Daisy and Lilly Baker making baskets in the 1960s in Plumas County

Photo from CSU Chico Special Collections

Plumas County Women in History

Honoring Women in Plumas County

There is a rich history in Plumas County from gold mining to ranching to the internationally recognized stairway of power to some even claiming espionage. This history includes everything from engineering feats to unique characters . . . some of which were women. In honor of Women’s History month, we profile some notable women who impacted Plumas County by adding a bit of spice to the local history and were “woman libbers” way before the suffragettes and the National Organization of Women (NOW).  

Plumas County Women in History

There are many women to honor as part of Women History Month. We have chosen three very different women from Plumas County which helped shape the local communities and also had a much larger impact outside of Plumas County.

Femme Fatale Minnie Lee Vest

Minnie Lee Vest was born Minerva Clara Kueny at Dersch Ranch in Shasta County. Her parents were French and this parentage provided their daughter with a charm and vivid personality that made her irresistible. Though raised in the ruggedness of ranch life, she enjoyed the exciting energy of San Francisco. At 20, while shopping in a millinery store, she was asked to become a hat model.  Not to shy away from anything, she said yes! 

From San Francisco Hat Model to Rural Plumas County

When her family moved to Big Meadows in 1909, Minnie moved with them and worked at the Prattville Hotel. The head turner that she was, she met handsome Charles C. Lee Jr.  The romance sparked immediately and the pair soon married.  Charley was in charge of Red River Lumber Company’s large dairy in Mountain Meadows outside of Westwood. He and Minnie were provided with a company house at the dairy—the small house opposite the “chimney” on Highway 36.   A few blissful years passed for the young couple, then around Christmas 1916 Charley became gravely ill.  Whether from an infection that had started with a ruptured appendix or a gall bladder blockage, (some rumors were he delivered milk in four feet of snow during a company strike and fell ill and died days later), Charley died on January 6, 1917. This was just days after his and Minnie’s birthdays.  Devastated, Minnie was left with no income and no home.

Spunk and Resourcefulness Comes Through

Completely on her own, not the norm for women of that time, Minnie rented a three-room cottage in Chester on the site of Bodfish Bikes’ parking lot. Borrowing $55 from a Chico dentist, she opened the “Traveler’s Inn,” a small diner within the cottage. Always doing things with in her own distinct style, when meals were ready, rather than ring a bell she played the flute to call people to her restaurant. By 1922, she had saved enough money to buy two lots across the street and began building her dream hotel, the “Lee Lodge.”

Cupid Strikes Again

In the midst of this creative energy and entrepreneurial drive, Minnie finds love.  In her words, in the summer of 1925 she was “sitting on a cracker barrel in the Chester Store in a little black slip of a dress, in walked the handsomest man I had ever seen.”  He proceeded to ask what did people do in Chester on a Saturday night. Minnie quickly volunteered to be his guide.  She and Ely Vest soon married, but 19 months later, Minnie was once again a widow when a falling tree killed Ely. Though nearly suicidal with grief, she continued building and finished the lodge in 1927.

First Hotel on the Susanville-Red Bluff Route Opens as Lee Lodge

Lee Lodge was a rustic resort with running water in each room, a stone fireplace in the lobby, dining room tables with white linen tablecloths and fresh cut flowers. She had quite a following with many regulars visiting in the summer, one being the Moscone family from San Francisco.

On the evening of July 3, 1934, two boys smoking cigarettes out in the tank house were startled by the cook, threw the cigarettes down where they ignited some oily rags.  The tank house went up like a torch, then fell over on the hotel. By next morning only the cottages to the rear of the hotel and the café next door were left.

The father of one of the boys, city treasurer of San Francisco, had built a group of tiny cabins for fishermen at the edge of town called “Rainbow Court.” He kindly offered Minnie a good deal on the property to help with the loss.  With the help of a mortgage from the Westwood Bank of America and Red River Company carpenters and lumber supplies, she built the Rainbow Lodge, a café and gas station on the property. She opened in the summer of 1935.

Entrepreneurial and Civic Minded

Always active in community, Minnie organized the fire department and donated money to purchase the first fire equipment, a hose cart.  A founding member of Chester’s first Chamber of Commerce in 1929, she always participated in local events, including the annual July 4th parade. One year she led the procession as “Miss Statue of Liberty.” 

Not All work . . . Ever the Adventurer

Though busy running her Lodge, Minnie continued to have an adventurous spirit. She climbed Mt. Lassen alone avoiding the intermittent eruptions happening at the time and was a regular visitor at the Drakesbad Resort to ride horses. In winter months, she traveled the world. After paying back the debt of the Lodge, she sold it and moved from Chester – about the time of WWII — to Sacramento. Never to be idle, she made her living buying houses, repairing and reselling and or as we call it today, “flipping houses.”  Truly a woman ahead of her time.

Aka, Marie Potts, Local Maidu Indian

Born in 1895 in Big Meadows (now Chester, CA), Maria Potts face restrictions as a young girl squelching her dreams and ambitions. Maria initially accepted these limitations, but with her resolve, she broke free of them. As a young student at Greenville Indian Industrial school, Maria navigated conditions that were perilous, even deadly, for many of her peers. Yet she excelled academically. Her adventurous spirit and intellectual ambition led her to transfer to Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Potts was the first California Indian to graduate from that school. Due to this introduction of “life as young Indian woman” challenges only fueled her fire to become a well-recognized and honored activist for the rights of Indians.

Activism Begins

Potts returned to Greenville and she married a former classmate raising seven children. Upon moving to Sacramento, she was the co-founder of the Federated Indians of California and the California Inter-Tribal Council. In1947, she founded the oldest Native American newsletter in the nation, the Sacramento “The Smoke Signal.” The newsletter focused on Indian rights and enlightening what she called “the sketchy” public knowledge of Indian Culture. 

Potts was a participant in the Occupation of Alcatraz , a well-publicized and noted Indian protest in 1969 to 1971.

She taught classes in native American studies at Sacramento State, and was a popular speaker at schools in the Sacramento area sharing tales and traditions of her people. She was always present at the big spring ceremonial Bear Dance every year near Susanville, where her grandsons danced, now held at Roxie Peconum Campground.

Recognized and Honored

She was acknowledged for her endeavors in July 1975 by having the second floor of the office building that houses California’s Department of Health and Welfare dedicated to her. A permanent display was unveiled at the ceremony memorializing her contributions to the advancement of Indian rights culture.   She beamed with pleasure when during the ceremony it was stated that over 700 years ago before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock the Maidu Indians were occupying the land on which the building now stands. Her only comment was, “I am glad you didn’t wait until I died to do this.”

Marie fought with tenacity for the rights of her people using her well-known quiet humor accompanied by a sharp-tongue, when needed. She provided a forum to help Native Americans solve their problems and helped revive the minds and hands of young Indians making them aware of their culture and skills.

Potts Takes on the Governor of California

One of her last battles was with Governor Reagan in 1974. over the building of the governor mansions on the bluffs above the American River, a gathering place for Maidus for thousands of years.  When the battle to have one last ceremony at the site was lost, with her usual wit, humor and bite she said, referring to Reagan’s Indian battle movies, “He’s afraid of too many Indians coming together at once. Afterall, he doesn’t have the Calvary to come along and save him anymore.”

Marie Potts died in 1978 in Susanville while traveling at the age of eighty-three.

Paved The Way For Many Women In Law

Annette Grace, born March 12, 1877 in Prattville, CA, was the middle child of Big Meadows store owner Hiram Abbott and his wife, formerly Annette “Nettie” Stubbs, joinin an older sister and later welcoming a younger brother. 

Her desire to show that women could be men’s equals, if given the opportunity, came at an early age.  This “crusader” mentality was much influenced by her mother who was a school teacher and the most educated person in the county. Also, as a young girl, Annette was not allowed to join her father, a justice of the peace, when he gathered with his male friends to discuss issues, but her brother, two years younger, was included.  This lack of equality did not go unnoticed by Annette.

Nettie A Strong Proponent of Education . . . Perfect Path for Annette

By the mid-1980’s the two sisters graduated from Chico Normal with teaching certificates. Both taught in Plumas County and saved their small salaries for Annette had a plan. As a child when she ran out of reading material she immersed herself in her father’s law books. She convinced her sister May to enter UC Berkeley where Annette studied law, an unheard-of ambition for a female at that time. She was the first of two women to graduate from UC Berkeley with a degree in law.

With gender an albatross, she was never able to acquire a position as an attorney. Practicing law was deemed unsuitable for women. Frustrated, she returned to teaching though her efforts did not go unacknowledged. In 1906, she was the first woman to become principal in California.  This also was the year that was unusual for Annette, she showed lack of judgment and married Martin Adams. Though he appeared to be intelligent and articulate, she soon realized her “wifely duties” did not match her goals. Some say within a month a separation followed.

Back to Her passion, Law

Influenced by Judge John Raker, who later was elected to the US Congress, and his suffragette wife, Ida, they convinced Annette to return to Berkeley in 1910 to seek a doctorate in Berkeley. Annette was the only woman in a class of 11 men and the first to graduate from Boalt Law School in 1912. That same year, Western Pacific Railroad approached the Dean of Berkeley’s Law School and wanted to meet his top graduate. They were looking for an energetic young lawyer to hire. When the dean told them his best was Annette (not Andy) it was the same old story, “Oh, they couldn’t possibly hire a woman.” Even with her doctorate it was clear law firms were not going to hire her. Door slammed in her face again she returned to Plumas County and worked at a law firm in Quincy.

Politics Enters Annette’s Life and Makes Long-Term Impact

With the political climate changing, suffragette Ida and Congressman Raker convinced her to move back to the bay area.  Here she became political, becoming president of the Women’s State Democratic Club supporting Woodrow Wilson’s campaign. With the women’s right to vote amendment passed in 1911, she went to Washington DC for the inauguration meeting other politicians. Needing a breather, she then decided a leisurely tour of the United States and Canada was next, ending up back in the bay area.

Annette’s legal career began in 1913 when she and Marguerite Ogden opened their law practice in San Francisco. Despite derisive cartoons, articles and predictions on the ability to succeed as a woman-owned law firm, the irony was that most of her clients were men! 

Due to her “being a girl,” eyes were on Annette. As it turned out, US Prosecuting Attorney John Preston was so impressed with one of her defenses, he hired Annette in 1914 as one of his Assistant US Attorneys, first woman to have that position. When he was appointed Assistant Attorney General in Washington, he was again so taken with Annette’s legal mind, she was appointed to the vacancy and was the first woman US Attorney General in 1918. 

With a new administration she and other appointees were swept out of office, she returned to San Francisco to her private practice. In the 1930s, working in LA with John Preston, she and Preston were asked to join special prosecutors on a case against Standard Oil, winning a 22-million-dollar settlement for the government. This led to an appointment of the Third Courts of Appeal that later got her elected by the people of California to a 12-year stint on the bench. In 1950 she was honored by the California Governor to sit on a case before the California Supreme Court. This was another first as a woman as an Associate Justice on the California Supreme Court. 

Ill health caused her to retire in 1952 while living in Sacramento enjoying gardening, having tea or dinner with friends and caring for a succession of pet cats.  Justice Adams passed away at 79 in 1956.  

Annette’s drive and tenaciousness paved the way for many women who have chosen careers in law. Quite an accomplishment for a woman of the 1800s and Lake Almanor local. Her amazing career is as follows:

  • One of first two women principals in a California school (1907-10)
  • One of the first two women to earn a law degree at UC Berkeley (1912)
  • One of first women admitted to California Bar (1912) 
  • First woman to be appointed assistant US Attorney Northern District of CA (1918-20)
  • The first woman to be appointed assistant Attorney General Washington DC (1920-21)
  • The first woman to be appointed to the Third District Court of Appeals (1942-52)
  • The first woman to serve as presiding justice of Court of Appeal in California (1942)
  • The first woman to sit on case (pro tempore) before the California Supreme Court (1952)

Information, courtesy of local historian, Marilyn Quadrio.

 

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Discover more of Plumas County
Places to stay
Keddie

Unrivaled privacy on 5 acres of river. Wake up to coffee on the deck listening to the river, birds and basking in the morning sun.

Quincy

Beautiful treed park with great internet tucked away from Highway 70 in Quincy, with rivers, lakes, and recreation areas not far outside of town.

Lake Almanor

Set in a quiet cove, off Peninsula Drive, this lake access home sleeps 10.