Phoebe Hearst

3 Dec 1842
13 Apr 1919
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Phoebe Elizabeth Apperson Hearst (December 3, 1842 – April 13, 1919) was an American philanthropist, feminist and suffragist. She was the mother of William Randolph Hearst.

She was born Phoebe Elizabeth Apperson in Franklin County, Missouri, the daughter of Drucilla (Whitmire) and Randolph Walker Apperson. At the age of 19, she married George Hearst, who later became a U.S. Senator. Soon after their marriage on June 15, 1862, the couple moved to San Francisco, California, where Phoebe gave birth to their only child, William Randolph Hearst, on April 29, 1863.

In the 1880s, she became a major benefactor and director of the Golden Gate Kindergarten Association and the first president of the Century Club of California.

She was a major benefactor of the University of California, Berkeley and its first woman Regent, serving on the board from 1897 until her death. Also in 1897, she contributed to the establishment of the National Congress of Mothers, which evolved eventually into the National Parent-Teacher Association. In 1900, she co-founded the National Cathedral School in Washington, DC. A public elementary school near the National Cathedral School bears her name.

In 1901, Phoebe Hearst founded the University of California Lowie Museum of Anthropology, renamed Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology in 1992, in celebration of the museum’s ninth decade. The original collection was founded with about 230,000 objects representing cultures and civilizations throughout history.

The museum now contains about 3.8 million objects. Throughout her lifetime, and as denoted in her will, Phoebe Hearst donated over 60,000 objects to the Museum. She also funded archaeological and anthropological expeditions such as the Pepper-Hearst Expedition (1895-1897) on the coast of Florida, near Tarpon Springs.

The purpose of these expeditions was to enable anthropologists and archaeologists to study and collect cultural objects. Most notable are the 1899 expeditions in Egypt by American archaeologist George A. Reisner and in Peru by German archaeologist Max Uhle. These expeditions, among others, found numerous, well-documented objects now in the museum’s collection. Among these are approximately 20,000 ancient Egyptian artifacts, the largest Egyptian collection west of Chicago.

Phoebe Hearst also realized the importance of such a museum in preserving Native Californian culture, which was rapidly disappearing. With her support, anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber and his students, including Robert F. Heizer, documented Native Californian culture in the form of photographs, audio recordings, texts, and artifacts.

This research helped to preserve approximately 250,000 Native Californian artifacts, the most extensive in the world. The museum collection is available to students and researchers for examination. A gallery located on the University of California Berkeley campus is available for public view.

Hearst was raised a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian faith in the 1840s.

In 1898 she converted to the Bahá’í Faith, and helped play a key role in the spread of the religion in the United States. In November 1898 Hearst, with Lua Getsinger and others, stopped off in Paris briefly on their way to Palestine and was shocked to see May Bolles (later Maxwell), a well known American member of the Bahá’í Faith, bedridden with the chronic malady with which she had been afflicted.

Hearst invited Bolles to travel to Palestine with her, believing that the change of air would be conducive to her health. Getsinger also disclosed to Bolles the purpose of the journey: a pilgrimage to visit the then head of the Bahá’í Faith: `Abdu’l-Bahá. The group travelled to Akka and Haifa in Ottoman Palestine on pilgrimage, arriving on December 14, 1898. Hearst later wrote, “Those three days were the most memorable days of my life.”

In October 1912 she invited ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who was travelling throughout the United States, to stay at her home for a long weekend, even though at that time she had become estranged from the Bahá’í Faith. During his stay ‘Abdu’l-Bahá mentioned that anyone who tried to extort money or goods from others should not be considered a true Bahá’í. Mrs. Hearst had been a victim of such an incident, which had caused her estrangement from the Faith.

She died at her home in Pleasanton, California, aged 76, on April 13, 1919, during the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, and was buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, San Mateo County, California.

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