Saratoga Women's History

How It All Began

The women’s movement of the 1960’s caused people to realize that women, particularly in textbooks, had limited visibility. History in the past traditionally meant political history and focused on political events and its leaders. Social history, with an emphasis on broader aspects of life such as health, education, the media, poverty, began replacing the focus during the seventies.

The celebration of women’s history first began in 1978 in Sonoma County, California. The week, including International Women’s Day, March 8 was selected. In 1981, Sen. Orrin Hatch from Utah and Rep. Barbara Mikulski from Maryland sponsored a joint resolution proclaiming a national Women’s History Week. In 1987, Congress expanded the celebration to a month with March declared as Women’s History Month. The following are a few of Saratoga’s leading female citizens spanning many years...

Early Real Estate Developer

Hannah McCarthy (1834-1893), came from Ireland and married Martin McCarty when she was 18 years old. Martin McCarty erected a toll gate in Saratoga and purchased land. He had the town platted and named McCartysville (later renamed Saratoga in 1864) in 1850. Hannah was the first woman in Santa Clara County to take out a license to operate her own business, appearing in the files of the County Recorder in 1852. In 1853 McCarty signed over all his property to his wife, including the toll gate. He died in 1864 leaving Hannah with four young children and having to settle a land dispute with the Arguellos. McCarty had two homes in Saratoga—one on Lomita Avenue (still standing) and one on Big Basin Way. She also had a home as well as land in Hollister. At some point in time she began spelling her name “McCarthy”. She donated the land for the site for the Saratoga Grammar School on Oak Street as well as donated the land for the Congregational Church.

Well-known Authors

Gertrude Atherton (1857-1948) had her own suite in Senator Phelan’s Villa Montalvo in Saratoga where she pursued writing. She was born in San Francisco but was educated in Benecia, CA after her parents divorced. She married George H. Bowen Atherton in 1876—his father was the namesake of the town, Atherton in CA. Atherton wrote numerous, well-researched novels on historical periods typically based on California themes during the late 1800’s. One of her novels, A Crystal Cup in 1925 was made into a movie. Black Oxen (1923) was her biggest During World War I, her service in hospitals earned her the Legion d’Honneur award. She received many honorary degrees in her lifetime. She continued to write until her death in 1948 at the age of 91.

Kathleen Norris (1880-1966), the 20th century's most popular writer for women. Kathleen and her husband Charles (also a well known author) lived in Saratoga on 200 acres on Big Basin Road in 1919. The summer estate was called La Estancia. Norris penned 88 novels, magazine articles and newspaper articles between 1911 and 1959. Her first novel, Mother, was printed in the American Magazine and so touched Theodore Roosevelt that he climbed six flights of stairs to the Norris apartment to shake the author’s hand. In the 1930’s Norris joined a rally for world disarmament. She was an ardent feminist supporting women’s rights, opposed capital punishment and worked to outlaw nuclear weapons. “Family Gathering” was considered to be her informal autobiography.

Famed Producer/Actress

Dorothea Johnston (1891-1969) came to Saratoga in 1926 and lived with her mother who owned the Saratoga Inn on Saratoga Avenue. Prior to coming to Saratoga she played Shakespeare in New York, sharing billing with such stars as Grace George, Florence Reid and the Talmadege Sisters. She was presented to the Queen of England during her career. Johnston shared her acting and producing experiences with notable Saratogans Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine and helped launched their careers. Both later became academy award winners. An outdoor theater, Theatre in the Glade was created just below the Saratoga Inn and further established Johnston’s talent state-wide as a producer. In addition to directing, she sometimes starred in the productions. She also directed plays at the Saratoga Foothill Clubhouse using both amateur and professionals. Lilian Fontaine, a known actress and living in Saratoga, also participated in the plays.

Philanthropist, Environmentalist, Author

Bertha Marguerite Rice (1872-1962) packed a lot of living in her lifetime: founding the local Audubon Society; the Santa Clara Historical Society; a Poets Club; and the Boys Outing Farm. The Boys Farm was established in Saratoga after the earthquake of 1906 with the objective to give city children an opportunity to experience life in the country. Later it was known as Camp Roland, named after her son and was in operation until 1938. She wrote several books including Popular Studies of California Wild Flowers in 1920; The Women of Our Valley, Volumes I and II in 1956 and Builders of our Valley in 1957. She requested and received Governor Hiram Johnson proclaiming April 24 as California Wildflower day.


Susan Christina (Chris) Von Saltza (1944- present) went to school at the Oak Street Grammar school in Saratoga. She was, however, better known as a competitive gold medal winner in the Olympics. She won five gold medals in the 1959 Pan-American games; three golds and a silver in the 1960 games and became the first woman to break the five-minute barrier in swimming. What makes her four-medal performance even more remarkable is that, at the time, there were only five individual events and two relays open to women. Besides her fame she was also known as the Baroness Von Saltza. Her grandfather, Count Philip, came to America in the 1900’s. She is still recognized by her title in the Who’s Who of Swedish Nobility. After the Olympics in Rome she went on to study Asian history at Stanford University. She was a coach-consultant in Asia in the American Specialist Program in 1963-64. She has taught competitive swimming in several Asian countries. Von Saltza was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1966. Her business career was as a systems engineer for IBM for 30 years, and later with her own technology and business consulting company.

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