FOCUS: Claremont’s leading ladies
Community, council, change: Claremont’s leading ladies
Our focus for this special edition of the COURIER is, of course, women. It wouldn’t be complete without considering Claremont’s women of the past—some have moved away and some have died, but many are still here, working to maintain the high quality of life in Claremont.
Since Linda Elderkin’s retirement five years ago, a woman hasn’t served on the Claremont City Council. With a canceled election last year and no election set until March of 2017, it seems fitting to consider the contributions of Claremont’s women.
In 1946, an attorney named Charlotte Neely became the first woman elected to the Claremont City Council. Ms. Neely, according to Judy Wright’s book Claremont Women: 1887 to 1950, joined efforts with Phillip and Ruth Ordway to secure funding to build Memorial Park.
The first bond measure effort—which included the construction of a swimming pool—failed, Ms. Wright noted. The swimming pool was excluded on a second effort by Ms. Neely, the Ordways and Ruth Iredell, a park committee member, and the bond measure passed. Construction of Memorial Park soon followed and has become the central meeting place for summer concerts in the park, the city’s Fourth of July celebration and is home to Claremont Heritage.
We can’t imagine what Claremont would look like without the leadership and effort of women.
Diann Ring was first elected to the council in 1986, served as mayor from 1992 to 1994 and remained on the council until 1998. She had previously served on the planning commission and was active with the Claremont League of Women Voters. A Texas native and enthusiastic chef, Ms. Ring arrived in Claremont with her husband and two small children in 1973.
Bertye Smith first elected to council in 1970 and served until 1978. In 1977, Ms. Smith was the first mayor to speak at Willard Hunter’s Speakers’ Corner on the Fourth of July—a tradition that has continued each year.
A resident of Claremont for almost 40 years, Linda Elderkin was a planning commissioner and president of the League of Women Voters before she made her first bid for council in 2007, earning 20 percent of the vote.
Ms. Elderkin has been active in many aspects of the Claremont community including serving as a dean at the Claremont Colleges and as president of the Claremont Little League.
During her 2007 bid, Ms. Elderkin said her first priority as a councilmember would be to work towards building a “unified council who work together well and cordially.”
Ms. Elderkin received a PhD from Claremont Graduate University and later became Associate Dean of Students at both Pitzer and Pomona College.
Ms. Elderkin offered two additional reasons for seeking a council seat.
“One because I love Claremont…it is so worth the time, the energy, the effort,” she said. “And second, I believe that we have reached a pivotal moment in the history of our city, one where we need to recommit to making decisions in the context of our long-term visions and to listening to all the voices in the community.”
Elected to the Claremont city council in 1978, Ms. Douglass served as mayor from 1982 until 1986 and, among other significant contributions, played an instrumental role in the formation of the city’s new general plan in 1980 and in the establishment of a historic preservation program.
Ms. Douglass also served on the Claremont Planning Commission from 1971 to 78 as well as on the advisory committees for Claremont’s Land Development, Parks and Capital Improvement Projects.
In 1948, Ms. Douglass graduated magna cum laude from Pomona College, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. During college, she met a fellow student, the love of her life, Malcolm Paul Douglass, who had just returned from World War II service. They married on August 28, 1948.
Ms. Douglass, who was described as a “brilliant idealist and visionary who led Claremont through significant planning and legislation changes,” died in 2008 at the age of 81.
“She was very intelligent and had a great vision for Claremont. She always took us back to principles when talking about planning decisions, not planning for the moment or planning to make someone happy,” said Claremont’s mayor from 1986 to 1989, the late Judy Wright, who referred to Ms. Douglass as “Ms. Planning for Claremont.”
Within a few weeks of coming to Claremont, Judy Wright became a member of the League of Women Voters and developed a number of lifelong friendships. She served as League president from 1975 to 1977 and was active in the Sycamore Elementary School Parent Faculty Association, including serving as its president.
Her scope of activities quickly enlarged to the community as a whole as she was named to the city planning commission in 1977. She subsequently ran for a seat on the city council, where she served for 13 years. She was mayor for three years from 1986 to 1989.
As a member of the Pilgrim Place Corporation, for more than three decades Ms. Wright was a loyal volunteer at the annual Pilgrim Place Festival.
She served as president of the Southern Division of the California League of Cities. She served on the founding boards of both Metrolink and Foothill Transit, and was instrumental in the preservation of the Claremont Depot and the establishment of Claremont being a stop for the Metrolink train system. Before her death in 2012, Ms. Wright helped with the future planning for the eventual construction of the Gold Line electric rail system linking Claremont to the San Gabriel Valley.
Ms. Wright was author of three books on Claremont history—two editions of Claremont Pictorial History and Claremont Women: 1887-1970: They Created a Culture.
Ellen Taylor has a long history of service with the Claremont community and local League of Women Voters, first assuming the role of president in 1992. To date, she has served three terms as president of the local board as well as taking positions on the state LWV board. She has notably been a part of numerous local studies, including topics such as affordable housing, health needs of Claremont Unified School District students and local finances. Ms. Taylor has also contributed on the local level by serving on the Claremont City Council and as Claremont mayor and as a board member of the Claremont Museum of Art.
In her campaign literature for her bid for council in 2005, Ms. Taylor was quoted as saying, “I have opinions that the powers that be don’t agree with. I’ve never been afraid to express my opinions.”
Ms. Taylor was elected to the council in 2005, was appointed mayor in 2007 and served until 2009.
Karen Rosenthal spent six years on the Parkways and Tree Commission before joining the architectural commission for seven years and the planning commission for eight. She has sat on the council for six years, which is technically three terms. Her first term, however, began in March 1997 after Councilwoman Judy Cody departed in fall 1996.
Ms. Rosenthal served as mayor from March 1999 to March 2001, assuming the position just in time to deal with the fallout of both the shooting of Irvin Landrum, Jr. and the Keck Graduate Institute’s plans to build its campus on a portion of the Bernard Biological Field Station.
Ms. Rosenthal also represents Claremont on the Route 30 Corridor Design Authority, the Southern California Association of Governments’ Regional Council, the SCAG Transportation and Communications Committee and the California Contract Cities Association and sits on the board of Tri-City Mental Health Center.
She has served on the board of the Claremont Community Foundation and worked with Foothill Country Day School, the Webb Schools of California and Mt. San Antonio Gardens. She is a member of the League of Women Voters, the Claremont Chamber of Commerce, Scripps College Fine Arts Foundation, Friends of the Claremont Public Library and Friends of Oak Park Cemetery.
Sandy Baldonado completed Claremont Graduate University’s teaching internship program, which led to teaching at Vista Elementary School from 1966 to 1972.
Ms. Baldonado served two terms on the Claremont City Council, holding the mayoral seat from 2004 to 2006.
Having previously served three terms on the San Gabriel Municipal Water Board, she brought expertise on the subject—and many others—to council deliberations and is keenly interested in the water debate happening right now.
In a 2012 interview with the COURIER, Ms. Baldonado expressed dismay that the council is currently comprised of all men.
“I’m not at all happy about that,” she said. She is pleased, however, that Claremont seems to be out of what she called the “doldrums.’”
Eleanor Cohen was elected to the Claremont City Council in 1974 and served until 1984. She focused her efforts largely on environmental issues and creating cooperation in government. In a 1982 COURIER interview, Ms. Cohen was quoted as saying, “Planning is not just buildings. Planning is putting a community together in a way that is important to you.”
As Claremont mayor, she devolved ties between the Pomona Valley and San Gabriel Valley. She was the council rep to the Southern California Association of Governments, and had a special interest in air quality. In 1970, Ms. Cohen served on the city’s environmental task force, which addressed water and air quality as well as what Ms. Cohen called “the freeway issue.” She was opposed to extending the Foothill freeway through Claremont due to air quality concerns.
Judy Cody was elected to the Claremont City Council in 1994 and served until her resignation in 1996. Ms. Cody now lives in Missouri near family.
Claire McDonald was elected to the council in 1970 and served until 1982.