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California Legislature Moves Toward Gender Equality

It may seem that married women from pioneer days had limited opportunities, as most independent businesswomen were either single or widowed.

Without much fanfare, the California State Legislature passed the Sole Trader Act on April 12, 1852.  Its stated purpose was “To authorize Married women to transact business in their own name as Sole Traders.”

The first married sole trader woman in Shasta County to undertake ranching and farming was Elizabeth Moody in April 1854.

In 1855, Anny E. Roberts established herself as a sole trader that included ranching, farming and setting up a hotel and boarding house, while Mrs. Mary Ann Drummond became a dealer of stoves, tin ware and hardware.  The wife of Gilman Davis, Eliza Jane, ran a business that included farming and a ferry on the Sacramento River. 

The approach of the Civil War spurred many more women to apply for sole trader status, ranging from farming and ranching to hotelkeepers.

Although the Sole Trader Act was not dubbed as a push for women’s equality, it certainly offered women the right to move toward that goal.  The rewritten 1980 state constitution repealed the act.

Source: Hoffpauir, Corinne Graves. “Women's Lib in the 1850’s?” The Covered Wagon, 1984, pp. 49-53.

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Gail Fiorini-Jenner is a writer and teacher. Her first novel "Across the Sweet Grass Hills", won the 2002 WILLA Literary Award. She co-authored four histories with Arcadia Publishing: Western Siskiyou County: Gold & Dreams, Images of the State of Jefferson, The State of Jefferson: Then & Now, which placed in the 2008 Next Generation Awards for Nonfiction and Postcards from the State of Jefferson.  She co-authored Historic Inns & Eateries in the State of Jefferson, featuring 30 locations and their recipes.