When George departed Franklin in 1850 to seek his fortune in the gold mines of California, young Phoebe was sorry to see him leave.
At 17, Phoebe became a schoolteacher in Franklin, beginning her life-long relationship with education. Her life was to forever change, however, when George Hearst, now 40, returned to Franklin and proposed to the young schoolteacher, who had grown up in his absence.
In 1862 George and Phoebe eloped and shortly thereafter made their plans to travel to wild and woolly San Francisco, where George's economic success as a miner propelled Phoebe into a position of wealth and prominence.
The couple's only child, William Randolph Hearst - future media baron and master of famous Hearst Castle in San Simeon - was born the following year, to Phoebe's delight. Her life was consumed with caring for William and devoting herself to cultural causes, particularly the arts. She traveled extensively, taking William with her on in-depth tours of Europe, instilling in him her appreciation for fine art.
One of Phoebe's pet projects was the establishment of kindergartens; she believed strongly in its early educational value. She set up kindergartens in San Francisco, and later in Washington, D.C., and established a free kindergarten for the children of the miners who worked for her husband in Lead, S.D. She also financed free libraries for the miners in Lead and in Anaconda, Mont.
The Hearst family's relationship with Pleasanton began in the 1880s, when George, an outdoors enthusiast, purchased a 500-acre piece of land near Pleasanton to build a hunting lodge.
The Hearsts' time at the Pleasanton retreat was short-lived, as George's political pursuits launched him into a position as a U.S. Senator in 1887, and the family moved to Washington, D.C. There Phoebe quickly became a prominent social figure and continued her pursuit of cultural causes. She financially supported the Washington Cathedral School for girls, and set up free kindergartens for both white and black children. It was in Washington, D.C., that Phoebe co-founded the Congress for Mothers, which would evolve into today's national Parent-Teacher Association.
It was tragedy that brought Phoebe back to Pleasanton. On Feb. 28, 1891, George died, leaving her a widow at age 48.
As George's sole heir, Phoebe inherited his huge, profitable mining empire. The stress of attempting to run it herself, however, debilitated her health and she retreated to the fresh air and oak-strewn hills of the Napa Valley wine country for several months to recover before returning to San Francisco.
In pursuing her interest in education, Phoebe became a formidable influence at UC Berkeley. Particularly interested in the educational welfare of women, in 1891, she established a scholarship fund for young women at Berkeley and extensively sponsored the Young Women's Christian Association.
She financed an international architectural contest to attract the finest talent to plan the overall design of the Berkeley campus, and in honor of her husband funded the construction of the Hearst Mining Building, which still stands. She gave the university the Hearst hall for women, and made significant contributions to the Department of Anthropology, the Anthropological Museum, and the Library, among others. She also served as the only female Berkeley regent from 1897 until her death in 1919.
In 1891, seeking a country retreat, Phoebe hired the brilliant architect Julia Morgan - who would also design Hearst Castle - to design a Spanish-Moorish style estate on her Pleasanton property, which became the lovely and luxurious Hacienda del Pozo de Verona. The Hacienda had more than 50 rooms, large courtyards and sweeping views from its various balconies, and was lavishly furnished with art and antiques from Europe. Visitors were brought in by train, enjoying the beautiful ride from Oakland through Niles Canyon to the Hacienda's private depot. And while the estate was largely self-sufficient, Phoebe saw to it that any necessary supplies and food were purchased from Pleasanton merchants, establishing a positive working relationship with the city.
In the winter of 1919, Phoebe visited New York, where she contracted the dreaded Spanish influenza. When she felt recovered she returned home to her beloved Hacienda, but she once again took ill with the influenza and died, exactly 82 years ago today, on April 13, 1919.
After her death, the Hacienda was sold by the Hearst family and passed through many hands, becoming a country club in the 1920s, a famous dude ranch in the '30s and '40s, and then Castlewood Country Club in the '50s and '60s. In 1969 a glitch in the electrical system started a fire that burned the Hacienda to the ground.
While Phoebe has been gone for longer than most Pleasanton residents have been alive, her generosity and positive influence have not been forgotten. A prominent resident, Phoebe had an excellent relationship with the city, said her great-nephew, Pleasanton resident Bill Apperson. Although Phoebe passed away five years before Apperson, 76, was born, it is well known in family history that she was a benevolent presence in the community. In fact, it was Phoebe who worked with the Women's Club of Pleasanton to finance the community's first library.
"She was very much in favor of Pleasanton as a developing community," Apperson said. "She hired a lot of people, seasonal workers, when the need arose. She was also generous with contributions toward almost any civic undertaking in Pleasanton."
"She was definitely a part of the community," he continued. "Many times you'll read in the history books that she was primarily involved with UC Berkeley and San Francisco, and that wasn't necessarily the case - it just wasn't publicized that she was a great benefactress to Pleasanton as well."
In 1999, when Hearst Elementary was in the planning stages, a committee of students, staff and community members formed to name Pleasanton's ninth elementary school, and Phoebe Apperson Hearst was chosen as the historical namesake for several reasons.
"She promoted education from the very beginning, and she was a great advocate of women in education," said Lisa McCloud, an administrative assistant in the school district. "Also, she would have overlooked the area where the school is from her home."
According to school district Public Information Officer Jerri Long, naming an elementary school for Phoebe Hearst was highly appropriate, especially given her dedication to kindergarten.
"All of her life, Mrs. Hearst was interested in education," said Long, who wrote "Echoes of School Bells," the history of Amador-Pleasanton schools, published in 1989. "From kindergarten through college and on into public libraries, Mrs. Hearst supported lifelong learning."
At Hearst Elementary School, the children are encouraged to learn about their school's namesake, said Principal Sherri Beetz.
"Part of the third-grade curriculum is local history, and this is a great opportunity for our teachers to really emphasize Phoebe Apperson Hearst," Beetz said. "It gives the kids local history to focus on that has real meaning to them because their school is named after her."
The school even chose its mascot, the Monarch butterfly, with a little Hearst history in mind. At the time that the mascot was chosen, the San Francisco Examiner was still a Hearst paper, and if one looked closely, Beetz said, a butterfly sporting a crown could be seen as part of the masthead. "The Examiner was the 'Monarch of the Dailies,'" Beetz said. "So we had that in mind when we chose the mascot, among other factors."
Another influence that Phoebe had on Hearst Elementary was the school's decision to affiliate itself with the national Parent-Teacher Association, which Phoebe co-founded over a century ago. "We are a PTA school, as opposed to having an independent Parent Faculty Club as some schools opt to do," Beetz said. "I thought it was really important that we be a PTA school considering the history of Phoebe Apperson Hearst."
The school's acknowledgement of its benevolent namesake can be seen in a simple tribute that hangs on the wall of the new administrative office. Framed neatly in mahogany is a meticulously drawn pencil portrait of Phoebe. Carefully inscribed on the bottom is the third-grade artist's signature, Paula Capilla.
An inscription reads: "Phoebe Apperson Hearst lived in Pleasanton from 1899 until her death in 1919. She was a very giving person, contributing to more than 50 schools and organizations. She opened Pleasanton's first library." <@$p>