HISTORY IN
       SAN LUIS OBISPO
          COUNTY

        Site  by Lynne Landwehr © 2001
        www.historyinslocounty.org   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Annie L. Morrison--Homesteader, Teacher, Journalist, Historian:
"I think I have written a truthful history...."

     The history of San Luis Obispo has been told in many ways--in memoirs and diaries, in first-person accounts, in newspaper and magazine articles, in amateur and professional publications, and in "subscription histories," often called "mug books"--those publications paid for, at least in part, by the people who are profiled within.  

Mug books pertaining to our county include Myron Angel's 1883 History of San Luis Obispo County, Yda Addis Storke's 1891 A Memorial and Biographical History of the Counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura, California, and the 1939 History of San Luis Obispo County, State of California: Its People and Its Resources, edited by Chris Jespersen.  As historian Mark Hall-Patton has noted, these mug books, although not always comprehensive, are invaluable for researchers.

     The 1917 mug book by Annie L. Morrison and John H. Haydon entitled History of San Luis Obispo County and Environs, is one of the most interesting of these county mug books.  Morrison covered the parts of the book relating to San Luis Obispo County, while Haydon wrote the sections on Santa Maria and environs.  Morrison's overview of SLO county history covers 122 pages, and is followed by hundreds of graceful profiles of residents who were able and willing to pay for coverage in the book, and who relied on the author for a favorable rendering of their personalities and achievements.  Morrison's writing manages to seem positive without being obsequious, and her keen eye for detail and her lively anecdotes make her work enjoyable reading, even 90 years later.  

     Annie Morrison's obituary in the May 24, 1943 issue of the Telegram-Tribune, begins as follows:

    "After a long life of 82 years, many of which were spent in San Luis Obispo county, Mrs. Annie L. Morrison died peacefully at her home Sunday afternoon, May 23.
     Mrs. Morrison came as a bride to Templeton, in April, 1887, when that town was a terminus of the Southern Pacific railroad, and had lived in this county ever since.
      She was born Annie Louise Stringfellow, at Sycamore, Illinois...in 1860...."  

     But the best chronicler of Morrison's life was Morrison herself.  Her self-profile, written in the third person, is included in her 1917 mug book, and is reproduced here.

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Annie Morrison on Annie Morrison:

pp. 259-260 from her History of SLO County and Environs:

A native of Illinois, Mrs. Morrison was born in Sycamore, November 22, 1860, a daughter of Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, born in Pennsylvania, November 7, 1828, and of English extraction on the paternal side, while the mother, whose maiden name was Annie Archer, was of French descent.  Her grandfather was sent from France by his family with valuable papers, jewels, and money, to escape the terrors of the French Revolution, and he came to Philadelphia. Her mother was Mary Jane Barton, born in Ireland but brought to Philadelphia by her parents when she was an infant.  Mary Barton was the daughter of Willis and Rebecca (Smith) Barton.  The Barton family were from the north of Ireland.  They were Protestants, originally from Scotland, where the name was Dumbarton.  Mr. Morrison’s father and mother were married in Philadelphia, November 4, 1852, by Rev. Charles Demmi, and began married life at Darby, Delaware County, Penn. There her father was badly hurt by one of his horses, being kicked on the knee; and as a consequence he was in a hospital in Philadelphia for more than a year.   He came out very lame and unable to work, and his wife supported him and herself by sewing, the hospital having absorbed all their money.  At last her father decided he would “go West,” and in the late fifties went to Sycamore, Ill.

Her parents had a large family, eight of whom lived to be men and women, and one of her earliest memories is that of seeing her mother with a little bundle of baby’s clothes which she would caress and cry over, telling the children they belonged to their little brother Willie, her first son, who died when he was six months old.  Her parents never amassed much property.  Times during the Civil War were hard, the children many, and they early learned to help themselves.  However, her mother, on the little she had to do with, kept her children neat, in school, and at Sunday school, and instilled into them the principles of decent, honorable living.  Her father had a very good mentality, and his children inherited brains.  Mrs. Morrison also inherited her father’s near-sighted eyes, and says she has lost, in consequence, half the joy of living; for even with glasses, she has never been able to see much of the beauty in nature that many others, blessed with good eyesight, do not properly value.  With her brothers and sisters, she attended school in Sycamore.  Her oldest brother, Bennie, was a fine boy, very good to them all, and very devoted to his mother.  He became a fine mechanic and at twenty was pattern-maker in a big foundry.  The other brothers, Harry and John, are well-to-do farmers—Harry in Iowa and John near Sycamore, Ill.   Three sisters, Mary, Caroline, and Mabel, are married to farmers.  One sister, Elizabeth, has never married; and she keeps house for her bachelor brother John.

In spite of her near-sighted eyes, Mrs. Morrison was a sort of wonder in school.  She learned marvelously easy, could sing and 'speak pieces,' and soon acquired the ability to do well a few things all the others couldn’t do.  She liked to lead, and could get a following, and says, "I smile as I think of the joy of the little girl whose best dress was a clean calico, when she reached the place where girls in pretty dresses asked ‘Annie’ if they could play with her crowd.  I had been sneered at because of coarse shoes and sunbonnets by these same girls, so it was only getting my innings, for it had cost my little soul hours of bitterness when they had twitted me of my lack of finery.”  She early learned to pit brains and character against mere moneybags, and has never found it worthwhile to change their relation.  At the age of thirteen, she went to town and worked for a Mrs. Pitcher for five months, at one dollar a week, to earn money for books and clothes so as to go on into high school.  She worked for her board until [age] fifteen and went to school, working vacations to earn money for books and clothes.

At Mrs. Pitcher’s, she met Duane J. Carnes, a law student, who became a power in her life.  He is now Judge of the Appellate Court of Illinois.  He directed her reading and to him and his parents she owes much.  By the time she was fifteen, she had read all of Scott, Shakespeare, Dickens, Macaulay, Thackeray, and George Eliot...and the American poets were bosom friends.  At the age of fifteen and one-half, she taught her first school.  The county superintendent of schools, H.P. Hall, went to their little farm for her on June 3, 1876, and told her he had a school for her at Hogridge; the name sounded Shakespearean to that girl just then.  “I had to wear my short skirts for a month, until I drew my first salary check, $25.00; then I bought lots of goods, and as trains were in style, my best dress swept the floor in a beautiful curving train.  Also my curls disappeared--I bought a jute switch and managed a fine ‘chignon.’”  She taught at Hogridge three terms, and at Charter Grove, Prairie, and the Casey school[s]. 

The summer before she was eighteen, she went to Michigan, where she taught three years, near South Haven, at Covert and at Glenn.  She then returned to Illinois and taught at Hinckley, in the town school, and then was vice-principal at DeKalb.  She had always dreamed of coming to California; and in Aril, 1884, she arrived in Los Angeles.  She passed the teacher’s examination in July, and was fourth best out of forty-three who entered for certificates, of whom only eight won them.  In September she went to Winters, Yolo county, and taught there three years—one year at Apricot school, and two as primary teacher in the town.  On April, 19, 1887, she was married to Hamilton Brown Morrison, a native of Stirling county, Scotland , who came to California when twenty-five years of age.  They had a very beautiful wedding in the Christian Church, the Rev. Philip Bruton, pastor and friend, performing the ceremony.  As they both had many friends who united in decorating the church, it was a bower of bloom; and six little girls, her pupils, were the dainty bridesmaids.

After the wedding, they came at once to Templeton, where Mr. Morrison was in business....  They had a little four-room house, and were trying to “grow up with the country” and win a fortune.  In November, 1892, they moved into their new home just erected on an orchard tract, and that orchard was a thing of beauty to them.  The time came, in 1900, when it spelled ruin instead, as the story of Templeton explains.  They had two girls, Mabel Conise, born December 12, 1889, and Marian Cecile, born May 29, 1892, when they moved to their pretty home.  Marjorie Helen was born there August 17, 1894, and Robert Duane came early on the morning of July 17, 1896.  

Mr. Morrison had trusted out his work and sold machinery on credit for thirteen years. The result was inevitable.  The dry year of 1898-99 came, and at least $5,000 worth of property and outstanding bills were a total loss.  “What was worse, the best thirteen years of life went into the hole along with all his earnings and mine.  His health broke completely, and it was up to me to be father and mother both to those helpless little children.  I tackled the job, and my worst enemy would hardly say I made a bad end of it.”  She earned money writing and reporting for the San Luis Obispo Breeze and Tribune, collected for these papers, and finally got work reporting for the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Examiner, Call, and Chronicle.  She wrote for the Sunday papers, and for Sunset and Overland.  Sunset gave her a trip in 1905 to the Portland Exposition, and to Shasta Springs in 1907.  

In August, 1901, she again went to teaching, going into the mountains and staying there four years at Alamo and Huasna.  “I had to watch out for rattlesnakes and mountain lions.  Once when I was belated, only torches made of twisted newspapers and carried in my hands, while my trembling horse walked with his head over my right shoulder for two miles through a canyon, saved one or both of us from a mountain lion that was following us in the brush beside the road.  The lion was shot a few days later near our cabin.  Again, I had to swim good Nero across the Huasna with a buggy-load of provisions when the rain was falling in torrents and the stream was a foam-capped yellow flood; but God takes care of fools and children, so we landed about a quarter of a mile below the ford.  I think God takes care of mothers, too, when they need it as badly as I did then.”  She taught straight through for thirteen years.  Meanwhile, she had gotten the three girls ready for teaching, and her son was in his last year of high school.  They had a little home clear of debt.  It had cost every cent of $3,000.  The children, the three younger ones, proudly paid off the last $200 in June 1913.

By then she was a physical wreck, ready for the hospital, and there she went.  A great surgeon—great because he can take a poor wretch all gone to wreck, use his skill, and turn his patient out almost as good as new—did this wonder for Mrs. Morrison.  Meantime the school powers had retired her on part retirement salary in June 1914.  “A bad sickness extending over three months in 1916 left me thinking I was on the junk pile, for sure.  In August I was employed by H.A. Preston to write a history of our county for the Historic Record Company of Los Angeles.  I had lived in the county for thirty years, and had surely lost out, and in a measure won out, within its borders.  I had driven all over its mountain roads; I knew its beauty and its possibilities; I knew many of its inhabitants, having taught in the county over ten years; and I went to work.  I got intensely interested in its wonderful history; I walked and rode miles and miles; I haunted the courthouse officials for data, and I think I have written a truthful history.  The work fascinated me, and I have gotten much valuable information during the time.  I once thought I hated San Luis Obispo County, but that was during my hard times.  I want to stay with it now until I get my final summons to another country.”

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     Already 57 when her history book was published, Annie Morrison did not receiver her "final summons" until 27 years later.  During those years, she was active in community affairs, wrote a regular column for the local newspaper, and published many articles in state and national magazines.  The Telegram-Tribune's obituary on her stated that she would be "long remembered for her outstanding personality and courage under adversity and for her loyalty to friends and family."  Over 60 years later, this smart, spunky woman is principally remembered for her contributions to documenting the county's history, and yet I have not managed to locate a single photograph of her.  If you have knowledge of such a photo, I would very much appreciate hearing from you.     [Lynne Landwehr /  lelandwehr@yahoo.com]

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www.historyinslocounty.org