Drive through Northern California and you will find a Bidwell street, park or building in most cities. Nevertheless, I doubt many actually know why the street bears the name. In truth, the namesakes most probably honor John Bidwell, a California pioneer, politician, farmer and philanthropist. Nevertheless, his wife, Annie, contributed quite a bit to our golden state of California as well.
Annie Bidwell’s early years
Annie’s early years shaped her belief system and future. She was born into an upper middle-class family and raised in Washington D.C. In her early teen years, she became a devout Presbyterian, leading her to devote her life to social issues, like conservation, women’s suffrage and prohibition. In fact, her many friends included Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard, and John Muir.
Annie marries and finds a way to funnel her passions
While John was in Washington D.C. for political reasons, he met Annie and fell in love. They soon married and moved back to his home in Chico, California. John had become quite wealthy in California during the gold rush, pouring all of it into acres of land and a mansion known as Rancho Arroyo Chico.
John was very close to a local tribe called the Mechoopda and the land. This love of the land and people also shaped him into a conservationist, which would ultimately lead Annie to feel the same.
Annie’s concern for the Mechoopda led her to become active in Indian Associations and to seek support for a land-grant bill allowing Indians to own land. Due to her strong religious beliefs, she built a church and preached Christian values. Beyond that, she deeply cared for her native neighbors. She built a school for the children, became their teacher, and taught sewing to women.
She also shared her husband’s love of the land, ultimately becoming somewhat of an amateur botanist-the Bidwell’s Knotweed (Polygonum bidwelliae) is Annie’s find. This shared interest led the Bidwells to meet John Muir. According to The Sierra Club, “The Bidwells met John Muir on an 1877 botanical expedition to Mt. Shasta and the headwaters of the Sacramento River with famed Harvard botanist Asa Gray and his wife, and British botanist Sir Joseph Hooker. Thus began a life-time friendship of thirty-seven years.”
How Annie continued to contribute after her death
After John passed, Annie built homes for the Mechoopda and ensured they would own the property even after her death. She also donated over two thousand acres to the city of Chico for one of the largest city parks in the country. Bidwell Mansion, which was once a place of grand parties hosting the likes of President Rutherford B. Hayes, ultimately became a State Historic Park open to the public.
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