Mary J. French: Pioneering San Joaquin County Supervisor

What attributes could be found among women who entered elected public office in California soon after they were given the right to vote in state elections in 1911?

Staff at the Museum have devoted significant amounts of time over the past couple years updating its catalog of photographs, which currently numbers about nine thousand. Last year, one of our workers came across the happy quintet you see here. The photograph dates from 1928. It shows San Joaquin County’s five supervisors: Asa M. Clark, B. C. Wallace, Mary J. French (center), J. W. Stuckenbruck, and C. E. Steinegul.

To the best of my knowledge, Mary J. French was the first woman supervisor in San Joaquin County. The Stockton City Directory for 1929 calls her “Mrs.” It also tells us that she was unmarried at that time, that she lived on Pershing Street in Stockton, and that she represented the County’s Third District. The 1921 edition of the city directory lists George M. French, one of two partners in the “machine work auto repair” business of Aboudara and French, as supervisor for the Third District.

It appears that Mary J. French was a widow, probably of no great wealth, and that constituents elected her to represent the Third District after her husband died. So it seems. However, I know nothing more about her. Did she enter office with a history of political activism? Were her election and tenure controversial? Did she aspire to and reach other political offices? Was her election unusual, or was there a wave of aspiring women politicians in California at this time? What personal qualities did pioneering politicians like Mary J. French bring to their posts?

I wish I knew. At present, I have many questions but very few answers.

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