Born out the struggle for Sausalito’s women to have a voice in their community, the Club’s membership has focused since inception on civic involvement, social and conservation causes. Just one year after its formation, the Club succeeded in pressuring the Sausalito Board of Trustees (predecessors to the current City Council) to conduct town business in open public meetings. Recognizing that open government flourishes only under continuing “sunlight”, the Club created its still active Civics Committee to monitor town meetings and keep members informed.
The new Club also flexed its power to influence by advocating for “modern” necessities in Sausalito: a town constable, conscientious law enforcement, adequate street lighting, and removal of unsightly billboards. Members successfully backed an ordinance to reduce the number of Sausalito saloons to five and supported the Trustees’ plans to pave the streets and install sewers.
The new Club was diligent in bringing problems to the attention of the appropriate authorities. The directors assigned the indomitable Ella Wood “to report the deplorable conditions of the Sausalito City Jail to State authorities.” Wood took her charge seriously: she saw that the infested jail mattresses were removed and burned.
Ella Wood and Grace MacGregor Robbins, who were appointed to the Board of Health in 1916 by Sausalito Mayor Charles Gunn, led the Club’s efforts to root out unsanitary dairies following several disease outbreaks attributed to tainted milk. Fanny Shoobert recollected that she, Robbins and Wood tagged along with the dairy inspector “because when he had someone around him he had to do something.”
During one such inspection of a dairy in the hills above Sausalito, they uncovered a filthy milk cooler and a milking area filled with offal and manure. “We arrested him and he was fined,” Shoobert recalled. “That’s all better now… because of the Sausalito Woman’s Club.”
The membership readily pitched in whenever circumstances required it. In 1913, “twenty Club members who came with brooms and rakes to work for Clean Up Day…divided into groups to gather up papers and rubbish and dried leaves [which they] burnt on the roadside.” Afterwards the workers were treated to tea and cake on Mrs. Robbin’s veranda.
On another occasion, members gathered on Angel Island to hold a picnic and plant $10 worth of flower seeds purchased by the Club. For a period of time, members also took it upon themselves to maintain the neglected parks in their respective neighborhoods.
Depot park in the downtown, now named Viña del Mar Park after Sausalito’s Chilean Sister City, was one beneficiary of the Club’s activism. W.B. Faville had designed a large concrete fountain and two elephants for the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, symbolizing the joining the east (hence the exotic elephants) with the west through the newly built Panama Canal. Upon the closure of the exposition, with financial support from the Club, these treasures were brought to Sausalito.
Club members performed at the dedication of fountain and statues in 1916 and reenacted the “Spirit of the Fountain” following dedication of the restored fountain and elephants in 2005. Club members also decorate the park annually for the holiday season.
For two decades, the Club fought repeated attempts by fishing interests to build a sardine cannery in Sausalito. In 1928, Club members personally investigated Monterey’s Cannery Row to “sniff out” its impacts to the local community. They elicited written input from Monterey residents, who reported: “At times it is almost unlivable for many blocks around when these nauseating odors are turned loose on the air.”
In 1937, the Gardenia Packing Company persuaded the Sausalito Town Council to allow a demonstration of its “odor-free” fish-processing boat. The Gardenia Company’s claims were not as fragrant as its name implied; the ensuing odor caused such a furor that the boat was dispatched after only two weeks.
When the Golden Gate Bridge construction in the 1930’s prompted State engineers to design Highway 101 as a four-lane highway to be constructed on fill along Sausalito’s waterfront, the Club joined the opposition. This time, the City Council acknowledged the influence of the Club by requesting a letter from the membership supporting the present Waldo Tunnel alignment.
Club members were not as successful in fighting the elimination of the ferry service between Sausalito and San Francisco in 1941 following the bridge opening. The commuter ferries were not re-established until 1970.
Starting with the Founders’ Tree, by the 1920’s the Club’s Tree Committee had saved over 126 trees throughout Sausalito, installing “dedicated tree” plaques at each. At the urging of the Club, in 1958 the City Council passed a tree ordinance that institutionalized the Club’s efforts in inventorying and preserving heritage trees through Sausalito.
In 1964, Club members rallied against a plan to fill the bay between Johnson and Napa Streets to build a hotel, apartments, restaurants, shops and convention center. With the Club’s urging, Sausalito became the first city in California to declare a moratorium on filling the bay for development. The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) was founded as a direct result of this citizen involvement.
The Club’s involvement in Sausalito local government affairs has evolved over the years as women gained a foothold not only in the voting booths but in the halls of government. In the early years, the Club took positions on a wide variety of issues. Mary Spring, Club president from 1945-47, later described the shift to a more neutral stance on matters not directly related to club business this way: “We are strictly non-partisan and do not promote certain causes, and other causes only after a thorough study…”
The Club founders would have been impressed by role that members have subsequently played in Sausalito’s government. In 1958, Club members held coffees in their homes and sent postcards in a campaign to elect member Marjorie Brady as the first woman to serve on the Sausalito City Council.
Since Brady’s election, other Club members have served on the City Council and the Marin County Board of Supervisors. Club member Robin Sweeny enjoys the distinction of having the longest tenure of any member of the Sausalito City Council: 28 years. Many Club members have also served as appointed Sausalito board and commission members.